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Jen-Ai Lai

Director and Co-founder

12-year-old Jen-ai’s heart was filled with quiet resentment: how could her family send her to volunteer in such a filthy, uncivilized place? But as she worked long, hard days in a remote Taiwanese village caring for a generation of people whose lives were dictated by systemic racism and abject poverty, a pang of conscience stirred her heart.

Determined to make a difference, Jen-ai enrolled in a 4-week volunteer service trip to rural China, only to return home disenchanted and disillusioned. Despite her pure intentions,  
Jen-ai realized that she had perpetuated the very system of inequality she sought to end. In building schools, she had deprived unemployed locals of much-needed jobs. In teaching English to aboriginal youth who could barely speak Mandarin, she had left them powerless and voiceless in a society dominated by Mandarin-speakers. Then and there, China challenged Jen-ai to question the true meaning of charity. She began to wonder if there was a better way to help people.  

Refusing to accept her volunteer experience in China as the standard, Jen-ai founded Hope for Happiness (HFH) when she was 16 to address critical social issues in a way that upholds the dignity of all groups involved. With an emphasis on dialogue, collaboration and respect for diversity, Jen-ai has led over 80 young people in the innovation, funding and implementation of powerful community-based programs that combat global health disparities. Over the years, she has advanced HFH reach by opening two chapters of HFH and garnering the support of non-profits and businesses across Canada.

In 2012, Jen-ai was awarded a Schulich Leader National Scholarship at UBC. In pursuit of her childhood dream, she is pursuing her MD degree at the University of British Columbia Medical School. Jen-ai believes that her medical career will strengthen her capacity to serve humanity and extend the positive impacts of HFH initiatives. Today she continues to provide mentorship and vision for the members of HFH as a co-founder of this organization.  

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