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ESF The First 50 Years - People stories

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ESF alumni: Marwah Family

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 June, 2017, 10:32am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 June, 2017, 10:35am

[Sponsored article] Getting to send all seven children of the Marwah family was a huge relief for the parents, who were given the unenviable task of providing and organising uniforms, lunches, daily drop-offs and pickups and transportation for after-school activities as well as dealing with unscheduled events.

The plus-side was the children entering Bradbury School and South Island School were given the advantage of familiarity and received support from their brothers and sisters already familiar with the ESF system. It also helped that the teachers knew their names even before meeting them.

“Entering each year, the Marwah name preceded me, sometimes to my advantage,” says Yael, who is executive assistant at the law firm Hogan Lovells in Hong Kong.

Her brother Azan, barrister and mediator at Gilt Chambers, adds: “We always had brothers and sisters with us, so we never felt alone, and the teachers always remembered our family, so even when I was new to school I felt like I already belonged.”

Each of them feels as though the ESF has helped shape their lives. Alia, a trained lawyer and the chief executive of Mother’s Choice, the charity set up by her parents in 1987 to serve pregnant teenagers and little children without parents, remembers having special needs children integrated into the classroom.

“They were valued as an important part of the school community, which was hugely impactful for me growing up,” she says. Seeing this inspired her to work even harder at Mother’s Choice to support and find families for children with special needs.

Azan was inspired by the ESF’s public service ethos as well as the diversity of the student body. “Protecting Hong Kong’s underserved communities has become part of my work as a lawyer,” he says. “These are passions that I developed early at school. We were always taught to be conscious of how diverse Hong Kong is and how important it is to celebrate and protect that diversity through the regular cultural events run at school.” 

Azan’s public service concerns family and child law. He advises a number of charitable organisations and frequently represents clients in family courts pro-bono. He and his brother Shaphan are co-authors of the recently published latest edition of Hong Kong Family Court Practice.

As for Yael, she frequently works with coordinating Hogan Lovells offices’ CSR programme across Asia Pacific and the Middle East, working with various social enterprises and non-profit organisations. She also supports Mother’s Choice by advocating for and recruiting foster families.

Not all of her school memories were pleasant, however. On her first day of school, her teacher asked her to run an errand. While she was away told the class that she suffered seizures. She was bullied for it and that taught her some hard lessons about what kind of person she wanted to be and what friendship really means.

Yael still remembers fondly how her teachers did their best to help her, and the three girls with whom she sat together in classes are still her close friends.

“My experiences at school definitely taught me the characteristics of a true friend, and more often than not you need them during tough times,” she says.

Many other happy memories also come to her mind, such as receiving the SIS Endeavour Award. It was a real shock to her to be recognised for the first time in her life.

All the Marwah siblings met their closest friends in Bradbury School and South Island School and at various other ESF schools participating in joint after-school activities. Alia even met her future husband at an ESF friend’s wedding, with whom she is now expecting their fourth child.

The sixth Marwah sibling, Sharah recalls how those friendships have lasted and meant so much to the whole family through the decades. “When our youngest brother Arman passed away in December 2014, the one thing that touched me the most was not the countless letters we all got from our old teachers and friends, but looking up at his funeral and seeing a row of my friends from South Island School (some of whom I hadn’t seen in many years) sitting together and supporting our family in that dark hour. It says a lot about the ESF community.”

Looking back, Yael wish she had more confidence and participated in more activities during her school days. But her sister Hanaan, now an advisor to CDC Group’s equity infrastructure team on the African power sector signed up for so many activities that she was active almost every day after school and during most breaks and lunchtimes.

“It gave me confidence that I could manage a diverse set of interests, and showed me that there are hidden connections between different subjects and activities which could improve as a person,” says Hanaan, adding that she found the passion for historical research, which is so critical for her current career, back in her school days.

To make the most out of an ESF school, Alia suggests that students should go out of their way to engage with the diverse student community and the wealth of education resources at their disposal. She believes adopting this will serve as a great asset for the rest of their lives.

Sharah believes that being educated in such a diverse community is what inspired her in career in healthcare and technology innovation, sharing that, “the exposure I got at such a young age is what made me want to make a difference at a large scale.”

Sharah also says that she is most grateful for the international education and traveling opportunities given to her during her time at South Island School. “I went on the Switzerland ski trip every year. I also participated in the French language exchange program in La Reunion. I tell people about those experiences now, and they are shocked that I had those kind of opportunities at such a young age.”

Yael also encourages young pupils to make the most of their opportunities and to create their own if there are none in sight.

“I think your education is what you make of it, and we all have the potential to do so much more than we realise,” she says.

All seven siblings went abroad to university, but four of them came back to live in Hong Kong full time with their families. For all of them, Hong Kong was and forever will be home.