In the mid-1980s, a series of newspaper articles about teenage pregnancy in Hong Kong caught the attention of four Hong Kong residents. Ranjan and Phyllis Marwah and Gary and Helen Stephens had no previous experience with “crisis pregnancies,” but they felt a responsibility to help. So, in 1987, they created Mother’s Choice, a grassroots NGO dedicated to helping those vulnerable girls and babies.
“Many of the girls were literally kicked out of their homes and were shunned by the community,” said alumna and Mother’s Choice CEO Alia Marwah Eyres, ESIA BA ’01. “Mother’s Choice was started to provide a safe and non-judgmental place for young girls facing crisis pregnancy.”
Ms. Eyres, daughter of co-founders Ranjan and Phyllis Marwah, volunteered at Mother’s Choice with her six younger siblings throughout childhood. The organization began small — just one borrowed room — and has grown exponentially since then.
Today, Mother’s Choice provides counseling and residential care for young mothers and operates a child care home for babies and special-needs children who have been abandoned in the community. It employs 120 full-time employees and has about 680 people who volunteer regularly. In addition, Mother’s Choice runs a large foster care program, provides adoption services, and conducts sex education programs in local schools. Since its creation, the organization has provided 51,000 young girls with counseling and shelter during crisis pregnancies; cared for 3,600 babies and children – including 2,600 with special needs; and provided 510,000 students and parents with sex education classes.
“Alia gave me a tour of her organization’s Child Care Home when I visited Hong Kong in June 2013, and I was staggered by what she and her team at Mother’s Choice are accomplishing,” said Elliott School Dean Michael E. Brown. “The logistics are mind-boggling: They are caring for dozens of newborn babies and young children at the same time under one roof. Hundreds of volunteers are providing formula, food, diapers, clothes, and care — working 24/7 with no margin for error. But what is moving about Mother’s Choice is the humanity: Alia and her colleagues are saving lives and helping people — hundreds of infants and young girls facing crisis pregnancies every year. Thousands of people have been helped since the organization’s creation. There are many ways to make a difference in our world. Alia and Mother’s Choice are truly inspiring.”
Ms. Eyres, who is a member of the Elliott School’s Board of Advisors, spent several years as a corporate lawyer in New York and Hong Kong before joining Mother’s Choice.
“I am so passionate about serving vulnerable girls and babies in our city — it is really my calling in life and the reason why I quit my corporate legal job in 2012 to take the lead at Mother’s Choice full time.”
She credits GW for preparing her to interact with a wide array of people in her career.
“The most valuable thing about my international affairs degree is how it taught me the importance of being able to communicate and work well together with many different parties, who often have different agendas, cultures, and perspectives,” she said. “My experience at the Elliott School exposed me to the various roles that all different sectors of society play, and how important it is to have partnership and cooperation between the government, the non-profit world, and the rest of the private sector.”
Despite the organization’s remarkable achievements, there is still an unmet need for the type of services Mother’s Choice provides.
“We still have an incredibly high crisis pregnancy rate among teenagers and we have many thousands of children languishing in institutional care in Hong Kong,” said Ms. Eyres. “As CEO, my role is to develop a strategy that will help our team and community accomplish our big vision to see that no girl and no baby is left alone in Hong Kong. It may seem impossible, but we believe in dreaming big, and I have seen amazing life transformation for girls, babies, and special needs children in Hong Kong over the years.”