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Ella Parry - Child-Refugee to Celebrity-Backed Illustrator

Cosmopolitan Hong Kong Magazine

(English Translated and Extended Version)

  • June, 2015
  • November, 2015

Cosmopolitan Hong Kong - June 2015 Edition

Art is universal and knows no boundaries. Do people who create art have enough space in their heart to embody the whole world, and see everyone as equal?

Ella Parry’s story illustrates the contrasts between the real struggles of life and how even in the most challenging times, one can come out victorious and achieve their dreams successfully, while fully understanding human equality.

Ella was born among 8 siblings, with dark skin and curly hair, in a Cambodian Chinese immigrant family. Her father’s ancestral home was in Chaozhou, China.

In 1975 when she was just 3 years old, Ella’s family escaped from war-torn Cambodia. Her mother, three sisters, and two brothers were the first group to escape to Laos, leaving her father, Ella, and other two sisters behind to join them 1 year later, where they ended up living for another year.

It wasn’t long again, before her mom’s group entered illegally from Laos straight into Hong Kong. Ella and her father’s group remained separated for three years during this time.

Instead of going straight to Hong Kong, they moved from Laos to Thailand and stayed in a refugee camp for over 6 months. Only once a week was she and her siblings allowed to see her father.

Finally, it came time for them to try and enter Hong Kong to join her mother and other siblings, but at the airport the Chinese Authorities realized they were refugees, and unfortunately (or fortunately!) - instead of sending them back to Cambodia, they sent them to an Island next to Hong Kong, called Macau, where they had to stay.

After a few months in Macau, Ella’s father managed to contact her mother in Hong Kong and they ended up illegally entering Hong Kong by hiding at the bottom of a fishing boat during the night.

They found themselves living in the most rundown areas of Kowloon City, Hong Kong and lived there, for over 6 years.

Fortunately, due to the “Touch Base Policy” launched by the British Hong Kong Government in 1974, Ella’s whole family was eventually able to stay and become official residents.

Ella ended up starting at Kindergarten, even though she was already 5 1/2 years old. Education was difficult for her because nobody at home could help, since her parents, siblings, and herself couldn’t speak Cantonese to start with.

If her previous experiences didn’t sound challenging enough, it didn’t stop there…

Her self-image was affected negatively because of her curly hair and dark skin, and she was always trying to find a way to fit in, forever feeling like she didn’t belong to anything.

She was told by her parents to keep her Cambodian past a secret to avoid further issues at school, yet it was emotionally painful for her to feel like an outsider and keep it locked inside.

The teachers at school were too busy to give time to any single child because they had 36 children in one class. Not wanting to feel rejected, she would end up doing her own thing by herself, so she started to draw in her free time.

Ella found refuge and comfort in drawing, which became her spiritual support & strength. She particularly liked to draw different cartoon characters and she dreamt of becoming an artist one day and creating something that could someday be as popular as “Hello Kitty”.

At the end of the school day, parents of other children would make fun of her because of her different appearance. This increased Ella’s social anxiety even more, so as each new school year approached, she would always be fearful of new students making fun of her looks.

In fact, one day, the school even asked her parents to write a letter to prove that she was born with natural curly hair! Ella started to wish more and more that her hair was straight and her skin was lighter.

In high school, Ella started to struggle with the emotional and mental issues caused by her experiences when she was younger. Her grades started to drop and she came second to last in her class at the very end of the year exam.

Emotionally, she felt more vulnerable than ever before and just wanted to hide away. She did manage to make some friends, but she was always able to hide her emotions and never reveal how she really felt. Instead, she put on a happy face, despite her inner turmoil of low self-esteem, lack of confidence and depression. At night she would always wait for the lights to turn off until everyone was in bed, before crying herself to sleep.

Ella eventually realized as she grew older, that if a child needs help, they need to get help from a very young age, otherwise it will affect them throughout their whole life. 

Because of her childhood experiences, Ella has learned to cherish everything. Although her childhood was very tough, she is grateful that she had the opportunity to draw and do what she really wanted to do.

Little did she know, deep inside her heart, an image of a naïve little girl was born. She was cheerful, optimistic, and loved everyone and everything in the world - and she also had curly hair! This girl was a projection of Ella herself. The unhappy experiences from her childhood did not adversely influence her creativity. On the contrary, it led her to an even better world full of creativity and possibilities.

After Ella graduated from secondary school, she was admitted to the First Institution of Art and Design in Hong Kong to study art. Two years later, she was enrolled in the night school  at Tsing Yi Vocational School. 

One day, she decided to apply to Central Saint Martins in the United Kingdom. She booked her air ticket without telling her parents and told them one week before her departure that she was going to an interview at Saint Martins, despite their objections.

Ultimately, she found out that Central Saint Martins really only offered Graphic Design which she didn’t resonate with and soon after starting there, Ella left and went to Camberwell to study Visual Arts instead.

Halfway through her studies, terrible news arrived from Hong Kong. Ella’s brother had been diagnosed with cancer. Her parents could no longer subsidize her tuition fees. She had to quit school and find a job in London to support herself, while still managing to draw in her spare time.

The naïve little girl with curly hair was reborn again in her heart. She gave her a name and called her “Little Curly”, and from that point onward, she has become part of Ella’s life once again.

But this time, Little Curly had a serious mission. Her mission was to spread the message that everyone is equal, regardless of their history, culture, race, gender, or belief system.

Ella’s experience of living in various foreign countries and experiencing different cultures, made her realize that everyone in the world is one and the same. “Nobody is an outsider, as long as their heart is broad enough to embrace everyone & everything”.

Ella has designed a series of products for Little Curly to help her fulfil her mission. The main product, Happy Kids Affirmation Cards, is designed to empower kids to increase their confidence, self-esteem, and create a positive, healthy & successful future.

The Little Curly brand also has postcards, greeting cards, bookmarks and Eco-friendly tote bags. They are made of eco-friendly & recycled materials to help the environment as well.

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Use Happy Kids Affirmation Cards as a daily mindfulness tool for young children to calm worries, decrease stress and enhance wellbeing.

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