Here at HELP, we are lucky to work with warm and skilled individuals who are incredibly dedicated to the cause we cherish. Our Deputy Manager, Betty Wagner, is a shining example.
Betty joined HELP in September 2006 bringing with her a much needed skill in her ability to speak Bahasa Indonesia, her native language. She has been an invaluable member of our team from the beginning and will remain so thanks to her brilliance and devotion in managing client cases.
We spoke with Betty about how she found HELP—a story of coincidence and fate—and how it has changed her outlook on life.
Thank you for sharing your story, Betty!
HELP: Where are you from and how long have you lived in Hong Kong?
Betty: I was born in Central Java, Indonesia. I grew up with my grandmother, a strong, hardworking woman. When I was 11 I moved to Jakarta to live with my parents. I have always felt thankful for the time I had with my grandmother; she shaped me into the person I am today. Years later, I moved to Germany with my husband and lived there for 11 years. In 2005, my husband’s company transferred him to Hong Kong. At the time, I was not able to work under my dependent visa and so I thought seriously about volunteer work. A year later, the regulations for dependent visa changed which allowed me to take up employment, but the idea of volunteering lingered in my mind.
HELP: Tell us about your first encounter with a domestic worker.
Betty: When I was young in Indonesia, our family employed domestic workers and I am grateful every day for my parents who taught us to appreciate and respect them. My mother told us to always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ if we wanted something, to never scold our domestic worker even if she does wrong because it was not our place. Having grown up with domestic workers, I felt a familiarity with them. In Hong Kong whenever I would hear domestic workers speaking Bahasa in supermarkets I would go up to and have a chat with them.
HELP: How did you get involved with HELP?
Betty: I dedicated my first year in Hong Kong to taking care of my daughter, making sure that the transition into our new neighbourhood and her new school went as smoothly as possible. Once my daughter had settled into life here, I started proactively looking for volunteer work in local nursing homes or orphanages, but God had something else in mind for me. I truly believe that finding HELP was not a coincidence, but an answer to the daily request I put in my prayers, ‘use me for You’, use me to do something good.
One day, while waiting at the bus stop, I started talking to the woman standing next to me. She asked me where I was from and what I did for work. The woman was Holly Allan, Director of HELP for Domestic Workers. She told me that HELP had been looking for Indonesian speaking staff for the past year but had not found a suitable person for the job. I expressed my interest and Holly invited me to come to her office so I could get an idea of the kind of service HELP provided to Hong Kong domestic workers. A week later I visited HELP again and Holly offered me the opportunity to join the team. I considered the offer and, after meeting with our founder James Collins, something in me knew this was where I could do the good I longed to do. I officially joined HELP in September 2006.
HELP: Why do you feel supporting domestic workers, and HELP, is so important?
Betty: We have to understand that domestic workers who come to Hong Kong have so much to face; a foreign country, foreign employers, cultural shock. These differences can be overwhelming and can often lead to misunderstandings, which can then lead to bigger problems. By offering our support, we can educate domestic workers about their legal rights, the Hong Kong laws, and cultural differences to expect, which can then greatly reduce the chances of problems occurring.
HELP: From your work with HELP, what do you think are the most common issues domestic workers in Hong Kong are facing?
Betty: In recent years, I have seen many cases in which employers deduct wages for petty and unfair reasons; there are employers who deduct salary simply because their domestic worker has not properly put away a bowl or plate and others who do so even for something as small as forgetting to switch off a light. I have also seen many cases where a domestic worker is terminated with immediate effect, in which the employer tries to avoid paying the wages in lieu of notice.
HELP: What’s one thing you’ve learnt about yourself/Hong Kong through your work with HELP?
Betty: My life is more meaningful because I have dedicated it to helping those in need. Tears of their happiness, laughter and gratitude make my heart swell with my own gratitude for this wonderful organisation. HELP made me understand that the true beauty of life lies in how we are able to help and make other people happy.
HELP: What do you wish the public knew about domestic workers in Hong Kong?
Betty: I wish people knew that domestic workers are no different from us: they have their families, their hobbies and their dreams. They make our day to day lives easier taking on the responsibilities of taking care of our children, our parents, our house and they deserve our respect and appreciation. They make huge sacrifices; they leave their homes, many leave their children, to work in someone else’s home in Hong Kong and take care of other people’s children in the hope of giving a better life and future for those they have to leave behind.
It is a question of human decency to respect every worker’s rights whether that be having their weekly rest day, reasonable work hours, or receiving wages on time and in full.
HELP: What advice do you have for domestic workers who are being mistreated?
Betty: My most fundamental piece of advice is that domestic workers should stand up for their rights. They ought to learn about their legal rights because being confident in their knowledge can bring them the courage of conviction to act when they are treated unfairly and unlawfully in any way.
HELP: What do you do in your free time? Do you have a family?
Betty: I spend my Saturdays with my family, either at home chilling out or up a mountain on a hike or at the beach on the days with perfect weather. I try to dedicate most Sundays to going out and being with domestic workers; on some Sundays I run the workshop for domestic workers at Enrich where I am a part time trainer and on others I visit the Catholic community at St. Paul’s, they are like my second family.
HELP relies on donations to make a difference in the lives of domestic workers in Hong Kong.
We make every dollar count.
About Betty Wagner
Betty Wagner hails from Indonesia where she used to work as a radio announcer, line producer and media assistant. She lived in Germany for 10 years prior to coming to Hong Kong in 2005. She now manages client cases at HELP and leads workshops to educate domestic workers. Betty is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, as well as English and German.