Inspirational Woman Interview: Alia Eyres
Alia Eyres is the CEO of Mother’s Choice, a local charity serving the many children without families and women facing crisis pregnancies in Hong Kong. Prior to joining Mother’s Choice as CEO in 2012, Alia was a corporate lawyer in Hong Kong for Hogan Lovells, and in New York for Skadden, Arps. Alia holds a Juris Doctorate from the Georgetown University Law Centre and a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs from the George Washington University, where she was also a member of the NCAA Division 1 Women’s Rowing Team. Alia was born and raised in Hong Kong, where she and her six younger siblings had the opportunity to volunteer at Mother’s Choice through childhood. Alia lives with her husband, an entrepreneur from Ireland, and four young sons.
How did you come to join Mother’s Choice and can you tell us about some initiatives that you have implemented as CEO?
Alia Eyres: Although it was only five years ago that I left corporate law to become CEO at Mother’s Choice, I’ve actually been a volunteer for 30 years! My parents and their good friends, Gary and Helen Stephens, started Mother’s Choice when I was just nine years old. Being around them and the many others who volunteered and supported the vision of Mother’s Choice through the years, has had a huge impact on my life and the lives of my six siblings. As adults, we are all very passionate about social justice and being a voice for the vulnerable.
I am most proud of the pioneering that we have done to help children become “unstuck” from institutional care and into a permanent family through an innovative, alternative approach to foster care called Project Bridge. Children who grow up without a family in institutional care are more likely to struggle physically and emotionally, drop out of school, end up in prison, and if they are a girl, they are more likely to face a teenage crisis pregnancy… where the cycle begins again. Ensuring that children grow up in safe, loving, and permanent families break that cycle! Project Bridge gives children a safe and loving volunteer family to stay with, while we do whatever it takes for them to be with a permanent family (including birth/adoptive families) as soon as possible. Since we started the Project, 100% of the children have been able to go home much faster than ever expected, and all of them have seen life transforming change in their development and health. It has been a real community effort and I am so proud of what we have been able to accomplish.
What are some of Mother’s Choice’s key services for women and children?
Alia Eyres: We provide five key services at Mother’s Choice. Our Pregnant Girls Service offers loving and non-judgmental support to pregnant teenagers. Our goal is to empower each girl with comprehensive information on all the choices available to her, and to equip her to face the future of her choice. We provide a crisis hotline, counseling, peer support, workshops, training, and a residential hostel for girls needing a safe space to live during her pregnancy.
We have two services that care for babies and children without families: our Child Care Home (which hosts both typically developing babies and special needs infants) and our Foster Care Service (which includes Project Bridge). Our loving volunteers and collaborative social work team – along with the quality of the early intervention care that we provide, help our children flourish and reach their full potential while we are work hard to find each child a permanent family. We empower foster, adoptive, and birth parents to create an enriching environment for children through regular training, workshops, and peer support.
We build families through our Adoption Service. We are committed to seeing every child thrive in their forever family, so we prepare and equip adoptive families with training, create opportunities for peer support, and raise positive awareness about adoption in our community.
Lastly, we are passionate about prevention. Our Community Education team aims to reduce crisis pregnancy by providing sexuality education, and protect children who are vulnerable to abandonment, neglect, and abuse by providing child protection training for those on the frontline. We offer workshops to primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong, as well as to parents, teachers, and other professionals working with youth.
Can you tell us about your career in law and how that influenced your work at Mother’s Choice?
Alia Eyres: I’ve always been passionate about the work of Mother’s Choice, but my time in law school and the years spent practicing as a lawyer was a real training ground. If I hadn’t started my career in law, I’m not sure that I would have had the opportunity, credibility, or capacity to do the job I have now. Child protection is at the core of everything we do, which requires both legal knowledge and skills as we seek to protect our clients. I learned how to not only navigate the legal system and policies when I was a lawyer, but I also learned how to be an advocate and champion for my clients. Even though I was a corporate lawyer, I have found my experience to be very helpful!
More than the experience, the relationships that I developed during my time in the law have also been a big influence on me. I am so grateful for the mentors that invested in me during my time as a lawyer, there are some amazing lawyers both here in Hong Kong and in the United States who continue to advise and support me in the business of running a non-profit and caring for our vulnerable clients.
What are the most challenging aspects of your work?
Alia Eyres: There are a lot of challenges that come with doing this work as we deal with heartbreak and crisis every day. I’ll see a newborn baby abandoned in the rubbish or a terrified, pregnant 14 year old girl literally kicked out onto the street. I struggle with lack of resources, terrible misperceptions, and desperate need. But I have to be honest with you that the hope we experience far outweighs the heartbreak! For every difficulty I have encountered, I have seen miracles occur. I believe that when our community gets involved, our vision of a transformed city where every child is growing up in a loving family is possible!
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted you?
Alia Eyres: Without a doubt, the most impactful woman in my life is my mother, Phyllis Marwah. She was the very opposite of your typical Hong Kong Tiger Mother. She never signed us up for activities or tutoring unless we asked, she rarely went to our parent teacher conferences, and when she did make it, she only ever had one question for our teachers: is my child kind to others? She has lived her life being kind to others, and it is how she defines success for herself and her children. I think it’s that passion for kindness that helped her and the other co-founders start Mother’s Choice with no money, no experience, and no idea what they were getting into! They just wanted to respond with kindness to girls and babies in Hong Kong who had nowhere else to turn and were desperate for kindness. Watching her has proved to me that even a little bit of kindness can change life stories.
What advice do you have for women and girls who are facing crisis pregnancies? What advice do you have for people interested in supporting women in these situations?
Alia Eyres: For young girls who are experiencing a crisis pregnancy, I want them to know that they don’t have to face this alone and that their life is not over! There is hope. You can have a good future and we are here with you as you walk through this journey. For those looking to support, I would encourage them to come along to one of our information sessions to learn more about our work, volunteer & giving opportunities, and hear the real life stories of young women whose lives have been touched by crisis pregnancy.
What are your favorite books, websites, films, and/or resources?
Alia Eyres: I love books and movies that show the power of hope and relationship. Some recent favorites include: ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ by Paul Kalanithi, I wept through this memoir that made me think about what gives life meaning; and ‘Unbroken’ by Laura Hillenbrand, such an incredible story of resilience and survival. And although it isn’t one website – I read and listen to the podcasts, articles, and stories that the amazingly strong and inspiring women in my book club post about every day in our Whatsapp group. I am so grateful for relationship with other women in my life.