Liza Avelino, a Filipino domestic worker in Hong Kong, is climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in aid of HELP for Domestic Workers in August 2017. She hopes to raise HK$150,000.
Liza, who is known for her sense of adventure, whilst holding down a full-time job looking after a family, is the first Filipino domestic worker to scale Mt Kilimanjaro, following her previous climbs in the Himalayas, Malaysia and Japan. She was also one of the domestic workers featured in the gripping documentary, The Helper. We talked with Liza about her motivations and tips for fellow domestic workers. Thank you, Liza. You’re an inspiration to us all!
HELP: How long have you been in Hong Kong and what brought you here?
Liza: I arrived in Hong Kong in 1996 to work as a domestic worker. It was the first time I travelled outside of the Philippines. Hong Kong in the 1990s was a prime destination for foreign domestic workers. It offered better working environment and higher salary compared to other countries in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. I was one of the thousands of hopeful and brave people flocking the city to earn a living to support families back home.
HELP: What inspired you to start mountain climbing?
Liza: Hong Kong's beautiful hiking trails motivated me to become a mountain climber. But it started a long time before I moved to Hong Kong. You see, growing up, I was so poor that I couldn't even finish secondary school. But I am a dreamer and I had big dreams. That dream was to travel the world and see places, people and cultures. When you're ten years old and penniless, those dreams seem hopeless. But then it doesn't cost me anything, so I kept on dreaming. I’m an avid reader and love to read anything I can get my hands on – old books, magazines, piece of newspaper, etc.
It was that habit which took me to the library one Sunday during my day off, after I started working in Hong Kong. In 2004, instead of sitting at the square doing nothing, the library soon became my shelter from sun and the rain. There, I found a book, Discovering Hong Kong's Cultural Heritage by Patricia Lim, which described self-guided walks of the WWII defense of Hong Kong. On my next day off, I set out on one of the trails mentioned in the book that leads up to a hill overlooking the city, and the hiker in me was born.
I have been hiking every weekend since. I joined a local hiking group and later became a volunteer hike leader. In 2010, I started to participate in the 100km HK Oxfam Trailwalker to challenge myself. During my vacations, I did short hiking trips to Mt Pulag (Dec 2012), Mt Guiting Guiting (July 2010), Mt Hibok Hibok (June 2011), Mt Kanlaon (Feb 2013) and Mt Arayat (Sept 2013) in the Philippines, Mt Yarigatake (April 2014) in Japan, Mt Kinabalu (Feb 2015) in Malaysia, Mt Hallasan (Dec 2015) in South Korea.
Those short trips made me realise that I am living my childhood dreams. With a boost in my confidence and a strong belief in myself, I figured I could do longer trips and higher altitudes. I summited Everest Base Camp and Island Peak Base Camp in April 2015, and Everest Base Camp and Island Peak's Crampon Point in Nepal in May 2016.
When I'm standing at the summit I feel a sense of freedom. It makes me feel closer to heaven, literally.
HELP: You're heading to Mount Kilimanjaro in August. What kind of training are you doing in preparation here in Hong Kong?
Liza: I go for long, four-to-five-hour hikes over the hills carrying a 15kg backpack on the weekends. After I finish work, I walk up and down the staircase of our 21-storey residential building with a weighted backpack for one hour every other day. I also do a 45-minute bodyweight workout three times a week on weekdays. It takes a lot of training, but it’s worth it to be able to reach the summit of a challenging mountain and see how far I’ve come in my life.
HELP: What tips do you have for anyone interested in mountain climbing?
Liza: Mountain climbing can be an expensive but rewarding hobby. Start conditioning your physical fitness and try hiking on easy trails to gradually level up to more strenuous routes. You need stamina and a plan. Planning your climbing destination should be a priority. You can make it a goal by saving for it, cutting unnecessary spending, working overtime, and even trading your public holidays if necessary to earn extra money. Buy gear one piece at a time, put up a photo of your target mountain next to your bed, make it a screensaver for your phone and laptop to serve as photo motivator and to remind you of your goal. Stay focused and work towards your climb. Then off you go and make it happen.
HELP: What do you like to do in your free time, besides climbing mountains?
Liza: I’m always after an adventure that requires my passport. When am not climbing, I like travelling to see new places, to meet different people and learn about their history and cultures. This hobby has taken me to India, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and South Korea. I also enjoy dragon boat racing, scuba diving, caving and canyoning.
HELP: What guidance do you have for domestic workers who are considering starting a new hobby but don't know how?
Liza: My advice to fellow domestic workers is to determine what hobbies and activities most interest you and then don't be shy – ask around and interact with people, or do some research over the internet. There are lots of online forums for hobbies. In Hong Kong, people are spoiled for choice and there are so many fun things to do in your spare time.
HELP: What's next for you, Liza? What do you hope to be doing in the next couple of years?
Liza: I am working on my next career shift. I want to be an adventure travel designer and a motivational speaker. Motivating people, especially women, is my passion. I want to inspire women to be more assertive when making decisions and to help them be brave in difficult circumstances. My new dream is to help others realise their dreams and become the best version of themselves.
HELP: Why did you choose to fundraise for HELP?
Liza: I choose to fundraise for HELP because I believe in helping and educating domestic workers about our legal rights, giving assistance to domestic workers who are in distress and need legal support. As a domestic worker, I want to show my support and appreciation to the organisation by volunteering to raise funds as a part of my climb to Mt Kilimanjaro because it makes my journey worthwhile and meaningful. HELP is making a positive difference in the community – in Hong Kong and the domestic worker community internationally – and I want to show the world that domestic workers are more than their jobs. We are real people with real interests and I couldn’t think of a better group to partner with for my next climb!
Please come with me in spirit and support my journey to the roof of Africa by donating to HELP and together let us make a difference we want to see in the world.
Liza can reach her next goal with your support. She leaves for Mount Kilimanjaro on 1 August 2017. Help her climb Mount Kilimanjaro and sponsor Liza today!
Follow Liza’s journey on Facebook: #HELPherclimb