Ideas to show your appreciation to your helper.
Did you know that May is helper appreciation month? We at Sassy Mama think they need to be applauded every single day! After all, our helpers often work tirelessly through the year, often putting our needs and that of our families over their own. This year, foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Hong Kong have had an even tougher time, especially as the pandemic has continued to spread, forcing restrictions and financial constraints here and for their families overseas. So let’s make even more of an effort this year to celebrate our domestic workers!
COVID-19 Protocols For Helpers In Hong Kong
To begin with, start by having a conversation with your helper about COVID-19 testing protocols and vaccination requirements. With the new mutant strains being discovered every day, the Hong Kong government has increased its vigilance against the spread of the coronavirus. As two domestic workers were found to be infected with the mutated strain, the government has ordered compulsory testing for all domestic workers who aren’t fully vaccinated (both jabs plus 15 days) to be conducted by Sunday, May 9 2021.
This has caused alarm and unrest amongst helpers in Hong Kong. Talk to your helper at home, explain why such stringent testing is necessary and share examples of teachers, restaurant workers and other professions who have faced similar testing procedures. As lines for testing are often quite long, consider giving your helper time off to be able to complete the process. Details about the new rules and mobile testing clinics can be found here.
There is also a lot of misinformation and scaremongering about vaccinations. Once again, explain why this is necessary, what the possible side-effects are and how the Hong Kong government is currently reviewing its proposed mandatory vaccination policy for helper contracts. The vaccination programme website has information in many languages, so ask your helper to read through it carefully. Encourage your helper to seek medical advice if still unconvinced about the efficacy or safety of the COVID-19 vaccines available. If your helper agrees to get vaccinated, help him or her to make a booking before September 2021.
Organisations And Programmes That Support Domestic Helpers In Hong Kong
Stress and anxiety during the current pandemic has affected everyone. Many of us may be feeling the pinch of restricted personal freedom, the stifling inability to travel and the worry of job cuts. Unfortunately, these are often realities that our helpers live with on a daily basis. Perhaps because they are used to less freedom than we are (or are more resilient), the helper community in Hong Kong has dealt with this health crisis remarkably well.
We spoke to four Hong Kong organisations that are helping helpers in different ways. You can consider supporting them directly or drawing on their ideas to aid your helper.
Through last year, Uplifters developed ad-hoc resources and ran a series of Facebook lives related to mental health and financial planning during a pandemic for domestic workers. These are all available to view on the website now. You can also encourage your helper to enrol in online courses on money management, mental well-being and personal growth. Your FDW can sign up for free to these courses through Facebook Messenger and join their Facebook group.
The charity offers its courses for free to make them available to as many domestic workers as possible but depends on fundraising to make its services available. With as little as $155 ($20 USD), you can sponsor the full cost of one domestic worker belonging to their supportive online community and benefiting from their online courses. You can know more about their work and donate here.
HELP For Domestic Workers
HELP’s current programme is focused on the mental wellbeing of its clients. To provide support and ensure that domestic workers feel comfortable with their everyday mental health wellbeing, HELP encourages them to seek support and enrol for free in its mental well-being support programme. HELP offers private and group counselling, and forms peer support groups. These sessions provide an opportunity to share personal experiences, express emotions and be heard in an atmosphere of acceptance and understanding. The counsellors provide encouragement and coping strategies. This helps reduce their anxiety, improves self-esteem, and helps members’ sense of well-being overall.
Another way to show your support is to assist your helper in finding and growing their own circle. Domestic helpers can build their own community through shared interests, which in turn means they’ll have their own support system. Many of the domestic workers come from diverse backgrounds and some are qualified nurses and teachers. The team at HELP believes that one of the things employers can do to support the mental wellbeing of their domestic helper is to identify things they can do outside the home and to provide support. This could be registering your helper for a course in person or online.
Here are some of the great courses for domestic helpers:
- Kick Action: Martial arts is said to develop strength, coordination and, most importantly, confidence. Kick action provides opportunities for domestic workers to learn self-defence whilst being introduced to new skills that will challenge their minds and bodies. Each session lasts one hour, teaching head-height kicks, jumping and spinning kicks, and fast kicking techniques keeping it interesting and fast-paced. These sessions help domestic workers to relieve stress by keeping them engaged in something they enjoy.
- Splash: Swimming should be for everyone. Splash conducts free classes for helpers, teaching them this critical and potentially life-saving skill.
Other than these classes, you could also help your domestic worker find an interesting class, such as cooking or language learning, or register and borrow books from the public library.
HELP Crowdfunding Campaign
Watch out for HELP’s upcoming crowdfunding campaign. Through this, HELP aims to raise funds to provide relief materials, including food, clothing and personal sanitary items to be sent to domestic workers under quarantine. Domestic workers who newly arrive in Hong Kong are subject to a 21-day quarantine. While their employer pays for the shelter, they do not receive any food, blankets, or sanitary products. Considering they have not started their employment or received any salary, they lack the financial means to buy food and other necessities. Sadly, many also carry an extra burden of unpaid loans. HELP hopes to be able to raise funds to help new FDWs in Hong Kong. This campaign is expected to go live from May-end till mid-June.
HELP, G/F, St John’s Cathedral, 4-8 Garden Road, Central, Hong Kong, 2523 4020, WhatsApp (English and Tagalog): 5936 3780, WhatsApp (Bahasa Indonesia): 5493 4660, [email protected], www.helpfordomesticworkers.org
The pandemic is continuing to have a significant and disproportionate impact on migrant domestic workers who have faced multiple financial pressures. Helpers are often badly impacted by unforeseen financial challenges due to job losses (due to employer relocation or financial constraints) or greater expenses (medical care, higher prices for food/hygiene products, travel costs or higher remittances to support family members whose livelihoods have been affected), and have very few safety nets. Rising debt levels amongst the community have been also exacerbated by domestic workers being targeted by scams. Some workers have been unable to leave the house for weeks, resulting in loneliness, lack of access to educational or leisure activities, inability to remit money, increased workloads and exhaustion.
The recent surge in COVID-19 cases in the Philippines and accompanying travel ban has placed additional financial and emotional stress on domestic workers, with many concerned about family members falling ill and being unable to work. Domestic workers provide vital care to the elderly and children in Hong Kong and contribute significantly to the economy. The Value of Care report by Enrich shows they contributed $98.9 billion to Hong Kong’s economy in 2018, equivalent to 3.6% of the GDP. With an ageing population and care gap, this city is projected to need 600,000 migrant domestic workers by 2047. The pandemic has demonstrated the vital role of health and care provision. Even as the world begins to emerge from the pandemic, you can expect to witness the impact of the pandemic continuing to affect migrant domestic workers in 2022 and beyond.
So how can you help? For one, talk to your helper about money and financial planning. You could sponsor her financial education with Enrich by signing her up for one of its many programmes. You could also donate to Enrich so that they can carry out their work and help the larger FDW community.
Borrowing money is often frowned upon by employers but there are reasons why this sometimes becomes necessary. This may be further amplified during the pandemic because of the helper’s situation back home, such as:
- Job losses or pay cuts, etc. back home.
- Health concerns of the family.
- Homeschooling, online learning and unplanned expenses.
- Emotional and mental factors. As many helpers have been unable to travel home, they face pressure from those back home to show their continued love and support.
Similarly, many helpers have found that their working environment here in Hong Kong has changed. This has affected their job security and satisfaction, and, in turn, is driving them to borrow money. This could be due to:
- The strain on the relationship with the employer with more WFH scenarios.
- Sudden terminations because of employers’ pay cuts and retrenchment.
- Homeschooling and online schooling, which has added pressure and responsibilities onto helpers that they have not been trained for.
- Helpers being asked not to take their day off or asked not to meet friends. Other than the impact on their mental and emotional wellbeing, this has led to practical problems when it comes to remittances and repayment of loans on time. The perceived lack of support and advice also often leads to hasty and often incorrect financial decisions.
You are in a huge position to help your helper’s situation in Hong Kong. While you are possibly going through your own pandemic-related anxiety, spare a thought for her worries. Accept and understand her limitations and help her overcome them, where possible. If you have had a good working relationship for many years, know that this speedbump will and can pass. About helping with the situation in her home country, have a frank conversation about how you can help.
Try to coach her to manage her expenses better, enrol her in a financial education course and help avoid the trap of illegal and predatory loan sharks. If she is in need of money, look at an ethical lending company, such as Good Financial, whose primary aim is redesigning financial services for migrant workers. Its app, Good Cash (available for download on Android), offers quick loans without guarantors but keeps the amounts small and manageable.
Pathfinders which works to support children born to migrant workers has found that the pandemic has greatly affected domestic helpers. For instance, due to travel restrictions, it has experienced an increased demand for its shelter. Together with the suspension of key government services, like the Birth Registry, there has also been a greater need for prolonged assistance. For mothers able to return home to safely settle their babies with family members, the prohibitive cost of quarantine often raises the risk of them losing their employment.
Domestic workers who are pregnant need reassurance that they will be able to keep their jobs. Remaining employed is important in order to enable helpers to access public services and healthcare, to benefit from 14 weeks of maternity leave, and to settle their children safely in their home country when flight restrictions are lifted.
Despite unprecedented challenges in the face of COVID-19 in the past year, the PathFinders team was able to comfort and care for 1,153 babies, children and women. If you would like to help Pathfinders continue with their work, consider donating on regular basis or participating in its Mother’s Day-themed fundraising effort. To “help the mums who help us” this special crowdfunding campaign is on till Monday, 17 May 2021. Thanks to a generous donor (also a proud mama of three!), all donations will be matched, thereby doubling your impact.
Editor’s note: Edited by Anita Balagopalan with help from Jennifer Wannenmacher who interviewed representatives of organisations mentioned in this post.