Today meet Siti, one of our students and team leaders. She is a 33 year old Indonesian domestic worker in Singapore and proud single mom of two teenagers.
(N.B. All our Uplifters Team Leaders are alumni students supporting new ones in their studies and we’re so grateful for their help!)
“I have a message for my fellow Indonesian domestic workers. Dare more! Dare to join Uplifters and to try online courses.
I was a very shy person: really not confident because I did not have a high education level. My English was so bad and I thought I was not capable of much as I was “just” working as a domestic worker. So at first, I thought online courses were not for me but I am so happy I finally changed my mind because I was so wrong about it!
I came to Singapore in 2012 when the factory where I used to work in my hometown closed down. It was really hard at first as I had an 8.5 months salary deduction to cover my hiring costs. I missed my two daughters a lot especially as I could only call them once a month. As a single mom, it was really difficult to leave them. My employers were fair but never cared so much about my feelings.
I heard about Uplifters thanks to my Facebook friends. I was excited to see it’s about empowerment as I had a big lack of confidence before. Now I feel much stronger and the confidence I gained at Uplifters I know want to share it with my fellow domestic workers as a way to give back. I am proud that recently I helped a friend find a new employer by herself (direct hire). I helped her post an ad, prepare for the interviews and supported her throughout the entire process. I am also volunteering my time at CDE (Center for Domestic Employees).
Thanks to Uplifters, I am able to communicate better and of course having more savings makes me feel better and happier. I have a real passion for learning and I believe that even if you are not born with many talents, nothing stops you from developing them.
In addition to Uplifters, I’m also a student and volunteer at Aidha (non-profit organisation helping domestic workers and low income women in Singapore to achieve financial independence through financial education) and I believe they are very complementary. Online courses make education available to those who cannot attend face-to-face classes.
In the next 2 years, I want to have my own land for my future dream: build a hydroponics farm. I want this farm not only to produce veggies but to also include an education center and a garden cafe for my community back home.
I am really happy that finally my hands are good at something and that I can have a positive impact on the people around me.”
By Marie Kretz Di Meglio, Uplifters Founder. “Today, I want to introduce you to Evelyn, one of our “gold team leaders” (alumni students supporting new ones) at Uplifters. I initially got to know Evelyn through a Facebook group for domestic workers in Singapore and I was really impressed by her sound advice to fellow domestic workers. She has a very balanced perspective on domestic workers – employers relationships and she does not hesitate to remind domestic workers that they came abroad to work, not for holidays and that they should also honor their part of the contract! On top of guiding domestic workers online, Evelyn has been volunteering for a long time at Home and now the Centre for Domestic Employees – CDE. Her dedication to helping others is truly admirable.
Don’t be abused by her humbleness,she is one of a kind and a true inspiration for me.
I was genuinely interested in her feedback about our money management and personal growth courses and very happy she found them helpful for herself even though she was already well aware of these topics. Our Student Success Volunteer, Anne, interviewed her and I will let you now hear her story in her own words. “
Evelyn is a 47-year-old Filipino, single mother to 4 young adults. She describes herself as a shy person, who is usually quiet if not familiar with the people around her, but once she’s comfortable with her environment she becomes compassionate, empathetic, positive and passionate about helping others. And we can guarantee you the passionate side!
“I came from a poor family and didn’t have the means to go to college. When I had my kids, I vowed to myself that I would do everything to give them a better future. When the opportunity knocked, I jumped at it and became a migrant domestic worker.
I’ve been working here in Singapore for 17 years. When I first came to Singapore, it was pretty hard. I’ve faced lots of challenges, like culture shock, the language barrier, issues with settling in and homesickness. But the most difficult part has been being separated from the outside world. I’ve worked for 2 years without a day off, a phone, or permission to speak to neighbors…it’s been very hard.
I heard about Uplifters on social media. I like to learn new things and so I was desperate to find about their Financial Course. What attracted me the most to Uplifters is that it’s an online course, which is very convenient for me. I’m hoping to achieve my financial independence in a few years and so far, I’ve already achieved freedom from debt.
Aside from money management, I’ve learned to say ‘no’ in a nice way.
Right now I’m only supporting my youngest son and my mother: my monthly remittance is for my son’s school fees and allowance, along with my mother’s medication, food and bills. I don’t have much in the way of savings. Over the years, most of my money has gone to supporting my family and paying for my four kids to get their education.
My youngest son graduated from college this month, so now I will move on to my next goals: saving enough money to build my own house and keep using my free time wisely. Thanks to Uplifters courses I discovered my ability to control myself and stay focused in order to reach my goals.
I did recommend this free online course to my kids and to my niece because I want them to learn how to manage their own finances, become financially independent and to secure their own future. My kids now understand the value of money and the importance of savings for the rainy days.
Now, I really enjoy being a team leader.
I meet different people; learn different characters, personalities, perspectives and different life experiences. I used to think that my experiences were worse than everyone else’s, but now I’ve learned to put things into perspective. It has taught me to stay positive no matter what. Not to mention that helping others is satisfying for the soul.”
We told you a few weeks ago the story of three amazing domestic workers passionate about photography.
Today meet Bayti and discover her secret how to make any plant grow.
Bayti comes from Indonesia and has been working in Singapore for more than 4 years. She’s one of our wonderful Uplifters Gold Team Leaders : she has facilitated more than five sessions of “Dare to Dream”, our 3-weeks free online course! Our team leaders are volunteers and dedicate their precious time-off to help fellow domestic workers build better futures for themselves.
On top of her long working hours and dedication volunteering at Uplifters , she is passionate about gardening and cooking. She combines her passions to grow herbs and things that she will use in her cooking. She learned to cook and garden by herself. Her passion also helps her employer to save money!
The plants she grows are basil, mint, chili and capiscum.
She wants to share some interesting tricks for those who are interested to do the same :
How to make a plant grow?
Cut the stem and put in the water
Wait until the root comes out
Plant it in the soil (soil can be bought anywhere)
Water the stem with rice water or water mixed with milk (that gives more nutrition to the plant)
Other general gardening tips :
You have to take care of the plants with your heart. You can talk to them too because they can feel it.
Water the plants twice every day with rice water and milk leftover
If you notice anything unusual (like white sticky substance on the leaves), remove the sick leaves.
Remove the seeds from the plant when you cook them (chili, tomato, lady’s fingers, capsicum, ginger, turmeric, galagal, etc)
Grow something that you can use for cooking, this is more fun!
Use compost mixed with normal soil for the plants.
Her message for those who may feel discouraged if it is not working: “Don’t give up if your plants don’t grow that well. Just keep trying and be patient, you will soon see results!“
“As I love to cook, I find recipes on the internet, YouTube, Facebook groups, Pinterest and Twitter. The Internet is the best way to learn anything! Even if you cook something for the first time and it turns out not to be what you expected, you can find the adjustment (maybe there was too much of one ingredient, not enough of another…). Try different ways. Also learn about spices as this gives all the taste to a dish! Learn about timing too. Not too long, not too short to make sure you don’t kill the nutrition or the vitamins. Cook with love so it helps the food look and taste delicious!”
Her motto is: “If I can do it myself, I don’t need to buy it!”
Bayti is thinking about making her own fertilizer so she will not need to buy it in a shop. Not only are her crops useful on a daily basis and give a special taste to her cooking, but they also beautify her employer’s garden.
Now she is even considering making her own spice cultures like she had in Indonesia. “I like challenges that can make me grow every day. I also like crochet, knitting and drawing but I’m too busy now and have to make a choice. But I know I can come back to those anytime.” Bayti loves DIY in general and would rather do anything herself rather than buy it! “Plus I know where it comes from!” she says. Each time she changes employers she adapts herself to the new one and tries to learn what would please them, incorporating her talents. Furthermore, Bayti also shares her knowledge with the Domestic Workers community , which is a precious act of generosity.
Thank you for sharing your passion and your tips. This can surely inspire a lot of people!
Article originally published in Sassy Mama Singapore on May 13th 2019.
With the recent tragic case of Baby Jane Allas, we wanted to share with you another reaction from an employer whose domestic worker was facing a similar situation. Read on for her recommendations to fellow employers of domestic workers.
Christelle and her family have been living in Hong Kong for 12 years. They have two young children, ages 8 and 4, who were both born in Hong Kong.
Christelle works full time and sometimes long hours. Her husband started his own company and is also working full time away from home, so they heavily depend on their domestic worker.
Both children have medical conditions which require careful attention from the caregiver. Hiring a domestic worker who is healthy, conscientious, dynamic, reliable and attentive to the children’s safety and needs was one of their major concerns.
The couple hired a 38-year-old Filipino domestic worker in 2017 called Janice. She’d been working for them for a year when she started to feel pain in her breast.
The news and the following months
Janice found out she had breast cancer after she went for a check-up at the Tung Wah hospital due to the persistent pain she was feeling. The public hospital reacted quite quickly, proposing a date for the surgery two months later. Her sister, who was also working in Hong Kong, attended all of her medical appointments with her.
Meanwhile, Janice still had one year to go until the end of her contract with Christelle’s family.
Janice was devastated when she got the news and naturally thought about her children back home. Christelle and her husband reassured her that they were going to support her during her treatment. Unfortunately their insurance covered “any” emergency — except for cancer. So they had to cover all the medical expenses themselves.
J’s sister had also a history of fibrome which disappeared with plants and massages. Her sister insisted that J saw that same doctor she received the plant treatment from once she started to feel the pain in her breast. Her sister seemed to have played a crucial role as she pushed her to see that doctor (about S$60 twice a week for three months). Those expenses were covered by the employers.
The operation and treatment
J spoke to her family about chemo treatment and the operation. Her family put a lot of pressure on her, saying that if she did chemo, she would lose her hair. She got scared and refused the operation on the day the operation was supposed to take place. She simply did not show up for the operation. The employer realised afterwards that she did not go to the hospital. They realised later what was happening and had to talk to her, abruptly telling her that realistically, she could not be cured with plants – she had to have the operation.
They had to force her to go back to the hospital to see the doctor in QMH, who was able to reschedule the operation for 15 days later.
The employer had regular discussions with her during this period and discovered the pressure that her family had placed on her. They felt overwhelmed by the urgency of the situation and the fact that her family did not really play a supporting role, and almost jeopardised her life. They learnt, in the meantime, that the cancer had spread to her throat.
Finally the operation day arrived and J stayed in the surgery unit for 7 hours.
After the operation, she underwent six months of chemo and radiation therapy.
During her treatment, she was unable to work one week out of four. J was speaking easily with her employers during that period. She realised she was receiving a good level of treatment in Hong Kong, and preferred to stay there rather than return home to the Philippines.
Later after the treatment, she went back home. When she returned from the Philippines, she was shaken to hear about a fellow domestic worker from the same village who’d had breast cancer but had refused treatment. She died a few weeks later.
The logistics surrounding her illness
Christelle and her husband knew that Janice would be unable to cope with her work while having the heavy treatment, so they had no choice but to hire another domestic worker. Their other domestic worker, M., started with the family a couple of weeks after J’s operation.
The relationship between the two domestic workers was not great. But the second helper knew that it was temporary. In fact, the family discussed with Janice and they agreed that once the contract was finished she would find another family, health permitting.
But the main concern was that they would work as well as possible together. They needed to manage their time together and the balance was quickly difficult to maintain considering the circumstances.
Janice’s contract reached an end last year and she found another family to work for. They are still in touch. Today, thanks to her employer and the high quality healthcare she received, she is fine.
What to take away from the experience?
When I asked Christelle what she had learned from this experience, she answered “The satisfaction that Janice is cured and that she continues to support her family, as was her choice to do”
Their advice for employers encountering the same situation:
“Communicate well with her. It is very important to keep reassuring her on the fact that she would stay until the end of her contract and that she will get good medical treatment. We had small children so we had to take someone else but we never had a doubt about keeping her until the end of the treatment.
Beware of medical practices that can be harmful for their health and discuss the treatment and her medical appointments with her if you can’t accompany her. Ask about her family back home – how they deal with the news and if they support her.”
Additional tips for helper healthcare in Singapore:
Make sure your insurance is up to scratch – the bare minimum will probably not be sufficient should your domestic worker require treatment in hospital. Many insurance plans are less about the health of your helper and more about helping the employer.
Think about what you are able to help with financially, should there be a negative outcome.
Discuss with your domestic worker the possible outcomes, and what would happen.
Today, meet Jhoan, a 33 year old single Filipino domestic worker in Hong Kong. Jhoan is one of our precious team leaders. She helps new students throughout their online courses at Uplifters. She presents herself as a very outgoing and optimistic person who loves to learn news things, read books and explore new horizons.
“I came to Hong Kong because I left a toxic relationship with my husband in the Philippines. I came here to make myself complete again as an independent woman. I have been working in Hong Kong as a domestic worker for two and half years now. It is the first time I have worked abroad. It’s hard to be overseas – you don’t know anyone and are a complete stranger in a country. The long working hours were really difficult to handle at first. I was exhausted and lost a lot of weight but even with all those barriers, I knew that it was good for me to be here because there are lots of opportunities for growing personally and professionally.
The funny thing is, I discovered Uplifters when I was browsing the internet looking for a group which I could join to learn more and empower myself. Thanks to Uplifters’ ‘Dare to Dream’ financial course, I’m now able to save 20% of my salary and start to build my house in the Philippines. I’m hoping to achieve what is on my “Dream board” : my main objective is to build my own house, have my own business and travel as much as I can so financial stability is a must. I have two siblings and my parents are still working so I don’t have to support anyone. I just send some money when needed. Join this course! I believe every young woman should get financially educated and plan for her future.
The other good thing with this course is that I dared myself to develop new skills: I really love photography and I wanted to improve my photography skills by learning new techniques. So, I started searching on the internet for some photography classes and it became my new hobby. I think that the Dare to Dream course changed my personality in a good way and also my relationships with others, for example with my employers: I was very shy with them at first but now I’m more open and we talk about my hobbies and my online course. They support me with what I’m doing right now and said they appreciate that I’m doing things I love during my days off.
Now I’m an Uplifters Team Leader – it’s super challenging for me because I have a lot of work to do and sometimes the students are not as active as expected. But, I keep on going and try to motivate them as much as I can and help them when they need it. I’m always happy to see the students’ success and certifications despite their busy schedules. They reach their goals and will be able to manage their lives and feel fulfilled themselves.
My message for everyone : never give up on your dreams. You too, you can be a strong and independent woman.
Marites, one of our students, is a 44 years old domestic worker from the Philippines. She has been working in Hong Kong for 13 years to support her 18 year old daughter and her father in the Philippines. But she is way more than that. Despite her long working hours, she learned by herself how to become a journalist and just got accepted in a highly selective social fellowship by the Resolve Foundation (do check their amazing impact). Discover what motivates her to always dare more and to give back to her community.
After graduating from our money management and personal growth program, Marites has been one of Uplifters Team Leaders since February 2019. She likes hiking and describes herself as being self-reliant, hard working, and strong.
How I became a domestic worker
“I didn’t plan to become a migrant domestic worker, but when I had my daughter, my husband wasn’t supportive so I decided to work abroad as a domestic worker. I originally planned to work for two years only but I did not manage to save properly so I’m still here. I spent two years in Singapore, two years in Macau and I’ve been in Hong Kong for thirteen years looking after children. I love it.
My dream of becoming a journalist
I’ve now been writing for 6 years as a contributor writer forThe Sun Hong Kong, a Filipino newspaper.
Originally I have a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture majoring in Crop Science. I learnt how to write here in Hong Kong. This is how it started : 6 years ago I was invited to attend a news writing workshop and I started to write an article based on their standards. I was then invited to join The Sun Writers’ Club. Since then my life became very busy attending and covering different events of the Filipino Community in Hong Kong. I love what I’m doing because I can open the eyes of my fellow domestic workers to certain issues concerning our work such as basic rights like the minimum wage, the living conditions, the job description, medical benefits, etc.
It’s always been my dream to become a journalist since I was a child; the fulfillment came when I became a member of The Sun Writers Club.
Last March 10th I received an award by Labor Attache Jalilo Dela Torre from the Philippines Overseas Labor Office, as an appreciation for my positive impact on the lives of my fellow migrant workers by protecting and educating them about their rights and by advocating their welfare in various ways (http://www.sunwebhk.com/2019/03/the-sun-editors-and-writers-receive.html).
I never expected this award, I am just happy to help my fellow migrants. My mentor Ms Daisy Mandap, the chief editor of the The Sun Hong Kong, has been influencing me in raising awareness towards our fellow Filipinos here in Hong Kong.
My experience as an Uplifters student
I took both “Dare To Dream” and “Become A Leader” classes from Uplifters and found them really inspiring and educational. I had attended seminars in the past and for me online class is a really challenging activity. I told my boss about my activities during my day off, they knew about my situation as a single mother, and they are very supportive. They treat me like being part of their family.
With the Uplifters classes, I learnt how to save money for myself and how to say no to financial requests. Furthermore what is very interesting is that you can learn at your own pace, it is entirely up to you to learn. Nobody is forcing you.
I also realised I wanted to help my fellow domestic workers and learnt how I could positively help and impact them. I really want to encourage more people to push their limits as I pushed mine.
Incredible things happening as a result
During the Uplifters course “Dare To Dream” we are challenged to try something new, something we’ve never done before, to get out of our comfort zone. That’s how I found the courage to apply to the 2019 Resolve Fellowship. Luckily I have been chosen as one of 20 people this year. It’s a life changing opportunity and a new challenge for me. It is also a blessing as I can empower myself and have a bigger impact on the community not only for the Filipino community but to all sorts of people staying in Hong Kong and specially the 385,000 migrant domestic workers.
My plan for the future depends on my daughter. After she finishes her college education and obtains a good job, I will go home for good. Until then I will continue helping my fellow workers with the grace of our Almighty God.”
We wish Marites the very best in her writing, every success in the Resolve fellowship program and wish to congratulate her for all the amazing actions she has accomplished. She is an inspiration for all of us to always dare more.
Meet three talented domestic workers who were attracted to photography out of nowhere and soon became passionate about it. These dedicated women saved for months to invest in a camera and so learnt about an interest which gradually became their passion.
Yanthi, Eni and Sugi were the official photographers for our one year anniversary party in Singapore.
I’m Yanthi from Central Indonesia. I am 46 years old. I have 2 brothers and two sisters and I am the youngest in the family. My father was a farmer & my mother is a housewife. Sadly my father passed away last year.
I’ve been working in Singapore for 20 years for the same employer. I have learned so much with my employer. When I arrived, I didn’t know how to speak English and I felt so lonely.
To overcome these overwhelming feelings, I took some English courses and also studied computer & entrepreneurship at Aidha. The English course helped me to communicate better with my employers and their kids. I realised how I love to learn new things; it feels like I am upgrading myself!
To stay with one employer is great because you don’t have to adapt yourself over and over again. The best thing my employer did for me is to allow me to study & upgrade myself.
When I first arrived, I didn’t have a day off for 2 years. After 2 years, my employers gave me a day off every Sunday. I used this time to study and do some volunteering work. I don’t really like to spend time doing nothing. My motto is keep learning and don’t give up.
To stay with the same employer, it is a must to develop a good relationship between the two parties. Both employer and employee need to be understanding and accept the weaknesses and the strengths of the other.
I’ve been passionate about photography since high school. I learnt by myself by capturing people, friends or nature. The more your take photos, the better you become. I started to use a digital camera (DSLR) after I graduated from Aidha. There, I learnt about budgeting and saving so I managed to save enough to buy my Nikon D5200 in 2012. It took me 2 years to save up to buy my digital camera. I joined a group of photography events because I could not afford to go on a photography course.
In order to photograph models, you need to make sure to dress the models nicely. They need to have neat makeup and hair styles. Then, you need to find a good environment so the whole picture is beautiful. Also, you need to make sure the model knows how to pose naturally. The model needs to understand what the photographer wants in the first place. This collaboration is essential to make good photos.
These are professional Indonesian models wearing beautiful dresses. I love the background as it contrasts in color and shape with the models’ dresses.
I love to capture people; for me the human body is beautiful, that’s why I love to capture models.
Aidha changed my life for the better because I learned about budgeting, how to use a computer, how to be more confident and how to start a business. Before I joined Aidha, I loved spending but since I graduated, I really love saving.
I heard about Uplifters from Ms Marie. I met her at Aidha when I did some volunteering work for them. Uplifters is really good. Like Aidha, they are helping FDW (Foreign Domestic Workers) learn how to save, become more confident and so much more. I hope Uplifters can encourage more FDW to learn as their courses are online and easily accessible.
My name is Eni. I am from Indonesia and I’m 33 years old. I am a single mother with a 4 year-old son. My mother is looking after him. I entrusted my mother to be his second mom to teach him how to behave and respect others. I’ve been working in Singapore for the past 10 years.
I started photography in August last year. I bought myself a camera for my birthday. I started to hang out with my friends taking pictures of them and it gradually became my passion.
During my day off, I ask my friends if I can take pictures of them. I love to capture their smile, laughter and happiness. It gives me a positive mindset to look at their pictures.
I heard about Uplifters from my friend. She said it was very useful to know about money management and empowering oneself. I could see how happy she was during the course; she said it changed her life and she became more motivated. Because she liked it so much, I decided to join the course. After I finished the 3 week class, I realised how it really helped me to track my expenses and I could start to plan for my dream, as well as increase my savings too. I feel so happy today with all the things I learnt from it. I am very blessed to have had the opportunity to enrol in this course. Now, thanks to Uplifters, I start to manage my salary, I have a clear vision of my future and I’m more confident. Thank you Uplifters!
If I had a message for other domestic workers it would be: Don’t limit yourself to just look at something that makes you happy; give yourself full support to reach your dreams, learn more and don’t give up!
This is one of my favorite pictures. I love their smiles. They look so united and the colours of their dresses give me such a positive energy!
My name is Sugiarti Mustiarjo, I’ve been working in Singapore as a domestic worker for 18 years. Despite having independent brothers and sisters, I still send money to my parents every now and then.
I started photography 3 years ago when I bought a digital camera as a birthday present to myself. I attended a photography workshop with Aidha and Lensational. Before I bought my camera, I used to take pictures with my phone as a way to keep memories alive.
My tips to other domestic workers would be: keep reminding yourself the first reason you’re here, it’s okay to express yourself, share your passion, be creative but keep in mind that your work is the most important thing, surround yourselves with positive activities and positive people. Stay safe.
I learned about Uplifters through Facebook and I thought it was a good opportunity for domestic workers as their courses are free and online.
This picture was taken in Koh Samui, Thailand. This is where my dream of ”seeing the world” started, on this tiny island where my journey of life began.
I have a soft spot for black and white photography.
This picture was taken during a migrant poetry competition in 2017. This woman won the competition. I edited the photo with double composition format. This was my first “official photographer“ engagement.
Depending on whether you have money or not, there is no limit when you are passionate about something. These women have sacrificed months of wages to meet their thirst for learning and that has led them to a new, exciting and beautiful path.
Thank you to these three talented ladies for sharing their expertise at an Uplifters event!
On 24th February 2019 Aleli, Eden, Milkha and Rosie will be running a 50 km race in Hong Kong for the benefit of Uplifters. Click here to participate.
Not only they will raise funds for Uplifters but they will also advertise the online education platform while running, raise awareness to fellow domestic workers about what Uplifters provides.
Uplifters will be there to support them during the race and we are so honoured, proud and excited that such inspiring women chose our cause to run the Victoria 162-H50 this year!
Thank you ladies!
Who are Maid of Heart and Sole?
They are a racing team composed of two Indonesian and two Filipino runners:
Aleli Pena (also called Thana by her friends), is a 40 year old filipino mother of 2 children (16 year old daughter and 4 year old son). She has been working in Hong Kong for 14 years as a domestic workers. Aleli started hiking with the MeetUp group (Hong Kong Meet Up). She later decided to try the 100 km Oxfam trailwalker under their sponsorship. That’s when she started to run and discovered she had a passion for trail running. She trained every Sunday. Her employers are flexible and she does not take care of children anymore so she can also run early in the morning.
Aleli is the team leader of Team 0262 ‘Maid of Heart and Sole’ which consist of four domestic helpers who run with her and participate to help raise funds for Oxfam. They want to represent the Domestic Workers community in Hong Kong and promote their ability, determination and enthusiasm to excel.
Rosie Rusinah, is a 35 years old Indonesian from Java. She has been in HK for 13 years. She started to run in 2010. Her Chinese employer was very sporty and she was running regularly. Looking at her employer influenced her to be more fit and healthy. She also realised that Hong Kong had a lot to offer and was also attracted by the beautiful sights while hiking. To have flexible employers is very important to pursue this quest in her opinion.
“I want to promote Uplifters as I always support good actions for domestic helpers.”
Eden Marciano is 39 years old and is from the Philippines. She is a single mother of an almost 5 years old boy. She has been working in Hong Kong for 15 years. Her friend introduced her to running in 2011. They usually run at night after her work is done.
“I want to run for the benefit of Uplifters to raise funds and support its amazing platform for empowerment of migrants domestic workers. My tips to fellow domestic workers: just notice the small pleasures in life and appreciate them. SMILE and do regular exercise. It’s the best way to improve our mood and it helps us both physically and mentally.”
Milkhatus Sholikah is Indonesian, 43 years old and a single mother. When her son was 9, she decided to migrate to Hong Kong as a domestic worker in order to support him financially. She started to run in August 2018 after a friend asked her if she wanted to join her for the Oxfam Trailwalker. She’d never run before and despite her lack of experience, she began training with them. She has also paddled for the last 3 years for 2 different dragon boat teams. She is an Uplifters alumni student.
“The reason why I decided to run for Uplifters is because as an alumni student I want to help and give back to the community. Besides I hope my activities could inspire other Uplifters students as well.”
They finished the Oxfam trailwalker 100 km in 24 hours and 55 minutes. They were ranked 10th of all female teams and 226th of all teams. Their official Oxfam fundraising page is always in need to support good actions for domestic workers.
Why fundraise for Uplifters?
Aleli : “I can do something by running and promoting sports as well as raise awareness on health and with Uplifters, it is a great opportunity to learn, improve and prepare for the future for all domestic workers. We want to promote the good actions that are helping helpers.
We want to encourage domestic helpers to pursue what they are passionate about, it can be through sports, through studies and why not both! Healthy minds in healthy bodies!
I think Uplifters is an amazing idea and gives another purpose for what to do on a very hot or rainy day. Helpers need to do something meaningful on their day off and learning about financial literacy, cooking or any other skill is important. I believe that as soon as you open their eyes, they would want to learn more.”
The 24th February race: Victoria 162 2019 – H50
On 24th February, Aleli, Milha, Eden and Rosie will be running 50 km for the race Victoria 162 (H50) departing from Quarry Bay at 8am and finishing at Kennedy Town.
Distance: 31.9 miles
Minimum Elevation: 76 feet / Maximum Elevation: 1685 feet
Total climb: 7170 feet / Total descent: 7165 feet.
We all have seen a sea of domestic workers gathering in popular spots on Sundays at Victoria Park in Hong Kong or the Botanic Garden in Singapore. Normally we see them playing cards on cardboard boxes on footbridges or on the beach enjoying a BBQ as a community.
Occasionally we see them trekking the walking paths, exercising with friends, singing as a group, preparing for shows, or inventing and creating new styles of dancing. They have fun, they laugh, they look happy.
While I was working in a domestic workers’ recruitment agency in Hong Kong, I met many domestic workers who wished to change employers just because they did not have their day-off on a Sunday. They were missing meeting with their friends or families (for those lucky ones who have their relatives working in the same city) and consequently they would rather change employer to be able to see their loved ones on their day off.
My involvement as an employer
For years, I didn’t ask my domestic worker what she was doing on her day-off. I thought it was not really any of my business. After all, it is her life, her privacy. But as I became more and more aware of the well being of domestic workers and their life in general, I felt I had to ask her. I didn’t want to be intrusive but on the other hand I didn’t want her to think that I didn’t care either.
When I watched the movie “The Helper Documentary” it struck me to see the impact that employers can have on the well-being of their domestic worker. The example of Liza Avelino is the most obvious one to me. She discovered a passion for hiking and eventually climbed Mount Everest, just because her employers suggested that she should do something more fulfilling during the weekend than sitting on a cardboard box and they encouraged her to join a hiking group.
Some amazing examples
There are many other examples of domestic workers who fulfil their passions thanks to the encouragement of their employers. Milkatus Sholikah, one of our Dare to Dream students, completed the 100 km Oxfam Trail-walker in November 2018 in Hong Kong. She is very thankful that her employers motivated her to participate and allowed her enough time to train. She had never participated in any race before! Read more about her achievement in the South China Morning Post.
Some are also interested in photography and several helpers have become famous like Xyza Cruz Bacani, who has been in exhibits worldwide. In Singapore, Ana Rohana, an Indonesian Domestic Worker and amateur photographer was just featured in Channel News Asia.
As employers, we do have a responsibility for the well-being of our domestic workers. But how do we encourage them? They are all different and not all of them are like Liza, Milkatus, Xyza or Ana.
Jaybie , a domestic worker in Hong Kong whom I have interviewed recently, is passionate about sports and is sharing her experience with us:
“It is very hard and stressful for any domestic worker to be away from their families and kids… My suggestion is to get away from the stress, therefore I spend my day off attending sports events such as yoga, hiking, running and volunteering in race organisations to get a free race pass in return… I don’t want to waste my free time doing nothing.
We don’t need to be rich to be able to keep ourselves healthy while working. All we have to do is to find a way to balance our job as domestic worker and our chosen activities.
MeetUp (worldwide) and Decathlon are promoting many different courses such as yoga, boot camp, Cross Fit, badminton, tennis, etc. It is free and you will find daily sports events in your location that you can join throughout the week. If I have spare time after work, I can join boot camp or Cross Fit classes. I am very lucky to have an understanding employer who likes the fact that I am interested in sports and supports me in this way. I sometimes wake up very early for a sunrise run or after I finish cooking, I escape for an evening jog.”
Her message for other domestic workers: “Don’t make excuses, sports provide a healthy balance in life and is a good way to release stress. Anything is possible if you maintain proficient communication and a good relationship with your employers, that’s the only key!”
How to encourage them?
The best thing is to engage a conversation with her:
Just out of curiosity, what did you do yesterday? I hope you had a good time!
Do you have a specific hobby that you enjoy doing on your day off? Or do you want/need to rest? Let me know if I can support you in your passion!
Is there something in particular you would like to learn?
We would be very happy to help you make the most of your day off.
All in all, it will be a great dialogue. She may not say much at first but it will start a positive habit in sharing about her day off.
You can suggest some activities like:
Free or cheap courses organized by NGOs
Activities you can find in Hong Kong and Singapore
YMCA offers many different courses to domestic workers: baby care, elderly care, paediatric first aid/CPR, baking courses, bookkeeping, dressmaking, English courses, and so on.
TCK is a learning Center and a registered charity that offers low-cost classes, workshops and other activities for migrant workers.
Helperchoice is a hiring platform free of charge for domestic workers. It has created its own academy and provides a variety of courses from cooking and baking to financial management, English and Cantonese classes, sewing and more.
YWCA, Center of Learning and Life Enhancement. This center offers First Aid/Child CPR, Self-Enhancement, Money Management, Kitchen Management and Cooking courses.
Splash Foundation offers domestic workers twelve weeks beginner swimming courses in Hong Kong. Even though the course is free of charge, there are certain requirements to keep to.
Enrich is a Hong Kong charity organisation promoting the economic empowerment of migrant domestic workers through financial and empowerment education. Their money management programs are taking place on Sundays.
EmpowerUis part of Hong Kong University. They started a program for domestic workers to study and learn new things from HKU professors and volunteers. They provide free lectures, training and workshops in Hong Kong on Sundays. It teaches domestic workers lessons on practical Health and Nutrition, Basic Rights and Women Empowerment, Nature Appreciation, Physical Fitness, Performance Arts, thus upgrading their knowledge and skills for their respective work environments, and in preparation for their homecoming.
Home (Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics). HOME’s Academy offers a wide range of workshops, such as: English, computer literacy, cooking and baking, care-giving, dressmaking, cosmetology, and financial management.
FAST (Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training). They organise many courses: cooking, baking, pastry making, infant care, elderly care, foot reflexology, nursing care, computer skills, English, stress management, financial management and entrepreneurial skills.
Expat Kitchen not only teach about cooking. It also teaches how to operate some kitchen appliances, manage and store food hygienically, quantify the ingredients properly, differentiate and select side dishes, salads and dressings to complement the main course, and so on. A cherry on the top of the course is, of course, hands-on workshop in preparing dishes from various cuisines.
Aquaducksup skills water safety knowledge and emergency procedures in theory and practice. It teaches basic but essential swimming skills and techniques.
Aidhais a Singapore based charity organisation. Aidha’s mission is to help foreign domestic workers and low-income Singaporean women to achieve economic independence through financial education, wealth creation, and entrepreneurship. Your domestic worker can be enrolled into monthly classes, such as: money and tech management; planning a financial future; classes to start up their business, and certainly classes to improve their English.
Uplifters (online education) is a non profit organisation whose mission is to help migrant domestic workers through online education. Their free money management and personal growth program helps domestic workers become financially literate (budgeting, loan risks, savings, interest rate, investments etc.) and acquire personal growth tools (self-confidence, communication skills etc.). Through Uplifters your domestic worker has an opportunity to reach out to a Domestic Workers’ Group, which offers support whenever she might need it.
Ling Long Chinese is an online Mandarin courses and are easy to follow with videos and exercises. The first level is free. The others are fee based. Ling Long offered 50 of Uplifters team leaders a free scholarship and 10% discount to any potential student mentioning Uplifters!
I personally really like the fact that my domestic worker is active and enjoys her day-off by doing something fulfilling. Examples of domestic workers running, hiking, and learning new skills are inspiring and we can contribute by helping them achieve something wonderful. I feel it is a part of our role as an employer to guide them and support them.
And since domestic workers may have a bit more time off available in Hong Kong for 2019 (see article from the Asia Times), this topic could not come at a better time!
If you want to share an inspiring experience or show the impact a course had on your relationship with your helper, do not hesitate to write about it on our Facebook group for employers.
Article by Marion Dechy with the help of Elena Wolf
Chinese New Year is approaching and you are probably thinking of giving a red pocket to your domestic worker. Do you know what she will do with it? Will she save it or is she going to spend it right away?
13 years ago, I arrived in Hong Kong from London, never had a domestic worker before and the concept of ‘maids’ was only a vague memory from my grandparents during the war! I was one of these young mothers thinking ‘I can do it all by myself, don’t need a domestic worker!’. Quicker that you can guess I came to realize that I could not avoid hiring a domestic worker to help me out with just about everything! We hired a domestic worker who stayed with us for 12 years. I learnt so much with her.
She was a great domestic worker but still it took time to adjust, to “teach” her, to show how we were living which was totally different from previous families she’d worked for. She learnt how to cook and she became a great cook, a independent meal planner, and the best help when we had guests at home. She was a meticulous cleaner and home organizer, she was incredibly loving and patient with my kids. Oh well I could go on and on.
But even with the best domestic worker, you can’t avoid turmoil, that’s for sure.
When a loan shark calls you every day
We have had a couple of phone calls from money lenders after a couple of years. Then our domestic worker asked us for help when one of her ‘friend’ made her sign a guarantee letter for her loan and suddenly disappeared, leaving her to repay some crazy amounts. Then it was the friend she was sharing a SIM card with who disappeared leaving her to pay a 1,000 HK$ bill. We’ve always backed her up (not always happily though) since as her employers we were legally responsible of these misfortunes. A few years later we had even decided to change our phone number as a loan shark kept calling everyday but our domestic worker were telling us it was a mistake. We’ve had a conversation at this time with her about this issue and we were quite firm on the fact that even though we loved her, we could not keep her if another situation like this was to be repeated. She confessed it was really difficult for her to say ‘no’ to her friends asking her help in making a loan. Some time later when we spoke again about miscellaneous things, I asked her how she was doing with her friends, she told me she was no longer seeing any friends because she was too scared to be involved in another money issue. And believe me I was under the impression that she was respected by other domestic workers, she was above 45 years old and had a lot of experience. I could not have imagined for one minute how tough peer pressure can be in the domestic workers community but it is a reality.
What my job taught me about domestic workers
Working in a recruitment domestic workers’ agency helped me understand a lot about domestic workers. I saw how incredibly grateful domestic workers were when I was giving them very simple tips for their interviews or trying to boost their confidence or just simply by listening to them.
How tough it is for them to have to deal with a different world far away from their families and outside of their comfort zone and how helpful you can be by just simply sharing tips with them.
In fact I realized how we underestimate the needs of domestic workers on so many levels.
I have joined the non-profit organisation Uplifters last September. It’s a new non-profit in Hong Kong founded by Marie Kretz Di Meglio. They provide a free online money management course to domestic workers.
They learn how to prepare for the future, how to save money, how to avoid being ripped off by some malevolent people taking advantage and even how to say ‘no’ to unnecessary financial requests from their own family back home. In other words all they need to know to break the cycle of poverty and build sustainable futures for themselves and their families.
We do learn about those tools in the ‘modern world’ and we decide to use them (or not). Domestic workers don’t have access to those tools and arrive unprepared in our cities to work for us. How can they possibly manage? Something’s not quite right!
Why employers should care?
As Uplifters is self-funded we started a crowdfunding campaign in January and this has probably been the most interesting journey of my years working in Hong Kong.
Recently and because of our communication about our crowdfunding campaign, I have been asked very interestingly and rightly so “why as an employer should I get involved about my domestic workers’ financial education, why should I sponsor it, why should I care at all? She is working for me and she is very busy, I don’t want to distract her, it’s already difficult enough sometimes to be on the same page so I’d rather not disturb our routine”.
So many employers naturally feel that way I thought I needed to write about this.
First of all as an employer, wouldn’t you want her to be concentrated on her job and doing it well rather than being stressed out and worried about money issues? Whatever your relationship with her, you would see on her face or her attitude when something is wrong with her, right ? As an employer, you trust your domestic worker with your household and loved ones. So yes you do want your domestic worker to be responsible, reliable and be good at what she does! You do want her to succeed and reach her dreams. You do want her to be happy, pleasant and do a good job for you. As a mother, I think you do worry about your domestic worker taking care of your children when she is not feeling well, whether she is physically sick or mentally not there or depressed.
It is proven that the helpers that are going through financial literacy programs get a better understanding of what is ahead of them and better plan for their future. That gives them confidence, a more positive mindset and give them a better way to cope with uncertainty and difficulties. It helps them defines their goals in life. Not only they dare speaking about their dreams but they also realize they can actually reachthose dreams. As a result they become more positive, motivated and happier and they find a better balance in their life in general.
How would you feel if one of these loan sharks come knocking at your door asking to repay the loan your domestic worker made a few months back, leaving you distressed, leaving her depressed and your relationship damaged?
Aren’t we a lot of employers experiencing the bad surprise to have to repay the loan of their domestic worker? My domestic worker made a loan of 1,000 HKD and ‘forgot’ about it. A few years later, we had to repay 6,000 HKD. This is a common story that unfortunately puts a lots of strain on the relationship.
If the domestic worker learns the pros and cons of loans, how interest rate works, how to budget and control her transfer of money to her family, they would have less risks to get into these delirious situations.
Secondly, it’s an opportunity to improve your relationship with her.
We asked students from the Uplifters course how did the course impact their relationship with their employer”. Here are a few replies:
Janelyn : “Now that I am more driven to my passion to learn and earn, I am more dedicated to my work, I am giving all of my efforts to learn new things and impress my employers. Now we have a much better communications.”
Rubi : “With my employer it’s changed a lot of things as I am more confident when I speak English and I am more humble”
Cristina: “There was a great impact on how I managed my communication skills to understand each other’s.”
Maylin : “my employer when they know about the course I took they did not worry anymore that I will spend my money in not important things, and the trust itself started to build.”
Joan (I love her testimony!) : “I believe that when your employers knows that you are learning something to improve yourself you gain respect from them. It’s good that you let them know as well that you are productive in terms of learning new things as they won’t look down on you”
Finally, as a responsible employer, wouldn’t you want to provide your employee with these crucial life skills? I would say on a personal note that I would find it normal to care for people that works for you and are taking care of your home, your kids and is a part of your family life. Isn’t it the basics of management : care and consideration for your employees? Should it be different for domestic workers? As an employer, I would also want to know that the salary I give my domestic worker will contribute to some kind of a retirement or part of an investment that will help her build a business when she decides to go back home for good.
Knowing her daughters will come to Hong Kong to work as domestic workers strangely does not have the same rewarding feeling, don’t you think? Don’t we all strive for the same achievement in life ? Why would domestic domestic workers not have the same dreams nor the same chances in life? They work all these years for us away from their family and their own children, don’t they deserve a little bit of our help to achieve their goals?
Not only employers should care but I do feel it is their duty to help their domestic workers get access to basic financial knowledge that will prevent them to fall into destructive traps.
· In Hong Kong Enrich is the leading charity for domestic workers’ economic empowerment. They offer face to face sessions on Sundays as well as one to one financial counselling services for emergency cases.
· Uplifters offers a 3-weeks free online course. It is flexible, they can participate when they have time and it won’t disturb their day of work. Students are enrolled in group chats so they get important peer support.
Overall those courses offer them a chance to learn important life skills, improve their chances in life and also build up healthy friendships. This is basically a win-win for them and for employers, that’s the beauty of it!