Laura started volunteering with HELP at the beginning of the year. She coordinated the relaunch event in March and from then on has been an invaluable volunteer in our fundraising and communications team, working non-stop to spread word of our cause and empower domestic workers. Hear about what she hopes to achieve for domestic workers in Hong Kong through her work with HELP.
HELP: Tell us about your first encounter with a domestic worker.
Laura: Having been raised in Singapore for the first few years of my life, I was looked after by a lovely Filipina woman named Chato. Sadly, I don’t remember her, but have been told many stories about her. She was a midwife by training, but like so many other women had left the Philippines in search of a better life and a chance to earn more money as a domestic worker, to send home to support her family. She came to my parents after leaving an employer who hadn’t treated her particularly well and couldn’t believe she was being given our spare room to live in!
Similar, to other’s experience, returning to live in Asia as an adult, my first re-encounter with domestic workers were the typical Sunday street scenes. I just couldn’t believe that in this day and age thousands of people lined the streets, sitting on cardboard in the heat and humidity of Hong Kong to enjoy their day off.
HELP: How did you get involved with HELP?
Laura: When I first arrived in Hong Kong I came across HDH, as it was previously known, however I was in full time employment and wasn’t trained as a lawyer so thought I would not be much help to the organisation! Little did I know a few years later and with the opportunity of a career break, I would bump into Catherine Graham, Chaplain and Vice Chair of HELP who was looking for volunteers to support the re-launch of the charity. With my background in marketing and business development and having previously worked in both the charity and corporate sectors, Catherine asked me to run the re-launch event in March 2017. Since then I have been involved in the day to day marketing and communications activities, as well as various projects and fundraising events.
HELP: Why do you feel supporting domestic workers, and HELP, is so important?
Laura: There are over 350,000 domestic workers in Hong Kong, all who play a vital part in the working of this city. Readily available child care at little cost enabling both parents to work, someone to run the household, do the housework, shopping, taking care of elderly relatives, walking the dog, the list is endless. Hong Kong would be a very different place without them. Yet these domestic workers are so often underappreciated for the work they do, have limited rights and worse are sometimes mistreated. By volunteering at HELP, I hope to play a part in changing perceptions of domestic workers, to be a voice for them, to speak out and show them the respect and dignity they deserve. The work HELP does is so important, not only do we provide free advice and assistance we also want to empower domestic workers, which is key.
HELP: From volunteering with HELP what do you think are the most common issues domestic workers in Hong Kong are facing?
Laura: Many domestic workers face homesickness and loneliness, thousands of miles away from their families. Could you imagine leaving your children, families and familiar surroundings behind for the bright lights of Hong Kong, only returning to visit once a year? Domestic workers are at the mercy of their employers, many suffer exploitation, mistreatment and verbal and physical abuse.
HELP: What’s one thing you've learnt about yourself/Hong Kong through your work with HELP?
Laura: It’s hard to believe that domestic workers still get treated the way they do, to see the same issues still being faced as was the case some thirty years ago when my family first employed domestic workers. Domestic workers always appear so happy, their joy and zest for life no matter how tough they have it, is humbling. One such example was when a client won her case, she was overjoyed and arrived at the office with pizza as a thank you, she was so happy, good had come out of a bad situation, I had tears in my eyes that day.
HELP: What do you wish the public knew about domestic workers in Hong Kong?
Laura: Rather than what I’d wish the public knew about domestic workers, as I believe people are becoming aware of the issues, it’s more about how the public view them. Domestic work should not be viewed as simply “help” but as work like any other job, in turn giving domestic workers the same rights as others.
For me, as an expat living in Hong Kong I feel extremely privileged for the opportunity to live and work freely and to be welcomed into a different culture. Like domestic workers, many expats leave their home country, in pursuit of better job prospects and to provide a better lifestyle for their families. However, this is where the similarity ends, bound by their conditions of stay which stipulates the allowed duties, living conditions and other labour-related regulations. There needs to be a shift in mindset.
HELP: What advice do you have for domestic workers who are being mistreated?
Laura: I appreciate it is very daunting to speak out about the way one is being treated by their employer or a particular situation they may be facing.
However domestic workers shouldn’t suffer alone and in silence, our door at HELP is always open.
HELP: What’s the best way to start a conversation with someone who doesn't understand some of the issues domestic workers face?
Laura: To ask them to put themselves in the shoes of domestic workers, to see it from their perspective. Imagine being asked to live in a very small space which is both your home and your place of work, work all hours, with little time off and for relatively little pay.
Thank you Laura for the time you have dedicated, effort you have spent and wonderful work you have done for our cause. If you are interested in lending us a helping hand like Laura, or contributing in a different way, get involved here.