Establishing a shelter for vulnerable young ladies
Ms Bowie LAM Po-Yee is a Lingnan alumna dedicated to helping marginalised young women and girls who are often under social prejudice. She founded a shelter for them in 2011, only one year after she graduated from Lingnan. Over the past seven years, Bowie, Founder and Executive Director of Teen’s Key - Young Women Development Network and her colleagues have changed the lives of vulnerable young ladies who were once left behind due to misunderstandings by the society.
Her aspiration to raise public awareness for and improve the lives of vulnerable young women and girls in Hong Kong has sprouted since her internship at Zi Teng, a non-governmental organisation that serves women who work as sex workers in Hong Kong and China. “I joined outreaching activities to meet with sex workers at their workplace. Misrepresented by media for years, they are often portrayed as ‘bad ladies’ who would wallow in degeneration. In fact, they are as nice as our dear ‘aunties’ who even prepared bowls of soup to greet us,” Bowie said. She recalled how the volunteers taught these “aunties” to use computers for instant FaceTime with their own families. “Why do they deserve such derogatory stereotypes by the society?” she wondered.
After graduating from Lingnan, Bowie continued her career with Zi Teng where she soon realised the need to establish a platform to protect adolescent girls with sexual issues. “In 2008, a 16-year-old female sex trade worker was found murdered by her client. Most brushed off the issue as a youth problem, but not many care about the 16-year-old sex worker’s rights. Zi Teng found that the characteristics and needs of this group of adolescents were very different from those of traditional sex trade workers. These young women and girls lack support for more holistic services,” she said. With funding from Zi Teng, Bowie and some fellow volunteers established Teen’s Key which provides a safe, supportive and non-judgemental environment for these young women and girls to develop their potentials and offers them advice on maternity health and rights.
Many girls who once lost directions in their lives have now found their way. Their transformation gave Bowie the power to run the shelter for years despite countless hurdles. In particular, the transformation of a 19-year-old girl who had worked at nightclubs since 13 deeply touches Bowie’s heart. “Many misperceive that all young girls fall into sex trades due to teenage rebellion. This 19-year-old girl entered the industry just to repay gambling debts of over HK$700,000 for her mother. Not long after the sixth year did she realise her job added nothing but only money to her life, and she started to think about quitting,” Bowie shared. To prepare for a better future, the girl, without formal academic or vocational training for six years, sat for the HKDSE after one year of nightclub works in daytime, tutorial classes by Teen’s Key in afternoon and formal schooling at night. “Although she only got one subject passed at last, we all saw her determination and perseverance to make a change. She is now pursuing a job in a beauty salon,” Bowie said.
Running an organisation is much more than simply providing direct services. “We need to manage charity registration, budgets, donation records, and similar to running a business — to understand and observe relevant laws. In addition to traditional outreach strategies such as visits and seminars, we have put efforts in developing a systematic set of online outreaching channels ranging from Instagram to even mobile apps. Recently, we are working on a CRM software based on an online outreaching model,” Bowie explained.
“What we need is not a perfect plan for life, but the room to explore uncertainties,” an advice that Bowie would like to offer to young people. It is the flexibility of a start-up that allows Bowie to put innovative ideas into solutions and address the rapidly changing social issues. “Perhaps I am not aiming for perfection but innovation,” she said.