Proud to serve the motherland
"Since I'm often away from home, I spend as much time as possible with my family when I can, and work after they've gone to bed," Yuen says. "It's necessary to make compromises to accomplish everything I want to do." The night before the interview with Classified Post, Yuen toiled until the early hours of the morning after spending the Sunday with her family and catching up on work after dinner.
Yuen says she feels guilty about how little time she has for her three children. "My husband and my late parents had been most supportive and accommodating, which allowed me to pursue my dream, often at their expense."
Since returning to Hong Kong from a university teaching post in Singapore in 1986, she has played an instrumental role in the development of social work education on the mainland.
She started collaborating with Peking University to develop social work programmes on the mainland in 1988, and is now an adviser to the China Association of Social Work Education, and a member of the mainland's expert panel for the registration and accreditation system for social workers. In 2008, she was elected as president of the International Association of Schools of Social Work, the first Asian to assume the position.
Yuen wanted to be a social worker since secondary school. "I was inspired by a teacher, Miss Jacqueline Pullinger, who devoted her life to serving the underprivileged in Kowloon Walled City. When I was in university, I made serving the motherland my vocation in life."
She says her role at PolyU, where she builds partnerships with local and mainland communities, allows her to maximise her potential as a woman leader. She led PolyU's response to the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, working with colleagues ranging from social workers and physiotherapists to engineers, and co-ordinating their efforts in providing training and support to mainland professionals.
Tension arises when her children want her attention. "I can be forgetful - there were times when I forgot about my children's examinations." She has not spent as much time as she would like to with her children, but her values - with an emphasis on social responsibility - have infused her children's personalities and career choices.
Her eldest has initiated a public education campaign on women's issues on the mainland, while her younger daughter recently returned from a trip as a volunteer in Ghana. Her son, who is studying for a veterinary degree, interned for a non-profit group providing livestock for mainland farmers. "I hope they will contribute to society and not make the pursuit of fame and money their goal," she says.