Humour, mutual respect and good ol’ home cooking
There’s nothing we love more than to hear your stories about your family and the wonderful relationship you have with your domestic worker. Beth McNicholas wrote to us at Sassy Mama HQ and shared about Charito, her domestic worker and the incredible impact Charito has made on her family. In a way to honour all that she does for the McNicholas family, to highlight their friendship and what she means to them, we were ecstatic to share their story here in our next edition of Helping Hands. Read on as Beth and Charito share about their most memorable moments together, and what every family in Hong Kong should know about domestic workers.
Tell us a little bit about yourself! What brought you to Hong Kong?
We moved to Hong Kong in August 2006 for my husband’s banking job, with no set contract in terms of time. My father was in the foreign service and my husband’s father was in the travel industry, so we had both traveled extensively growing up and we were excited to have that opportunity with our own family. I have to admit that I had a tiny bit of hesitation at first given that I attended five elementary schools myself and I wasn’t sure I wanted quite that much change for my own kids, though! I don’t think we expected to be here for 11 years and counting, but living in Hong Kong has been a fantastic experience for us all. For me and the children, it has been the longest we have lived anywhere, so it feels very much like home.
What made you decide to hire a domestic worker?
When we arrived in Hong Kong, our children were 3 ½ and 6, so the idea of having some help in the home was actually a selling point for me! We started interviewing helpers right away, and found Charito on our first day of interviewing. I knew she was the helper for us because she made me laugh in the interview, and she seemed to have a strong enough personality to be firm but loving with our children, which has absolutely been the case! I love to cook, so I was mostly looking for help with the housework and babysitting in the evenings in the beginning. As the years have gone by, I became very involved with the parent organisation at school, the AWA, the scouts, the Hong Kong Cotillion program, and a home-based business, Charito took on a lot of the cooking as well and she now makes many of our favourite recipes better than I do! Most days we work together in the kitchen, though, and we have a lot of laughs while doing it.
What is something you appreciate and respect about Charito?
This is a hard question for me because there are so many things to say! Charito is truly my “right hand” and she often knows what I need before I even mention it. She is one of the strongest, most hard working, and trustworthy people I know, and she is incredibly disciplined and self-motivated. She manages our home seamlessly and makes all of our lives easier every single day. Perhaps the best thing about Charito though is her sense of humour! She was always known as the “fun” helper when the kids were little because she would play with all the children in the building, and she makes everyone in our family laugh multiple times a day.
What’s something little that your domestic worker does regularly that means a lot to you?
Once again, I am not really sure where to start with this one! Charito honestly does so many things that I am so grateful for. The two things that come to mind first, though, are the special relationship she has with my kids, who are now 17 and almost 15, and how much she loves the rescue dog that we added to the family a few years ago. Charito is like a second mom to our children. She has helped to reinforce and shape their characters with the values that are important to our family through her care and support of them. Our dog, Timber is incredibly spoiled! He gets a meal of chicken and rice every day, which he absolutely loves. In addition, Charito takes Timber out every morning before we all get up, which is a huge gift to us as none of us are morning people! She loves to play with him and he faithfully follows her around and gets so excited when she comes home whenever she goes out.
Tell us about a special moment between you and Charito.
Charito has two daughters in the Philippines who were quite young when she came to Hong Kong. Since she has worked for us, she has gone home at least once a year to see them, but a few years ago, we brought the girls here to spend Christmas with her. Seeing her with her daughters and being able to meet them was a very emotional experience. The older one graduated from University last month and the second one will graduate next year. I feel as proud of them as I do of my own children, and I am awestruck at how hard Charito has worked to keep her relationship with them strong and how much she has sacrificed for them. I know they are very grateful for all she has done for them, and I hope we have had a tiny part in making that a bit easier for her.
Hi Charito! Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your family and where you’re originally from?
I’m Charito Nerveza, 48 years old, and married. I have four sisters and one brother. I have two daughters. My elder daughter graduated this year from university and my youngest will finish next year. We live in Quezon Province, “The Land of Coconut.” My father owned a small automotive shop and my mother cooked at the small eatery attached to it. I helped my parents with the shop until I moved to Hong Kong, and also took care of my niece and nephew from the time I was 16 because my sister went to Singapore to work. When my kids were 3 ½ and 6, I decided to go to Hong Kong to work because I wanted to make enough money to have my own house someday. We all lived together in one house and it was very crowded and I also wanted my kids to go to a good school.
How many years have you been in Hong Kong?
From 19 September 1998 to 2017… nearly 19 years! I have worked with three different families, two Chinese and one American. I feel like Hong Kong is my home. I like the weather and there are a lot of modern conveniences that we don’t have where I am from, like washing machines!
When did you join Beth’s family?
I was hired in September 2006. They signed the contract because they said their kids like me, I’m a little cuter than the other applicants, and funnier! I was excited to try working for a Western family because I had been working with Chinese families for eight years. I was nervous because I didn’t know how to cook any Western food at all and I had never used an oven!
What’s something you enjoy about your job?
Way back then, I like playing with the kids especially hide and seek! I like helping with birthday parties, other parties and I love doing arts and crafts things for school, especially for my employer’s work with the PFO. Now that the kids are older, I love playing with the dog, having puppy playdates, bathing him and cutting his hair. He likes hide and seek, too, and he even doesn’t mind when I blow dry his hair now. We are buddies!
Tell us about a special moment between you and Beth.
We do a lot of cooking and baking together. We call it “Wok with Beth.” I especially love cake and cookie decorating! I chop and she cooks and I clean. I’m her right hand she’s my left hand. I have learned so much about cooking and baking since I started working with her and I really like it now. When we cook together, we chat a lot about my family and anything we can think of to talk about. We also try not to step on Timber, the cutest dog, who is always in the kitchen to ask for cheese!
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time/day off?
I sometimes go to church on Sundays. I like meeting friends and hiking, too. Beth is very flexible and I invite my friends over for lunch every day. We all cook and share food with each other and we meet in the evenings if we are free then, too. I like to draw and sketch and I spend a lot of time video chatting with my daughters, my parents and my other family members in the Philippines. I especially love talking to my niece, Chuchay, who is almost three years old. She likes to sing to me and she also loves to say hello to Timber and the McNicholas family.
What is something you wish families in Hong Kong knew about domestic workers?
I just wish for them to understand differences and practices from where their helper came from. To understand us, trust, respect, and forgive us if we make mistakes. It’s very hard to be away from family. As I work for an American family who treats me as part of their family and helps me a lot financially for my kids’ education and my own property, I’m grateful and blessed. I work hard to make them happy and proud to have me and in return I have decided to be with them for as long as they need me. That’s love… I give all the glory to God for choosing them for me.