Hong Kong Mom June Kim spent close to 15 years in the intense world of finance — beginning her career in Hong Kong, moving to New York, and back again. After the birth of her first child and trying to find the right work-life balance for herself and her family, Kim chose to become the stay-at-home parent. While playgroups, preschool and the birth of a second child kept Kim very busy for the past several years, she soon felt the itch to begin the next phase of her professional life.
This happened, as it does for many, in the serendipity of life. While meeting with a former colleague from her days at Morgan Stanley, Kim was introduced to one of Hong Kong’s most enduring philanthropic organizations, International Care Ministries (ICM). She was impressed and soon found herself drawn to the work ICM does for the ultra-poor, mainly in the Philippines. Here, she reveals how her involvement has impacted her perspective on life.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
I was born and raised in South Korea, but moved around quite a bit. I started out as a single living in Hong Kong and met my husband here. We moved to New York in 2004 and we hoped to settle there — we wanted to make one place our home for our new family. Just as I was about to give birth to our first child, in 2008, my husband told me that he had an opportunity to move back to Hong Kong. Ten weeks later we were back in Hong Kong with a newborn and new positions here.
I continued to work for several years after our daughter’s birth, but was struggling with the little amount of time that I had with her each day. After many long conversations about leaving work and staying home, we made the decision that I would become the stay-at-home parent.
How did you learn about International Care Ministries?
I was introduced ICM by my former boss, David Sutherland, who after retiring from finance had become the chairman of ICM. We caught up for lunch one day and he told me about his work with ICM. Before I knew it, I was walking around ICM’s offices, meeting various members of the team and thinking about how I could help. This was all a big switch for me. I had worked in finance for over 16 years — since graduating from college — and that was all I knew.
The culture of the finance world versus the non-profit world is very different. I love being in an environment where the work is all about helping other people. This was a perfect opportunity for me to do something new, something challenging for a great cause. I am glad I started this new adventure. I am consistently learning, meeting fabulous, inspiring people, and, most importantly, impacting those people in need.
Can you tell us more about the work ICM does, who the organization reaches?
ICM was founded in 1992 by Sharon Pastre, who had been supporting several Christian ministers based in the Philippines. While she had been helping in the Philippines for while, it was on a visit in 1992 that Pastre was shocked by the breadth and depth of need, and began to expand her work. Sharon’s work in the early 1990’s laid the foundation for ICM current organization that works on the islands of Negros, Bohol, Paway, Palawan, Cebu and Mindano serving over 100,000 people each year, and have reached over 700,000 with outreach.
ICM’s work includes three targeted programs. The Transform Program is a life skills program deployed by ICM staff members and trained volunteers that work with 30 participants in 16 week programs. This program is designed to develop positive values, health and wellness information, and livelihood and entrepreneurial skills and productivity. In 2015-2016 alone, almost 150,000 family members benefited from the Transform Program. ICM’s Jumpstart Kindergartens are targeted at the most vulnerable areas, often hard to reach communities and provides young students with early learning skills and readiness for primary school. In the past year, the program provided this learning opportunity almost 2,250 boys and girls (ages 5-6). The Thrive Program is the third major program run by ICM, which seeks to provide support to local Filipino churches and their pastors.
Why has ICM chosen to focus almost exclusively on communities in the Philippines?
ICM focuses on helping the “ultra-poor” — people who live on as little as US$.50 a day, or approximately HK$3.80 a day. These are communities that have no clean water, no toilets, and 25% have experienced the death of a child, usually due to failure to thrive. While ICM seeks to help other communities in need, the needs of the people of these communities in the Philippines are dire. Additionally, since ICM is a Christian faith-based organization and many of these communities are Christian, they are receptive to working with our teams of pastors and staff members. Sharing the commonality of speaking English also makes our work more accessible to these communities.
Tell us about Skip-A-Trip.
Skip-A-Trip began as the brainchild of Jessica Scuilli and Chris Tight, two Hong Kong moms who, sought out opportunities for service trips and found ICM. These moms had the wonderful idea of creating a trip for their families to take a break from the Hong Kong high-end travel circuit and instead take a trip that would allow their families to give back to those in such great need. The first trip — a completely organic idea created by these two women — included a group of 11 families that traveled to the Philippines over Chinese New Year of 2015 to build comfort rooms/toilets.
As one of these women, Jessica Scuilli has described it, “we (my husband and I) had decided that it was time to go on a trip where we could give back. We wanted our kids to experience service, to help build something in a community less fortunate.”
Have you seen the impact of your work on your family, your children in particular?
This work — helping to improve the lives of the ultra-poor — has opened our family’s eyes in many ways. As parents, my husband and I see the great importance of planting a “giving heart” in our children. It has also made us look around and recognize those who are in need, which we hadn’t done before. This coming year, we are sponsoring one Jumpstart Kindergarten that will provide education for 30-40 children in ultra-poor communities, while also educating their parents on the children’s health and livelihood. My daughter, who is now eight years old, has visited these communities in the Philippines with me twice and I would like this trip to be an annual trip for our family.
I want to make it more natural for my kids to be thinking of how they can be helping others. It has been amazing to see the effect these trips have had on our daughter. She now sets aside money from her allowance to give to the children she has met on our ICM trips. I hope that with these trips my daughter will carry on with volunteering and always look out for people in need. In all, this has been a very positive impact on our family and I am very grateful for that.
What would you say to other Hong Kong Moms who aren’t familiar with ICM?
We are always looking for partners, and we offer many opportunities for individuals and families to get involved and meet the people we are working with. Becoming a donor or a volunteer is a good chance to open their children’s eyes to the issue of poverty. What starts as one trip for these families develops into a desire to do more for the people they have met in the ICM programs. This deep and long-lasting commitment made by Hong Kong families to these communities in the Philippines is an amazing thing to see.
* Skip-A-Trip and join ICM over the following holiday dates: Nov. 25-27; Feb. 2-5!
To learn more about ICM and Skip-A-Trip, visit www.caremin.com.
Laura Thompson is a Hong Kong Mom and freelance writer based in Hong Kong.