Cover Adrian Cheng (middle) and the advisory committee members of WEMP Foundation (Photo: courtesy of Maggie Yeung Hong Ki)

The new WEMP Foundation will benefit more than 10,000 underprivileged children and parents with support from medical, education, political and business experts

Not only have Hong Kong students’ education suffered from repeated school closures due to Covid-19 restrictions, many children from underprivileged families have also suffered from mental health problems of varying degrees throughout the pandemic.

To combat this, Adrian Cheng, the CEO of New World Development, has set up the WEMP Foundation, the city’s first NGO dedicated to early-childhood mental health, which launched on November 10. The foundation aims to create a nurturing environment for children across four key areas: wellbeing, emotional quotient (EQ), mental health and positive parenting with initiatives such as educational programmes and parental skills training.

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Cheng has banded together an advisory committee with 19 members, including experts in education, medicine, academic, political and business sectors; and leaders such as Professor Anthony Wu, the former chairman of Hospital Authority; Dr Ko Wing-man, the former Secretary for Food and Health; and Dr Rosanna Wong, senior advisor to The Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups.

At the moment, it can take as long as two years for children requiring mental health treatment to receive referral and care, according to Dr Phyllis Chan Kwok-ling. Chan is a consultant psychiatrist at Queen Mary Hospital, and the lead of WEMP Foundation’s workshops for parents from underprivileged families, and says “the situation is extremely worrying”.

Chan says she is seeing more referral cases about increased levels of depression and anxiety among local students, and that most of these problems are due to academic stress, parents’ high expectations, and schools repeatedly closing and reopening, which have adversely affected children’s social life.

“Underprivileged families are at the highest risk and are the most vulnerable [to mental health struggles],” she says. “If these kids don’t have access to early medical treatment after showing symptoms of depression or anxiety, they may end up giving up on school and their studies.”

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The foundation, which was established in February 2021, has since launched pilot projects such as film screenings, panel discussions, family bonding workshops and interactive games that focus on expressing one’s emotions. With support from sponsors and donors, these projects have helped more than 7,000 students and 14,000 parents.

At present, the NGO is collaborating with different partners, such as Just Feel—a charity that helps children develop skills to express themselves—and reaching out to schools across 18 districts to benefit 20,000 students and parents. Cheng also has plans to offer parenting skills training at ten kindergartens in the city, which will support around 10,000 parents and children.

“Children are the key to the future of the society,” Cheng says. “Creating a healthy and positive environment in which they can grow and reach their full potential is therefore imperative.”


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