It’s somehow been two weeks since Shaela and I started interning for Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW), and we’re entering our third week of being in Hong Kong, and July is next week ?! I’ve graduated??! Wait, no.. Clearly I’m having trouble grasping time.
The office is open Sunday through Friday from 10am-6pm. Most businesses are closed Sundays, but as that is most domestic workers’ day off, the office is open to offer consultation and support.
Aside from Saturday, the two of us got to pick one weekday to have off. So, Shaela’s got Tuesdays, and I Wednesdays.
Which meant that, after our first day (a half day), I went off to the office by myself to finally get a full taste of what the Mission for Migrant Workers is all about!
I thought, you know, I’d be an observer. Maybe I’d sit in complete silence. Or fall asleep at my desk, even. (mind you, all three of those things occurred at least once in the first week of work – some days were slower than others) But it wasn’t long before a coworker assigned me a task; she looked at me and simply said, “Chronology?”. I nodded and was handed the client’s case file. I felt absolutely terrified. Working so closely with migrant domestic workers increases the pressure tenfold, but that’s how you know the work you’re doing is worthwhile. I know I couldn’t get much closer engaging with the issue of migrant workers rights than working here at the Mission.
Typing up someone’s chronology is exactly as it sounds. Starting from the first date of arrival in Hong Kong (whether it be eight years ago or only a couple of months), you create a detailed account of everything that has happened to the client. You encourage them to, if they don’t have an exact date, at least note the month of occurance. The aim is to be as detailed as possible. Taking a chronolgy helps in multiple ways:
- it creates a comprehensive overiew of the client’s situation (any other workers/volunteer can scan over it and get the gist)
- it makes the task of transcribing the series of events to a letter to the Immigration Department easier and, moreover,
- it gives the client a chance to run through things in a clarifying way
In other words, just through this task you already find yourself well-acquainted with them. They arrive with stories I could’ve never fathomed on my own.
Of course, the most fun is navigating the language barriers. Each migrant worker comes in with varying levels in English. 99% of the time, the communication is pretty smooth sailing, all things considered! When they’re from the Philippines and not very proficient at English, the staff here will sometimes jump in with Tagalog if things need clarifying. But, there are those infrequent times when there is no one to translate, such as with our Indonesian clients. Shaela had the wonderful task of creating a chronology with an Indonesidan client entirely over Google Translate. Sure, Google Translate’s come a long way with quite a few of its languages, but isn’t the best with bahasa Indonesia (literally translated to “language of Indonesia”) or Malay. Kudos to Shaela!
Jumping back to my first day, I expected to be done after the pretty self-explanatory chronology, but they had me see it through until the end. With some instruction and the help of a template, I crafted a letter to Immigration on behalf of this client, first-person from their point of view. This task informs Immigration of the situation at hand, and if they’ve got a case to negotiate, the Department will respond with instructions on where their claims have been transferred. Other reasons to write to Immigration include termination of contract, wherein both the employer and employee have to notify Immigration with a letter.
As can be expected, there was/remains a lot to learn. Much of that first week included familiarizing ourselves with rights of migrant domestic workers (most of which they themselves aren’t aware), the employment contract, and legal processes. A lot of reading, a lot of questions.
What is the Mission, exactly?
Established in 1981, it is the longest existing independent service provider for migrant workers in Hong Kong.
At the end of 2018, more than 380,000 Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs) were serving Hong Kong households (cleaning, nannying, washing, grocery shopping, etc). These 380,000 comprise 11% of Hong Kong’s 7.4 million+ population. Among MDWs, 98.5% are women coming from: the Philippines (49.5%), Indonesia (38.5%), Thailand (0.01%) and other nations such as Sri Lanka and Nepal.
In 2018, the MFMW served more than 5,000 migrants who needed rights-based information, case support, shelter, and other critical services. About 150 migrant organizations with more than 98% female membership offered educational and learning activities as preventive measures and empowerment processes.
In the past three years, cases of violence against women remained 6% of the Mission’s case intake (between 800-1200 each year). These cases know no bounds – from cases of demonstrable abuse, to incidents which leave no visible marks. Conditions forced upon these women include, but are not limited to, emotional abuse, lack of food, low/non-existent salary, incompetent accomodation (like you wouldn’t believe), and no freedom.
(the reason I know these specific stats is because, in addition to assisting [and obviously being assisted] with cases and inquiries, one of my tasks has been helping our boss, Cynthia, write grant proposals. as an NGO, MFMW relies very much on the support of partners and donors, especially to increase its service range. more on those project proposals later.)
At the Mission, the delivery of service relates welfare assistance with empowerment goals. While they provide legal and psychosocial assistance as crisis-response services, they also contribute to the development of preventive strategies through education, training, and access to service providers. Most importantly, policy advocacy and social advocacy are based on and serve the expressed concerns of migrants on the ground. The approach is not merely to serve them on a case-by-case basis, or provide the MDWs with short-term solutions. The strategy is reliant on and serves an empowered community of migrants in the long-run.
Where is the Mission?
MFMW’s main walk-in centre is located in Central District at St. John’s cathedral, and they also maintain an extension office in West Kowloon. I know those names mean little to nothing for those reading, but I will tell you that these areas were chosen as they are the main congregation areas of MDWs during Sundays.
Who is the Mission?
A team of wonderful people who will waste no time welcoming you with wit, warmth, and food.
Many of the core staff members are themselves Filipina, so my favorite part of this internship is that I not only get the opportunity to experience Hong Kong culture, but spending as much time in this office as I do immerses me in Filipino culture as well. A 2-in-1!
Take titles, for instance. Our boss’ name is Cynthia, right? The first couple of days I kept hearing people refer to her as “Addison.” I didn’t get it, nowhere in our correspondance did I notice “Addison” in her name. Was calling her this a privilege only bestowed upon those who know her well? What was happening?!
Until I was reading a document and came across “Ate Cyn.” Wait a minute, I thought, this sounds an awful lot like “Addison”… and actually has part of Cynthia’s name in it… Turns out, “Ate” is, in Tagalog, a title of respect for women; so it can be used as a title, a pronoun, or simply preceding someone’s name – like Ate Cyn. Good going, Adna. Same situation for my direct supervisor, Manang Dolly (pictured below). I genuinely believed “Manang” was her last name and that we were all just refering to her as “Last name, First name.” Her name is Dolores, and “Manang” is yet another Tagalog term you use to refer to your older sister. It’s a lot more fun to participate in saying them when you know what they mean!
There are also a fair share of volunteers/workers who are here on their own programs, and stick around for a lot longer than two months. Miracle, pictured above, is here from Malawai as a Global Mission Fellow (through the United Methodist Church) and has been here nearly half a year already. Another is Hani, from Indonesia, who’s been here for nearly two years and is leaving in July. I’ve only interacted with Hani a few times, but nevertheless Shaela and I were invited to her going-away party that the office (her friends) organized. There was so much laughter and love – I aspire for groups and moments like those (and began imagining a similar dynamic at the end of our two months here…). In fact, they put together a little slideshow of memories and last year’s interns (Hi Filip and Sydney!) were in a few of the pictures! How cool! It was so much fun to just hang out with everybody, and sing some Backstreet Boys and Bee Gees on the karaoke machine with them.
Those spending their time at the Mission are also MDWs who once came in seeking help and returned to pay forward the support they received. The capacity for paying it forward not only increases the range of service, but also continuously empowers female MDWs who once felt so helpless. I experienced that on our first Sunday at work, where many came in on their day off to help (see right). I adored the connections and friendships between them all!
And, of course, I have likewise adored growing closer with everyone here, and look forward to growing even closer over the remaining duration.
disclaimer: take this all with a grain of salt. naturally, one blog post can by no means do justice by everything the Mission and its people do