Claire Yates from The Lion Rock Press and her helper, Teresa Melecio Nemenzo share their friendship and mutual appreciation for one another in this edition of
Recently, the long-awaited and much anticipated film, The Helper Documentary premiered. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and those in attendance were moved to the core. We’ve been huge supporters of the director, Joanna Bowers and her film and are beyond ecstatic that the stories of many domestic workers are being highlighted in our Hong Kong community.
Here at Sassy Mama HQ, we also strive to shed light and give a voice to these amazing women and men who make incredible sacrifices by coming to Hong Kong to work for families here. In our next instalment of Helping Hands, we feature our previous That Mama, Claire Yates of the Lion Rock Press. She shares her love and appreciation for her helper and friend, Teresa Melecio Nemenzo.
Hi Claire! You’re no stranger to Team Sassy Mama, but for those who may not know you well, please tell us a little bit about yourself. What brought you to Hong Kong?
Having a HK Chinese mother and an English Brummie father, I’ve always felt privileged to have the best of both worlds. I grew up here, attending Bradbury Junior School and then (briefly) South Island School, but was sent over to boarding school in England when I was 12. After 15 years living and working in places such as Portugal, New York and London, I returned to my beloved Hong Kong 6 years ago. In that time, I’ve been lucky enough to have 2 children, and built a business I’m passionate about.
What made you decide to hire a domestic worker?
I didn’t have a helper until my son was almost a year old. Ironically it was my mother (who grew up with cooks and amahs, and latterly hired a wonderful Filipina to help with her own children) who told me that if I wasn’t working, then it was my job to save money. That really stuck with me but, after suffering with post-natal depression, I realised that there was no point in being a martyr and needed to swallow my pride. There is no shame in admitting that you’re struggling. First-time motherhood is difficult for everyone. I was at a point where I really needed full-time help to get my life back on track, and to heal from what had been a very traumatic period. I was incredibly lucky to find Teresa, she was the first person I interviewed, and I didn’t want to see anyone else after that. I was just hoping she’d agree to join our family.
Read more: Domestic Worker Advice: How to Hire a Helper
That’s incredible you found the right person on your first interview! What is something you appreciate and respect about Teresa?
There are so many things that I appreciate and respect about Teresa that it would be impossible to list them all here. However, I do love and respect her sense of self-worth. She is very self-assured, and confident in her abilities and has impeccable initiative. She’s not afraid to be frank with me, and I appreciate that virtue in people. She’s also hugely resourceful and I’m endlessly amazed at how she fixes things that I would have thrown away. There’s so many things that she keeps and I always wonder what on earth she needs them for… and then suddenly I will see them holding together my broken clothes rail, or fashioned into some kind of useful little hook in the kitchen. It’s astounding.
What’s something little that she does regularly that means a lot to you?
The one thing that means a lot to me is that I never feel like she’s judging me. Although it must be hard for her to sometimes see me doing things in a way that she wouldn’t necessarily do herself (whether it’s concerning the children, the house, or the cooking). If I lose my temper with my children, my husband, my Mac Book… she is just the calmness that wordlessly takes the stress away without making me feel guilty and sometimes just catching my eye will diffuse everything. Truly, it is a skill that never ceases to amaze me. Needless to say, the way she loves my children is the most touching thing of all. Often when they’re sick, she will tenderly massage them, talk to them gently to relax them and you can see the tension just melting away as she soothes them.
We’re feeling the love here! Tell us about a special moment between you and Teresa.
We share special moments every day as we exchange anecdotes about the children, their progress and their struggles. We laugh about all the silly things they do and say – all their little idiosyncrasies – and we very much share the daily ups and downs. Recently, we shared a beautiful experience of hearing my son speak in Cantonese properly for the first time. He attends a local school, and we didn’t think the language was clicking despite all our best efforts. As always I confided in Teresa, who said we just needed someone to “unlock” him. We hired an art teacher to come and spend time with him and within a single session he was speaking as if it was the most natural thing in the world. We had tears in our eyes as we hid in the kitchen together listening to him and marvelling at something we’d both worried about for so long. Sharing these moments, and enjoying her company, is one of the great joys of my life here. I’m profoundly grateful for her every day.
Hi Teresa! Please tell us a bit about yourself, your family and where you’re originally from.
My name is Teresa Melecio Nemenzo, I’m 43 years old, and I’m originally from Bohol in the Philippines. I’m the second eldest of a family of 5 children (3 girls and 2 boys) and we grew up in poverty. Though we were poor, I committed myself to finishing my education and I paid for all the tuition myself. Even at 5 years old, I was earning money by doing errands for some of our more fortunate relatives, selling homemade snacks, and weaving house roofing. After graduating high school, I started a BSc in Elementary Education whilst working in domestic service for my guardian. It was extremely hard work as I was also supporting my siblings education.
Sadly, I wasn’t able to sustain the workload and had to give up the course I loved. I made the decision to concentrate on working to provide for my siblings’ education. I took on a job as a sales representative in a small company and, while I was there, I met my husband. We got married and were blessed with 3 children. With both of us working, we were managing to save some money and we were happy but it wasn’t to last. The Philippine economy crashed, my husband was laid off, and everything changed for us. We struggled onwards, but we finally decided that I should apply to the Philippines Overseas Employment Agency for work in Hong Kong or Singapore.
I found out I’d been hired to Hong Kong in April 2002, and I made the most difficult decision of my life to leave my children at the ages of 5 years, 3 years and 8 months old for the sake of their future. It was an enormous sacrifice for all of us, and I thank God for my husband who has nurtured them with love and guidance all these years. Though I’m not with them most of the time, they are filled with love and understanding concerning our situation, and I give glory to God for that.
How many years have you been in Hong Kong?
I’ve been here in Hong Kong for exactly 15 years. My first job was as a second helper for a Chinese family whom I worked with for 2 years. Next, I worked with a Taiwanese-Shanghainese family, who employed me as their sole helper, for almost 4 years before they relocated back to Taiwan. My next family was a Western family of 5 with a pet dog, but they also repatriated. I was lucky enough to find a wonderful Australian family who had a lovely boy called Henry who I missed a lot when they also decided to move back to Australia after 4 years. They really wanted to take me with them, but we couldn’t make it work. However, before they left, they promised to make sure I found a kind and happy family to work for and this is how I was introduced to Claire.
We’re so glad you met Claire! When did you join the Yates family?
I first met Claire and her son, Miller, towards the end of 2012. I was hoping that she would hire me because I immediately loved the baby! He was so cute and seemed so comfortable with me. He was happy when I held him and he kept smiling. After that interview, my only prayer was that I would be the one that she hired. I really love babies, and watching them grow as time goes by.
What’s something you enjoy about your job?
I enjoy my job so much, especially looking after the children. I look after Miller and Leila not only as a nanny to them, but as a mother to them, and really love and treat them as my own. Through them, I can pour out my love and care which I wasn’t able to do with my own children. We love playing together, especially outdoor activities and when we are laughing together it makes me feel like I’m still young, happy and energetic. We have “messy play” sessions in our backyard and the kids love to paint my face! It is so much fun to giggle with them.
That sounds like a lot of fun! Tell us about a special moment between you and Claire.
Claire and I have a lot of special moments, she is a good friend of mine. We enjoy talking, sharing thoughts and ideas, especially when we are working together in the kitchen. Having an employer like her who treats me equally as a human being is the kind of workplace I dreamed of. The Yates are very kind people. I always told myself that they would be my last employers since I will not find anyone like them again. The most special moment, which I will always treasure, was when they took me back to England for the Christening of Miller and Leila. It was a dream come true for me, and an overwhelming experience when they gave a toast to me during the celebration and acknowledged my contribution in front of all of their friends and families. It really was the most wonderful experience of my life. They took me to some amazing places in England, and it was so exciting to see all these places that I’ve only known in nursery rhymes!
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time/day off?
I’m a practicing Born-Again Christian, so my days off are usually taken up with church ministry and activities. There was a time where all I wanted to do in my spare time was lie in bed and watch movies, but recently I’ve focused on self-improvement through attending free, and even paid, seminars to broaden my knowledge of various subjects. I’m aiming to be a financial literacy advocate in order to help my fellow FDHs, friends and their families. It is my dream to be a financial coach, and so to leave a legacy to my family, especially my children.
What is something you wish families in Hong Kong knew about domestic workers?
Not all domestic helpers are content with their situation. I would love for families who employ domestic helpers to encourage them to join organisations which can enhance their talents and give them a focus to improve themselves outside of their work environment. This will allow them to feel more happy and fulfilled. A happy person makes for a content and jolly worker. How I would love to reach all my fellow FDHs to share what I’ve learned from attending seminars, and show them how to further education and learning new skills that can lead to a better future.
Ed note: If this article has touched you in some way and you would love to participate in our next Helping Hands article, please email us at: [email protected] for more information.