Inspiring Conversations

Hope in a Child’s Smile


  • SumoMe

While others are slogging to make their lives comfortable, there are a handful of individuals working to make others live more comfortably. Julia Mayehofer is the Director and Founder of Child’s Smile , an organisation that helps the less fortunate children in countries like Thailand and Burma by providing them educational opportunities and a better livelihood. What would you do if you had a heart like Julia’s?

By Penny C

Contrary to popular perception, leading a life wanting to serve and create awareness for a good cause isn’t as easy as it looks, but it sure is worth it. Just ask Julia, who’s an impassioned individual at the realm of things, ensuring that love and hope reaches to those in need.

Julia’s childhood memories were made in Austria and she’s currently creating new and illuminating ones while living in busy Hong Kong. When asked how Child’s Smile has influenced her life and the people around her, Julia’s happy to see her younger sisters chipping in with whatever time and resources they’ve got to make things better. “Everybody complains – but a small percentage is actually doing something to make this world a better place. I am not expecting everybody to start a charity, but even a small commitment can make a huge difference in somebody’s life.”

Her determination propels her to be the instrumental change that world needs as she shares with us a personal account of her learning journey and how walking in this socially beneficial path has her pushing boundaries and bridging gaps. Even though Child’s Smile isn’t as large as most international humanitarian organisations out there, you’ll be surprised at the same amount of vigour Julia and her small but powerful baby, Child’s Smile have.

Hi Julia! It’s heart warming to see Child’s Smile working as a humanitarian effort to give the less fortunate children a chance at a brighter future. Tell us more about how Child’s Smile is helping the little ones!

I first started volunteering as an English teacher on the Thai-Burma border in summer 2006. During this time I have experienced many touching moments and we I came back to Austria I felt that I need to do something to help these children – this was the motivation to start Child’s Smile. In the beginning Child’s Smile was very small and not very strategic and effective in the approach. I was also very naïve and made a lot of mistakes – I was just a 21-year old girl with a big heart who wanted to help. I started spending more time with my project partners in the following years and also in terms of fundraising I was doing much better. This made me think  how can I really make a difference in these children’s lives and help them to have a better and brighter future. I personally believe that education is the key to break the vicious cycle of poverty and can lead to real empowerment. That’s why all my work is now focused on educational projects.

One of my project partners is a boarding house and Child’s Smile is supporting 20 children with primary school scholarships which cover school fees, uniforms, transport and other school materials. In the future I would also like to focus on providing high school and university scholarships – sometimes primary education is just not enough and most refugee/migrant children will never have the resources to go to a university. Last year I have supported a student so that she can take a IT course at the local college – when she graduated she actually went back to her high school (which is also NGO and free school for migrant children) and she is now teaching IT to the students there. This is a great example of sustainable change for me and I hope I can support more students like that in the future. Unfortunately Child’s Smile is still quite small and funding is always an issue – but I’m really working hard and in a few years time I hope to achieve much more.

How has starting this initiative changed your life and the people around you?

Child’s Smile is my baby, I really see it as my life-time commitment. Luckily my family is very supportive and is also involved. My two younger sisters are only 11 and 16, both of them have already done fundraising in their schools – I am very proud that they already have that mindset at a very young age. I always try to share my passion and I aim to inspire people to make a difference in this world.

What more do you wish to see in regards to the efforts in helping the less fortunate children?


When I first started I was very naïve and still thinking that I could make the world a perfect place. I’m more realistic now, the world will never be perfect but at least I can start to make a difference somewhere. I would really wish that people in general would be less selfish and show more consideration and care to the ones around us – at school, at work or among friends/family. Sometimes we don’t need to look so far, there is a lot we can do in our direct environment already. We also need to realise that our children are our future, if we want a better world then we have to provide them with everything possible which can lead to this positive change.

Share with us an experience that has now made you think twice when you see loose change.

In the beginning I often felt very frustrated that people just don’t care and are really living in their own tiny world. But then I started to think about it again – sometimes we can’t blame them, because this is how they have grown and how they have been educated. Again, this example really shows for me why education is so crucial.

If you could give a child one of these three things, what would it be and why?

  1. Books
  2. Toys
  3. Stationery

Definitely books! As Kofi Annan says, “Literacy unlocks the door to learning throughout life, is essential to the development and health, and opens the way for democratic participation and active citizenship.”

Last year I have supported a student so that she can take a IT course at the local college – when she graduated she actually went back to her high school (which is also NGO and free school for migrant children) and she is now teaching IT to the students there.

What do you see when a child smiles?

Happiness! Starting your own charity comes with a lot of frustration and stress, I also had two burn-outs at an earlier stage of my life. But what always kept me going was the smile of the children that I help and the idea that I might have changed their lives.

What’s your happiest childhood memory?

I had a great childhood and an amazing family – playing soccer, BBQ’s, christmas evenings and our trips to Eastern Europe and Asia are definitely the highlights. I actually feel very privileged that I grew up in such a good environment. Although my family is really not rich, I still feel I had all the opportunities life. When I started travelling to Asia, I started appreciating this more and more and for me, this is also the motivation to give back to others in need – I regard it as my responsibility to use my voice and help others.

Where were you and what were you doing before you moved to Hong Kong?


I grew up in Austria and also did my undergraduate there in educational sciences. I started travelling to Asia when I was 19 – I immediately fell in love with this spot of the world. The years after that, I continued to travel and volunteer during my summer and mid-term holidays. I always knew that sooner or later I will move to Asia.

What made you decide to start anew in Hong Kong?

I first came to Hong Kong from September until December 2007 as an exchange student during my undergraduate studies. I can remember that I was really fascinated by Hong Kong and I totally fell in love with this place – for me it was the perfect combination between East and West. After that I went back to Austria, finished my degree and decided that I wanted start a master’s programme. The City University of Hong Kong is one of the only universities in Hong Kong which offers “International Development Studies” as a degree and since I’ve always wanted to live in Asia and still had a lot of friends from my time as an exchange student, it was an easy decision for me to come back.

You’ve been living in Hong Kong for 2 years. What’s the best thing and worst thing about living in Hong Kong?

I really have a love and hate relationship with Hong Kong. As a young person, Hong Kong is a very exciting place, you can meet a lot of interesting people and there so many opportunities here. Hong Kong is also super-efficient and you can really get things done here fast.

But sometimes Hong Kong also drives me crazy, it’s always crowded and busy. Also so many people only care about money, it’s a very superficial society and I don’t find people very considerate.

I would really wish that people in general would be less selfish and show more consideration and care to the ones around us – at school, at work or among friends/family. Sometimes we don’t need to look so far, there is a lot we can do in our direct environment already.

How could working & living in Hong Kong help in developing your passion
in caring for children?

Hong Kong is a very superficial and materialistic society with the biggest gap between the rich and the poor in the world – seeing that everyday has made me more determined to continue my work for those in need.

What’s your next step (personally and for Child’s Smile)?

Although Hong Kong is a great city, living here has also taken its toll on me and I am considering to leave sometime next year. All my life I have been very ambitious and I really have high goals in life – call me crazy, but my ultimate goal is to become the UN secretary general at one point. For me, it‘s not about making a successful career with loads of money but to make as much impact and difference as possible.

For Child’s Smile, all my work has been voluntarily so far – I really hope that I will be able to support myself financially in the future and fully concentrate on it. My dream would also be to live in Thailand for a few months of the year and the rest of it in Austria to do the fundraising.

Is there any other information you’d like to include in this feature?

Yes, one simple statement from Gandhi that should make us all think twice:
“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

___

Behind every inspiration is a dynamic individual who wants to the world know that there’s more to life than pushing pens and chasing riches. Julia’s big heart is for the children and her experiences has instilled in her a spirit of perseverance and compassion that has safely carried her thus far. She’s always looking out for ways to fund her organisation in order to impress unto the less fortunate the beauty of a healthy and memorable childhood.

Before you start linking the your next pay cheque to your next lavish holiday abroad, stop for a moment and think again. How can you use what you’ve to link the able with the underprivileged? What kind of bridges are you going to build?

If you want to help, visit Child’s Smile for more information. You can also contact them at info@childs-smile.org or at these numbers:

0043 (0) 699/81267645 in Austria

0066 (0) 867457684 in Thailand

00852 51076443 in Hong Kong

With neither celebrity status nor extravagant inheritance, Julia started Child’s Smile with only a humble which became a reality. If she can contribute so much to the lives of others by volunteering her salary, time and effort to make a difference, what’s stopping us from doing the same?  To Julia and everyone with a dream to serve others, we wish you much love and inspiration!

One comment

  1. Great post!

    I have met Julia and her energy and love for people is simply contagious. Julia is a hard worker but what sets her apart is her leadership abilities.

    In a worth filled with people who literally feed their self interest first, Julia breaks the melody of life by dancing toward the note of making this world a better place.

    Rayfil Wong
    CEO Campusfork.com (http://www.campusfork.com)

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