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Hong Kong LDS mom launches Kickstarter for talking pen discovery books

DALLAS — Growing up in the slums of Hong Kong, Cecilia Yiu quickly learned the importance of education in order to progress in life. With sacrifices from her family, Yiu traveled to BYU-Hawaii at age 18, and completed a bachelor's degree in two years. Education was her key, and she did not want to miss her opportunity.

She continued on, receiving her master's of business administration from Brigham Young University, and landing a job with one of the Big Four accounting firms, PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Dallas.

Now, with two children and working as a stay-at-home mom, Yiu has found a way to share her passion for education and the importance of encouraging learning at an early age. On Feb. 21, Yiu launched a Kickstarter for Discover Wonders, a talking book series that strives to fuel curiosity and learning in children.

Choosing to stay home

Since leaving Hong Kong at 18, Yiu has made choices that were opposite of the culture she grew up in.

"In Hong Kong, the mentality is you don’t get married until you are 30 and you have one child or possibly two," Yiu said. "You hire a housekeeper, and the housekeeper or the grandparents take care of the kids and you work."

She met her husband, Nelson Chan, at BYU-Hawaii and was married in 2007 at the age of 22. Upon receiving her MBA in Provo, the couple moved to Dallas, where Nelson studied to receive his doctorate in chiropractic and Cecillia worked, thousands of miles away from both Nelson's and Cecilia's families in Hong Kong.

The couple had prayed for five years to have a child when Cecilia became pregnant in 2013. Life seemed to be at a high point until both Nelson and Cecilia ran into visa problems and had to immediately stop working.

"A major heart attack," Cecillia said. "We decided to buckle up and embrace the challenge."

Cecilia Yiu is home-schooling her daughter.
Cecilia Yiu is home-schooling her daughter.
Provided by Cecilia Yiu

A promise from PriceWaterhouse that she could return once the problems were resolved gave the family hope but Cecillia says her mind was opened during that time.

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Cecillia Yiu strongly believed in the importance of motherhood. However, as her husband was still in school she had been providing a major portion of their income. She had been home with her daughter for 10 months when she had to make the decision whether to return to work.

"At one point in the last days that I could no longer drag out telling my boss if I was going back or not, I went into my room, knelt down and prayed and said, 'Here are my two options, I want to choose my daughter,'" Cecilia said. "And the answer was so clear, it was as if a light turned on in a dark room, it was that clear that you have to take this option where you are not going to be paid much, but take it, don’t worry, go with it.

"It was still a long time out of temporal suffering after that decision because of the financial impact, but from a spiritual standpoint, from that moment on, every single decision in my career was directly tied to a revelation. … I never knew that secular and sacred could be so close, and that itself to me was the biggest testimony to me that Heavenly Father cares about us, he knows our situations and he knows the struggles that we are going through. … The best part is, he knows our potential so much better than we do. I would never have thought that a startup could unleash this passion in me — completely changed everything."

A startup begins

From that point on, Yiu stayed home with her daughter and decided to home-school her. At 3 years old, she could barely speak full sentences because she was learning two languages, English and Cantonese, yet she would find a way to ask questions that Yiu was unsure how to answer.

One night, Yiu's daughter asked her what the moon was. Yiu explained simply that it was a moon, that it did not generate light on its own, but reflected light from the sun. A few months later, Yiu's daughter pointed at a mirror and made the connection that it was like the moon because it was reflecting light.

"It was an epiphany," Yiu said, "that little children have the ability to not only ask questions but they can digest extremely complicated information and internalize it."

Nelson and Cecilia Yiu read to their two children.
Nelson and Cecilia Yiu read to their two children.
Provided by Cecilia Yiu

In pondering how to best teach her daughter, Yiu realized that her own availability and her daughter's inability to read were the two things hindering her learning.

"If I could overcome these two barriers, my availability and her vocabulary, she could understand so much more, starting when they are young when they are extremely absorbent and constantly asking these questions to figure out the world around them," Yiu said. "That’s when the idea came. … That’s how I came up with the whole idea, having a series of talking books that uses an ordinary item, things they see all the time, and then we introduce the wonders behind it. Because when you look at everything, they are wonders, we just take them for granted."

Yiu has created a book series that focuses on common items such as water, balloons, bicycles or toothbrushes. The item is then introduced by learning its history, or by viewing the item mathematically and scientifically.

"I thought if I could create something that weaves all these different threads, starting when they’re young they can develop things across dimensions," Yiu said.

In order to then make the books accessible to her young daughter, Yiu used the idea of a talking pen that responds to over 300 audio hotspots in each book.

Yiu explained her goal is to help other parents who may have found themselves in a similar situation as she did.

"A lot of parents have the idea that their child doesn’t want to learn," Yiu said. "That it’s such a pain to get them through school, they think school is boring and the information is not relevant because we are not teaching them when it is relevant to them, when they are actively seeking questions."

Yiu has received $14,000 of her $30,000 goal through Kickstarter. The fundraiser is open until March 22.