“Take action if you want real change in your life.”

Meet Willa Mae Erejer Arbon, Uplifters’ alumni and social media correspondent. She has been working in Hong Kong for the past six years. In her free time, she loves cooking, hiking and watching motivational videos.

“I joined Dare to Dream because I wanted to change. I wanted to improve my physical and mental health. I wanted to educate myself about money management and personal development.

Uplifters changed how I manage money. One of the best things I learned from the course is to always have a plan. I was impulsive and always acted without a plan. Now I’m a person with a clear purpose and a direction on how I can make my dreams come true.

The courses helped me in my personal growth journey. It gave me the answers to all the questions I have asked myself. I used to be disorganized, too soft and understanding, bashful and fearful of so many things.

I feel so proud of who I am now. I found myself. I am happy, positive, productive and motivated. I have managed to overcome my negative thoughts and conquer my weaknesses.

If I had to pick an image to illustrate my life before and after Uplifters, I will say that now I am like a bamboo tree. Flexible, bending with the wind but never breaking. Like bamboo, I am resilient. I can bounce back even from the most difficult times.

My dream for the future is to own a restaurant to feed thousands of people. To live in another country with my children and to start a new life with them. I’ve always dreamed of raising my kids while working. Raising them in the way I want them to become. I also dream to help people who are in need. I want to help my family, especially my siblings and help other people who are in need.

My advice to women is to stop asking yourself why and blaming someone else. Take action if you want real change in your life.“

“Dream more and never give up. Do not stop learning.”

Meet Uplifters’ alumni, Lynn Lavilla. She is from Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental in Mindanao, Philippines. She has three beautiful daughters ages 25, 23 and 19.

“I decided to take the Dare to Dream course out of curiosity and to pass the time. But in the middle of the course, I realized that it would help me a lot. I was amazed by the lessons they taught me about handling family problems, making friends, how to gain confidence and most especially, about managing money and making a budget. The course made a big impact in my life. Previously I would buy anything that I wanted because I thought it would make me feel better about myself. I used to give everything to my family to make them happy. After the course, I realized the value of taking care of myself and saving for my future.

My life greatly improved after Uplifters. We have put up a “sari-sari store” business. We also breed chickens for egg production and sell animal feeds. Having our own business was our lifelong dream. We thought that we couldn’t do it but we were able to do so. We plan to buy a lot so that we can turn into a farm next year.

We are a very close and fun-loving family. We are a team and with God’s guidance we can accomplish more. My two daughters have already graduated from college and they now have stable jobs. I am so proud of them. With the help of Uplifters’ team leaders, mentors, my husband and my children, our lifestyle changed and my dreams are coming true.

My advice to my fellow migrant domestic workers is to never forget where you came from. Dream more and never give up. Do not stop learning. Seize every opportunity to widen your knowledge. In Uplifters your life will become better if you will use and apply what you have learned. Thank you so much Uplifters.

“I am proud to be part of this community because I grow and learn so much.”

We are proud to feature one of Uplifters’ amazing Diamond Team Leaders, Attala Zakia. 

She is from Central Java, Indonesia. She is 28 years old and has been working in Singapore for five years.

Our Diamond Team Leaders have facilitated 10 sessions of our 3-week online course Dare to Dream on money management and personal growth.

Read more about her in this excerpt from our interview:

“My name is Nur Bayti. I am a single mother of a lovely 7-year-old daughter. I have decided to work abroad because I wanted to give a better future for my daughter. I am the 3rd child and the only girl among four siblings. My father passed away one year ago. I was very sad because I did not see him during the last days of his life but I have to be strong for my daughter and my mother. I need to keep going for them. I’m the only one they depend on right now. That’s why I have to keep myself healthy so I can always support them.

My first employer treated me badly. They punished me for the smallest things. If they were angry at me, they would ask me to stand for two hours and face the wall, even if it was already very late. I went to bed late and woke up very early. I was not allowed to have a phone or take a day off. They did not allow me to talk to other people, especially other domestic workers. Because I did not know how to speak English properly, I was not able to speak up and communicate with them. I asked them to send me back to the agency after a year of working for them because I couldn’t take it anymore. They sent me back home instead.

My situation changed when I worked for my second employer in Singapore. They were very nice to me and they treated me like I was part of their family. They allowed me to take courses to improve myself. I stayed with them for three years and left when their kids went to university.

Then, I went to another employer who is also very nice. They allow me to have the freedom to do as I please, especially baking and cooking because they know that it is my passion. They encourage me to do the things I love. I feel so blessed to have them.

On my day off, I explore Singapore with my best friend, call my daughter and mother, and am involved in a dragon boat team. I also take the time to learn new things. I joined Aidha to improve my English and learn about money management. I joined the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (FAST) to learn about baking and cooking. I also joined Uplifters. Uplifters changed my life in so many positive ways. I invited my close friend to join Uplifters and they were very happy and excited about it. We have encouraged and motivated each other. After we finished Dare to Dream and received our certificates we decided to meet. I was so happy to meet them in person rather than just chat with them online. They are my family here and we are very close to each other. We all decided to become team leaders so that we can share the knowledge that we learned with other women. Being a team leader helped me to grow. I learned about teamwork and how to practice selflessness. We must show up for others to support and guide them. You have to be a role model for your team. There is no boss and subordinate. Everyone works together. I am proud to be part of this community because I grow and learn so much. My English has improved a lot too. I am grateful for Marie [Uplifters Founder and CEO] because she never sees us as someone different. She treats everyone the same way. I am glad that Uplifters is growing and I will always support Uplifters because I love this community.

My biggest dream is to have my own restaurant as I love cooking and baking. I know it is not easy but I believe that I will make it happen one day. I would also like to renovate my house back home. I keep track of my expenses to increase my savings. If I have my own business I don’t have to worry about my daughter’s future. I want to be an independent woman for her. For all my fellow migrant domestic workers, never look down on yourself. We are all human beings. Keep going until you reach your goals. I would like to share my motto in life. Keep going to reach your dreams, if you stop now you are nothing. If you keep going until the end you are something. Be strong for your loved ones and always remember your reason for working abroad.” 

Seize every opportunity to learn new things and improve yourself.

We turn the spotlight on Dena Lorenzana, one of Uplifters’ Diamond Team Leaders.  Our Diamond Team Leaders have facilitated 10 sessions of our 3-week online course Dare to Dream on money management and personal growth.

Dena is from Cagayan de Oro in the Philippines. She has three children ages 36, 35 and 33. She has been working in Singapore for 30 years.

“I left home at a young age to move to Manila to study because we did not have enough money, I became a working student. Unfortunately, I was unable to finish my studies because of financial difficulties. In 1990, I moved to Singapore so I could send my children to school and provide a better life for them.”

Her work did not stop her from pursuing education, something that she is proud to have inculcated in her children.

“I’ve always been passionate about studying. I am always looking for courses that can help me develop and upgrade my skills. In my spare time, I love volunteering as a student supervisor at Soha Institute where I help organize CPR and First Aid lessons conducted by the Singapore Defence Force. I also volunteer as a nursing aide at a nursing home in Singapore for eight hours on Sundays. I wanted to become a nurse when I was young. I like learning about therapy, health, and taking care of the elderly. My friends say that I could have been a good doctor or nurse. I am very proud of myself when I got my diploma from an online course in London in March 2017. I know that it brought my father so much joy to see his daughter get a diploma. To this day, I feel that he has waited for my good news before he passed away a few days after I completed the course.”

It was not easy working abroad. When I first moved to Singapore, I felt very homesick. I’ve missed my children very much. There were no smartphones when I moved away and I wasn’t able to chat or video call. I remember feeling sad as I waited for the postman to arrive and got fewer mails as the years went by. During my first few years here, I became sick and realized that it is one of the hardest parts of working abroad. Getting sick alone with no relatives to help you was hard. What was harder for me, was when my employment agency got mad at me and belittled me. But I did not give up and I stayed positive and prayed a lot. I am grateful to have a kind and considerate employer who treats me like a family member. I’ve been with them for 20 years. Their children, whose ages are 20, 18 and 14 years old, grew up in my care and are very close to me.

Unfortunately, I have met people who took advantage of me and told me lies so I would apply for a loan to lend them money. It was a sad experience for me because I ended up paying the loan out of my own salary. I am very happy I found Uplifters because the course helped me to focus on myself and to handle money well. It taught me how to say no to family and friends and to save money and plan for the future. As a team leader, I am happy whenever I see my students’ eagerness to learn and when they get their certificates, I feel that it is also my accomplishment. I am grateful to have the opportunity to impart knowledge to my students of all the lessons I have learned. I advise my students to not immediately believe when friends or relatives borrow money from you. Most importantly, save money and have a plan about how long you want to work abroad. Seize every opportunity to learn new things and improve yourself. 

I am proud to say that I have sufficient savings for my retirement. My dream is to own a training centre in the Philippines to help migrant workers like me, especially those who are going to work abroad for the first time. I want to train people to have their own sources of livelihood like farming and baking so that they do not have to leave and work in another country.” 

Template for Hygiene Guideline

Helpwise has developed a FREE template to help employers develop hygiene guidelines. Download it: HERE.

Helpwise offers practical and personalized advice for employers. Reach out to Helpwise to book a phone consultation that could guide you to solutions that work for your household. HERE

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

Meet Siti Mujiati, one of our fantastic Diamond Team Leaders. She is from Indonesia and has two beautiful daughters. She has been working in Singapore since 2012.

“I have lived away from my family since I was 15 years old. I left home and went to the city to study and work for many years and only went home once a year. Whenever I am feeling low, I pray, sometimes, I pray until I cry. I always try to count my blessings while I am reciting the Quran. When I first came to Singapore, I struggled with the language barrier. But through the help of my employer I was able to improve my English after one year. The other challenge I have faced, was how to manage my stress as I did not have much freedom at that time. When I first started with my employer, I was only able to speak to my family for ten to fifteen minutes once a month. I wasn’t able to talk to strangers, only my employer’s family. I had to cut my hair very short and wear a uniform. I had to agree to pay for everything that I broke, burned or lost. I was in great stress. I couldn’t even keep my diary and my daughter’s photo. This happened for two years. As a positive person, I tried to pray, even if it was only in my heart because they didn’t allow me to. One day, I asked if I could have a pen and a book so that I could write my thoughts and feelings to release my stress. I am glad that I was brave enough to do so because that pen and book was my saviour. After two years, they loosened the rules a bit and life became more bearable. I was finally able to have my phone on the weekends and could wear nice clothes when I went out. I was able to grow my hair down to shoulder length. I appreciated my employers of six years for patiently teaching me how to work properly and not just sending me back to the agency. As my way of paying back their kindness despite everything, I stayed for six years with a different arrangement. They agreed to let me have a phone every day and take my half-day off every two weeks. They asked me to stay longer and even offered me a much higher salary but it was time for me to think about myself and I chose to leave. I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to handle my anger anymore as Grandma, my employer, was not easy to handle. Finally, they let me go. It was a win-win situation.

On my days off, I always spend my time going to school and to learn a new skill or going to an event or free seminar for domestic workers. I love volunteering for the Centre for Domestic Employees. I love spending a few hours there just to listen to the stories from friends who are facing problems. I give some advice if they need it because sometimes they just need a listening ear. I don’t feel alone whenever I speak to them and I am happy every time I hear them say, ‘Thank you, I feel better now.’ Thanks to Uplifters. I learned how to be an active listener.

Before I joined Uplifters, I did not have any plans. I did not know what my goals and dreams were. I often hesitated planning before but now I am always filled with enthusiasm and optimism. I am equipped with better financial planning and management skills after the ‘Dare to Dream’ course. I enjoy being a team leader because I can keep in touch with wonderful people from the Uplifters team. It’s a positive community where we can share our passions and dreams. I can continue studying all the lessons from our course and share what I have learned to my students. I am happy when I see them managing their budget and becoming a happier person just like me. I want all foreign domestic workers to gain knowledge and feel happy the way I do after joining Uplifters.

My dream is to have my own hydroponic farm so I can provide fresh and healthy vegetables for my neighbourhood. I like it because I won’t need a lot of land for that and I won’t worry about dirt or heat from the sun. I want to encourage the young generation in my hometown about urban farming. I am visualizing a nice farm that would be a great place to take pictures for Instagram, with the green leaves, the sound of the water flowing from pipe to pipe. If my farm goes well, I will open a small garden library cafe by the side. My farm will be next to my parent’s house and they will be able to spend the rest of their lives with a beautiful view and fresh air.

To my fellow domestic workers, your life is not going to end here as a helper, get up and look at the mirror and say this out loud ‘I am amazing, I am beautiful and unbreakable. I can achieve my dreams.’ Be happy and work wholeheartedly, communicate your feelings and dreams with your employer, friends and family. Don’t keep your sadness and difficulties inside your heart. Listen to music or watch a funny video. Exercise, cook, bake, hike. Take a selfie, do whatever you love. Let’s pursue our dreams with a smile and with great planning and reasonable budgeting. Manage our life like a businesswoman. Let’s be grateful for every blessing that we have.

I would like to share my favorite quotation from Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.’ This quote keeps me unbreakable.

Antivirus Episode #10

Hi everyone, I am Jenely, Community Building Officer. Thank you for joining me tonight.

Uplifters is a non profit organization dedicated to empowering underprivileged communities with online education and peer support. We offer a free online money management course for domestic workers. You just need to click “ Send Message” on our Facebook page to enroll. This is the tenth episode of our Antivirus series and we are very happy to be here with you tonight.

Our objective with this Antivirus Video Live is first to reply to your questions if we can or collect them and consult with professionals afterwards so we can answer them later. Secondly, we just want to be there with you. Uplifters is first and foremost a community and we will go through these difficult times with you.

Our guest for tonight is Evelyn Obillo. She has been working as a domestic worker in Singapore for 18 years. She has been volunteering for a long time at the Centre for Domestic Employees – CDE. She is also our most committed team leader at Uplifters and has facilitated 17 batches in our monthly online class Dare to Dream out of the 20 we have organised since our creation! She has helped so many women with her guidance and advice. Her dedication to helping fellow domestic workers is truly admirable.

Hi Evelyn, welcome to our live broadcast. Thank you so much for joining us tonight.

Question: These are very challenging times in Singapore. The circuit breaker measures which was meant to last until May 4 was extended until June 1. Can you give us updates on these measures?

Evelyn: Yes, indeed. It was supposed to end on May 4 but then it got extended for another month, but it will finally end on the first of June, on Monday and it will reopen in three phases. First phase, they call it “Safe Reopening” in which some businesses will reopen with measures in place of course. Second phase is called “Safe Transition” and the third one they call it “The New Normal”. But as for now, if Covid-19 should remain low and stable, the government will decide by the middle of June if they will do phase two instead at the end of July.

Question: What is the situation and current challenges of migrant domestic workers in Singapore?

Evelyn: Currently the situation in Singapore is stabilizing although the number of cases, 30,000 is quite high but it’s contained. Majority are in the dormitories. Community transmission is actually very low. As far as FDW is concerned, this is pretty challenging for us. It’s too much work. The top on the list of the challenges that we are facing right now is too much work and we don’t feel safe.
We are physically, emotionally and mentally drained right now. Social distancing measures in place, you can’t see a friend whatever and some cannot even go out. Of course we have to keep our spirits up. Let us pray and hope that the situation will be over soon.

Question: Can you give us some specific examples of these challenges?

Evelyn: Physically, because everyone is staying home especially when there are children. Mentally we crave for physical interaction. When you are cooped up at home for two months and you can’t see anybody. Yes, we can talk over the phone, but it’s still different when you at least have some time to go for a walk or have some meal together away from work at least once a week, then it will recharge the energy and keep us going.

Question: Can you give us tips or advice on how we can cope with these challenges?

Evelyn: At this point in time, there’s not much we can do, because as we need a job we can’t afford to lose our job, we have to stay. So you still have enough food at the end of the month, you get your salary. We just have to be patient and we need to be positive and think that this is not gonna last forever. So just keep it together, we will get through this storm together.

Question: Can you tell us more about the work that you’re doing for CDE?

Evelyn: As volunteers, we are the network on the ground. So as a volunteer for CDE, I take it as my responsibility to keep my eyes and ears on the ground around the Filipino community. I make sure to be more aware of what’s going on around me. Usually, I just give advice and encourage my fellow workers to speak up. It’s like in our Uplifters class, to encourage them to speak up, to join this kind of thing where many are shy or scared of losing their jobs. So I encourage them that when they are getting treated improperly or when their rights are being violated, they have to speak up, otherwise, nothing’s gonna change. You can’t suffer in silence, you have to speak up to improve your condition. It is really a big challenge for me to convince them to reach out, to call the proper authorities because they’re scared and they don’t want to lose their jobs. But then of course we can only do so much. For serious cases, normally I would contact the CDE staff directly.

Question: How long have you been volunteering at CDE?

Evelyn: Almost two years actually. CDE is only around 4 years, and I’ve only come to know them when they opened their satellite office at Lucky Plaza, that’s when I joined them. I didn’t know them before, but I knew other NGOs but I am not an outgoing person. I’m a diamond volunteer already.

Question: Has it always been a passion for you? Helping people, cheering people on.

Evelyn: Yes, because if I can pull someone up, I know the feeling of being away from your family and you don’t have anyone to talk to. Now that I have the chance, I give it back to the community, If I can help someone go through a day or a few days or at least finish their contract just by listening to me, ranting to me until they finish their contract and then they’ll be fine, that’s more than enough for me. It’s very fulfilling.

Question: Do you have more calls since the circuit breaker started?

Evelyn: Actually we don’t pick up calls during working hours. This is my strict policy. So every time I get a call, I will message them “no calls please, if there’s anything urgent let me know, so I can call you back when I have the time”. Calls, actually not that much, but messages, I’m getting more than double about their issues with regards to Covid19. We’re getting more messages so my phone is always burning hot.

Question: What are the most common questions you get these days?

Evelyn: You know the challenges we face is too much work, so that’s why many just feel like throwing the towel and want to transfer. So the first thing they ask, “I’m too tired, I don’t think I can carry on, is it possible to transfer right now?” And some are worried about their families back home and just want to fly out. Sometimes when you have fear about your family and you miss them, or you’re worried about them, you just want to fly out. But as you know with the travel ban and all, I tell them to calm down, whatever you’re feeling right now, you’re stressed, you fear about yourself, about your family, but everybody’s going through this same, you have to calm down yourself so you can think better. So those are the things, either wanting to go home or wanting to transfer. Which is very challenging right now because the IPA approval is limited to local employers with young children and elderly. So if the employer who wants to hire you are expats, the chances are very limited, very slim chance. There are ladies who are in the agencies for months, the application keeps getting denied. So it really depends on your luck. That’s why I always tell them, currently, they only want to approve only local employers with young children or elderly, so are you willing to accept it? Why in the first place are you leaving your job? Is it because you’re looking after children or elderly? Then there will be no change, you have to think about it. If you’re not being starved or being abused, you have to reconsider at least after the circuit breaker is lifted. There are a lot of delays in applications and also being denied. Some can handle it well, their minds are stronger than others, some really get persuaded by their emotion easily, they get depressed, that they cannot go out and socialize, not even realizing that they are already have neglected their jobs, their temper becomes shorter, so they think that by transferring it will solve their problem or by going home the problem will end. But then it’s not, it may actually be the start of a new problem, you will transfer, what if you can’t get a new employer? You’ll get stuck in the agency, can you afford not to have a job? What if the family is waiting for you to send some money home? So if it’s still tolerable, I tell them to stay put for now. So it’s more emotional because when you are tired physically, you just rest then you’ll be fine. But if it’s emotional, or your mental well being is being challenged, how to keep yourself sane in this situation where can’t take a day off, can’t even go out for a walk and get some fresh air, really you’re gonna go mad definitely.

Question: We have a question from Ayda. Can you give us some advice on how to finish our Dare to dream course smoothly? And how do you manage your time between Uplifters and CDE as well?

Evelyn: For me as a team leader, how to encourage, the first week, everybody is excited, I’ve noticed that the first few days, everyone’s sharing and all, but once we started with the challenges or when it becomes more challenging and they feel like they’re tired or they seem to lack the time, as a team leader I will personally tell them that if you stop then nothing’s gonna happen. You have to have a positive mindset, you have to keep positive, that this is for you and not for us, we are trying to help you uplift yourself and upgrade not just to be money smart but for your well being as well. This is where the affirmation comes in, you have to tell yourself that “I am doing this for myself and I can do this!” So that’s why I encourage them even if it’s slow, never quit because if you quit then it’s over. Baby steps, one at a time and in the end you will be proud of yourself when you reach the finish line. The joy of accomplishing something is really a good thing, we can only encourage but as a team leader, we need to spend time with them, be with them because when they know we are there for them, it will only encourage them more to participate and carry on. That’s why I prefer the group chat class, so I can interact with them and learn from each other.

Question: Can you give us tips on how to adjust to sudden changes, of not being able to do the things that we love?

Evelyn: For me, I always tell everyone that we need to be flexible, we need to learn to adapt. When a situation changes, you need to be like bamboo. You can’t be like a tree, that when the wind comes you say “No! I’m stronger than the wind.” It can’t be like that, we need to be like bamboo. When the strong wind comes, we need to bend, we need to adapt to the given situation, like right now, the circuit breaker, what can we do? We can’t do anything, I always tell them before you make a decision, “Oh I’m so tired”, almost everyday I always hear that, how exhausted they are, it’s depressing. Those thoughts, it’s very negative and if you start your day with that negative thought, definitely your whole day will surely be negative. But when you start your day, “Oh it’s another day less from the circuit breaker we’re almost there, let’s hope and pray this thing will be over. We need to be flexible, before anything else we have to think “I am so tired but if I go home, would I be able to afford to lose my job?” If you can’t, then you have to be more patient and bear in mind this is temporary. This is not gonna last forever, you just need to be stronger, more patient and flexible because there’s nothing much we can do, the only option for us is to stay and wait. We can’t do this situation if we are emotionally drained, depressed, you have to look at the bigger picture and not just think about yourself but also your family. To provide for them is the main reason why we left them in the first place. If you give up then it’s over, your life here can be over, you may have dragged yourself and your family as well.

Question: How do you manage your time for your work, being a team leader and a volunteer at CDE? Hats off to you!

Evelyn: We teach money management here at Uplifters, but at the same time we can also apply that in managing our time. For me, volunteering at CDE, my commitment to Uplifters, they are on top of my priority so that’s why I have a notebook, checking my to-do list, the night before I already plan it. So if you are committed to something you will definitely find the time. It will be difficult but it’s all in a positive mindset, your passion and setting your priorities straight. Of course, my job is my number one priority, I’m just lucky because I have less work so I have more time.

Question: We have a question from Syafira. Does CDE also handle OFWs who get verbal abuse from employers, do they have psychologists for them?

Evelyn: Verbal abuse is a very broad topic. So if you feel threatened, definitely we encourage them to contact the police. Examples would be the employers saying I’m gonna kill you or something. For those asking me about this issue, I tell them to contact the CDE staff or send a message to them directly because they can handle it better being professionals. They have psychologists, great counseling, they have those professionals that can help in this field.

Question: We have a question from Janelyn. May I just ask during the circuit breaker, what is the toughest situation you’ve dealt with so far and what is the advice you’ve given?

Evelyn: For me is to convince them to talk to their employers in situations of no day off, extra work but no pay. How to talk to the employers? Some are almost being locked in the house. So I tell them to talk to them one more time, explain to them the situation, they can read the news, they know what’s happening in the Philippines, appeal to their good side, otherwise you can contact CDE or other NGOs or MO.M. Because it is not fair. Especially if it is a necessary errand that we need to do and they won’t allow us to do so. They need to be human at least, because if you bluntly say no to us then how do they think we would feel? We’re not gonna want to work. Not everybody has the guts to talk so I have to tell them you have to think, you need to help yourself, because if you can’t then I also can’t help you, no one can help you. You have only yourself to count on. Or at least be brave, to take the risk, whether they deny your request or whatever the consequence might be, at least you tried instead of suffering in silence. So that’s the biggest challenge for me is convincing them. Some employers might not care but most of them do. Appeal to their good heart. I don’t believe that there are people who are totally heartless.

Question: Do you have any general advice to domestic workers to make their migration successful?

Evelyn: Going abroad and leaving your family behind can be pretty challenging. Of course it can really be heartbreaking especially for me personally. I have four children, but I think if you have the right mindset, this is the number one priority and what I always tell them, not just the positive mindset but the right mindset. Whether you’re in Hong, Singapore, Malaysia or anywhere else in the world, remember it’s all different compared to our country. We shouldn’t be expecting things to remain the same or have the same expectations we have when we are in our home. Having the right mindset means we must learn to adapt, learn to be flexible, and we need to stay focused on our goal. Why did we leave our family? It’s to give them a better life. Stay on that. Of course even if we stay positive we will face a lot of obstacles and challenges but we still have to remain positive as whatever it is you’re facing it will not last. As what I always say to my students “Tough situations never last, tough people do.” So you just have to toughen up and you’ll definitely succeed. If we have the right mindset and positive attitude, being flexible and focused enough to your goal, only then we can make our migration successful.

Antivirus Episode #9

Here is the transcript of Antivirus Episode #9 on May 19th to help our community of migrant domestic workers go through COVID-19 challenges.

Hi everyone, I am Marie, CEO and Founder of Uplifters.

Uplifters is a non profit organization dedicated to empowering underprivileged communities with online education and peer support. We offer a free online money management course for domestic workers. You just need to click “ Send Message” on our Facebook page to enroll. https://www.facebook.com/uplifters.community/

This is the 9th episode of our Antivirus series and we are very happy to be here with you tonight.

These are challenging times for all of us and especially for our community.
Our first objective with this Antivirus Video Live is to reply to your questions if we can or collect them and consult with professionals afterwards so we can answer them later. Secondly, Uplifters is first and foremost a community and we want to be here with you. We will go through these difficult times with you.

I am very happy to have Victoria Ahn with me tonight. Victoria is the Communications Manager of the Fair Employment Foundation in Hong Kong. The mission of Fair is to build market solutions to end the forced labour of migrant workers across Asia. One of its initiatives is the Fair Employment Agency. It is recognized as the standard for ethical and professional practices for all employment agencies, one that is transparent and trustworthy and fair to both employees and employers.

Victoria joined the Fair in August 2017, following experience in communications and fundraising at Enrich, a great charity providing face to face financial education and debt counselling to migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong. She is motivated by the opportunity to improve the recruitment system to work better for workers and their families.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Victoria. We really appreciate it. This live will mainly be relevant for the domestic workers in Hong Kong so we will try to provide updated information for domestic workers elsewhere in the region later on.

Marie: Covid-19 has greatly impacted domestic workers. What are the main challenges that you have seen them facing through your work at Fair? What has your organization been doing to help them in relation to these specific challenges?

Victoria: The pandemic has really affected domestic workers in many many ways. Workload is quite different because there’s some emphasis on hygiene, cleanliness at home, children in the home are staying indoors, employers are not going to the office, children are not going to school and so that has changed the work dynamic for a lot of domestic workers. At Fair as an employment agency what we have been seeing are the challenges in workers who are changing jobs and their employment situations. Mainly those employment challenges are to do with the way hiring processes are changing with Covid-10 measures coming into place. Covid-19 measures can be like travel bans, government agencies and government offices being closed, services being suspended and that means hiring and submitting new contracts have been affected and that is affecting domestic workers who are changing jobs.

Marie: We have seen a lot of new articles published by Fair. Do you want to tell us a little bit more about it?

Victoria: At Fair Agency we have a blog where we try to keep domestic workers and employers updated about the current situation. Most recently there have been quite a few changes at the POLO or Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Hong Kong where they have changed some of their services. This affected workers who are changing employers and also renewing contracts. At the moment currently if you are renewing a contract you don’t need to go get it notarized at the POLO office but you go directly to the Hong Kong Immigration to renew your contract with the same employer. But later that would mean maybe you have to go to a different notarization process to keep updated with the POLO office on how the situation changes. For workers who are changing employers the biggest change has been that all workers changing employers will need to use an agency. In Hong Kong normally those who are finishing contracts or those whose employers are relocating or have a financial difficulty, those special cases, those workers do not need to go through a special agency and could process themselves with new employers. But with the service changes in the POLO office right now workers need to use an agency and employers need to use an agency service to process all the paperwork. That was a big change. Another big impact has been the travel situation between the Philippines and Hong Kong. With the global pandemic flight situations have been changing very quickly. There’s very limited flights even locally in the Philippines there isn’t very much travel. Things are changing everyday but travel has been affected greatly. Specifically in the Philippines there has been many cases of coronavirus. The country has taken a lot of measures that differ from place to place in the Philippines meaning that each place has different restrictions, people are required to stay at home, offices are not returning to work and transportation isn’t working and the most recent news from that is that slowly some areas are lifting restrictions, selected industries are returning to work but will still be a gradual process. What does this mean for workers who have to go back to the Philippines to process? It means that processing time is quite slow and they may be quite delayed to return to Hong Kong to their new employer. This requires very good communication with their employers and understanding that they might not be able to report to work at the time they wanted to.

Marie: If domestic workers are looking to change employers right now, what should they know about?

Victoria: The first point here is something that you should consider every time you are looking for a new employer or if you are applying for a new job is that if you are using an agency to make sure that it is an agency that you can trust, that your employer can trust as well and that you are not charged fees that are illegal. In Hong Kong it is legal for agencies to charge a maximum of 10% of your first month salary. So if your salary is $4,620 HKD which is the minimum at the moment then the employment agency should only charge you about $460 HKD. They should not be charging you more than 10% of your first month salary. You should not be asked for your passport, you should be able to have access to your passport. They are not allowed to hold on to it. They should be able to explain to you any documents that you are signing. If you have any questions on the document that the employment agency is asking you to sign, they need to explain that to you and you don’t need to feel forced or pressured into signing. That is the first point. Using an agency that you trust. Specifically right now in Hong Kong all workers are required to use an agency regardless of their contract status. So even if you finished the contract or your changing employers because your current employer is relocating you still have to use an agency. That is one thing to know about. Keep in mind right now the current situation in the Philippines. The travel situation. Things are changing all the time. There are several delays unlike before coronavirus. There are quarantine measures in Hong Kong and in the Philippines so be aware of the delays that might happen throughout the process that you are trying to change employers. That might be a consideration if you are thinking about breaking your contract. If it is possible to continue to work in your current contract may be a good idea if you can just because of the challenges in the situation. Workers with broken contract will need to go back to the Philippines to process. This may be a challenge that potential employers may not see as a desirable thing. They would prefer workers who can process locally or those workers who are finishing contracts or have special cases where their current employer is relocating and things like that. Those are the key things, using an agency that you trust, you should not be overcharged, you need to know your rights when you are applying a job and then the current situation means that there are a few delays and changes and so if you want to keep track of those, you can keep track of those on the Fair Agency Facebook and also by following the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Hong Kong or the Consulate.

Marie: If workers in Hong Kong are unable/don’t want to leave their home to come to apply, how can they apply for new jobs?

Victoria: With the current situation we have seen that some workers prefer to stay home during their day off because they are worried about the virus but we have also seen some employers who have asked domestic workers to stay home. We’ve recognized that and so the first thing to mention here is that all domestic workers are entitled to 24 hours day off or 24 hours rest day in Hong Kong. It is in your right to spend that outside of your employer’s home. We understand that it is your rest day and you want to use that for other errands, for meeting your friends. It is a challenge that we see. We have also been asking employers to keep that in mind and be considerate of their worker’s time. Workers can also help the situation by communicating with their employer. Maybe telling them what safety measures they will take. They will always wear a mask, you’re not going to crowded places and you will be limiting your meet up with a few friends rather than a big crowd. But if it is quite difficult to come out and go to the agency to apply. I work with Fair Agency so I will mention their agency’s process. We started this offering of having workers apply online first, video call with workers so they are able to fill up a form on our website to apply and then arrange for a video call with our staff to have a one on one chat with our staff and then we begin the application process that way instead of our normal process of asking workers to come to our office. So if you are unable to come in to apply you can apply online. In Hong Kong there’s another agency called Arrows that has done a similar thing where video call chat is also available; they also don’t charge fees to workers. Continue to be careful about people you’re talking to online especially on Facebook groups when you are looking for a job. It is very easy for someone to have a profile so make sure that you go through and really check who you’re talking to.

Marie: We have a few questions. The first one is from Marie Agustin. In case I want to change employer do I need to go through the same process as before like taking training in the Philippines?

Victoria: If you are finishing a contract, you have fulfilled the 2-year contract you can process locally in Hong Kong and that means you can take your home leave. With each new contract you can take a home leave but you can choose to defer it. So if you are finishing a contract you don’t need to go back to the Philippines necessarily right away. You can take your home leave later. That might be a good idea considering the travel ban situation right now. You can ask Immigration to defer your home leave and take it on another time. For training, training is something that you only need to do once. You take your training and you receive your NC2 domestic work training certificate and then once you have that you really don’t need to retake training. This is very important to know. Unfortunately there are a lot of times where training is very very expensive. Agencies may ask you to take it again but if you have a valid NC II certificate you can use that you don’t need to go through training. Then again in the Philippines there is a law that says domestic workers are not allowed to be charged by agencies, also no placement fee. You should not be paying those kind of fees.

Maire: Jhoan is asking if the employment will end in August, when is the time to look for another employer? Is it good to look now before the contract ends?

Victoria: For those finishing contracts we generally advise workers to look for employers 2-3 months before the contract end day. So August should be mid June. If it’s too early, it might be too early for employers, employers may not be thinking forward to August yet. 2-3 months will give you a good enough time to start putting your application out. You can start looking for recommendations from employers and have interviews.

Marie: How can domestic workers extend their stay in Hong Kong if they are ending their contracts?

Victoria: There are two paths of extension of stay. If you are coming to the end of your current contract and the current situation is not great to go back to the Philippines yet then you may consider extending your contract with your current employer and stay working with your employer right now for 3 more months. Immigration is providing some flexibility for workers and employers who want to do this. So you go to Hong Kong Immigration then explain to the Officer about extending your visa contract and there is a visa fee of $230 HKD. If you are a worker who has ended their contract already normally in Hong Kong workers are given 2 weeks to stay in Hong Kong but considering the situation if you can explain to Immigration and maybe showing if your flight is cancelled and there is no available flight to your home place then you can tell the Immigration Officer that you need to extend your stay in Hong Kong. It is up to the officer’s discretion how long your extension can be. We have seen an extension of 4 weeks so that is a good thing. One thing to keep in mind is if you’re not under contract you will need to stay in a shelter or boarding house while you’re still in Hong Kong. There’s additional expenses with that so keeping those in mind is important. For those workers who we’ve placed and needed boarding and accommodation while they’re in between contracts or they have ended their contracts it is actually the responsibility of the agency at that point to make sure the worker has accommodation. We definitely have our own boarding house and we open that for our own workers. For other workers there is also the OWWA or Overseas Workers Welfare Administration that can provide support. If you need support while your contract has ended you can approach them for support and advice as well.

Marie: What are the requirements for quarantine in the Philippines when domestic workers return?

Victoria: In the Philippines a few days ago there was a requirement for returning workers to go into a 14 day quarantine but this has been amended. The OWWA office in the Philippines has also set up a Facebook page for quarantine operations called OWWA Quarantine Operations. So if you’re coming back to the Philippines it may be good to follow that page for advice. The most recent change for OFWs arriving in the Philippines is that at the airport you need to take a swab test. The test results will take a few days and so when the worker arrives in the airport they will take a swab test, wait for 3-5 days. They will be provided assistance and accommodation by OWWA. Once the test comes out and it is negative workers will be allowed to go home. Otherwise there will be further quarantine or treatment that will happen. Another thing to keep in mind right now is different regions have different restrictions on local transportation and public transportation may not be running or suspended so try to plan ahead and make sure that there is transportation for you.

Marie: We have a question from Shane. Shane is asking how long the visa is valid. She applied for a job in Hong Kong and signed a contract already.

Victoria: There should be a visa expiry date on your visa. Shane I think what your question is that you already applied for a job in Hong Kong and you signed a contract but I think what’s happening is you are back in the Philippines to wait for the visa processing to happen. You probably have a visa entry for Hong Kong. This is valid for a few months and then it expires. Check the expiry date on your visa. If it is expired before you return your agency will need to reapply for you in Hong Kong. This may take another few days. We have a guide on this process, what things might expire and things to be renewed because of the delays for processing. Check your visa document, ask your agency how long your entry visa is valid for and if they need to renew it they will need to talk to your employer as well and they will need to pay for another visa fee to Hong Kong Immigration of $230 HKD to do that. Check with your agency and check with your employer on your Hong Kong entry visa. Another thing that might expire for workers if they have been waiting for a long time is their medical exam. All Filipino domestic workers will need to undergo a medical exam before they leave the Philippines and acquire a fit to work certificate and this is only done by government accredited clinics and this has only a validity of a few months. If it is expiring this will need to be redone as well. The problem here is that I think the clinics and things related to recruitment there are plans to move forward but currently what we’re hearing is that a lot of clinics are still closed. Check with your agency. Make sure that they are on top of renewing things for you that are expiring; they will be able to book things for you as they need.

Marie: The Fair Employment Foundation has started a training center in the Philippines, right?

Victoria: The training centers in the Philippines right now along with other schools are not able to return to operations. The Fair Training Center is another one of our Fair Foundation’s initiatives. As a non-profit center, we provide training for first timer domestic workers and it is an accredited training center for NC2 domestic work. If you are planning to work abroad, keep our center in mind. Currently all workers are able to take their training for free and get testing for their certificate.

Marie: What are the requirements for quarantine in Hong Kong when domestic workers arrive?

Victoria: The quarantine requirement for travellers to Hong Kong at the moment I think it is only residents can enter Hong Kong only. Don’t worry it also includes domestic workers. Domestic workers with a valid work visa are still able to enter Hong Kong. There’s a quarantine requirement in Hong Kong right now. What happens is once you arrive in Hong Kong airport just be prepared for a quite long process as you will be asked to take some swab test and also fill out some health declaration forms. There will be some process where they will ask and explain to you how to do home quarantine. All arrivals will need to do home quarantine for 14 days when you arrive in Hong Kong and that means for domestic workers they would need to quarantine at the home of their employer because that is where your work visa and your contract stated where you will be. This will be the first choice that the government or health officials will want you to quarantine in. But in some cases employers’ preference or perhaps someone in the employer’s home is not very healthy and so they need to be extra careful and would need the domestic worker to quarantine somewhere else outside the home. In that situation the employer needs to make a request to the health department specifically and then also find a facility or hotel where the worker can quarantine but there some additional arrangements that the employer will need to do because if the worker is being quarantined in a hotel then somebody will need to deliver food and supplies to the hotel. We’ve been sharing information to employers. This is what to expect. Generally the first choice will be the worker coming in will quarantine for 14 days in their employer’s home. This means you are not allowed to leave the employer’s home and there will be some temperature check and symptoms check forms that you will be provided with and you can just take note of that everyday. Keeping some distance between other household members during this time is also important as well. It will be quite a different situation for those who are returning to Hong Kong for new employers. It’s not the same as before where you can just come back to Hong Kong and start working right away. Maybe there’s arrangements with your employer where you can do other tasks within the home but you won’t be able to leave the home for 14 days.

Marie: Just to make things very clear. Even if your employer does not want you to work you are still entitled to your salaries right?

Victoria: We have this question a lot. What happens to workers’ salaries if the worker is unable to report or perform their duties? This largely talks about workers who are stuck in the Philippines and unable to return to work. Unfortunately during this time there is no black and white answer. It’s up to the mutual understanding of the employer and the worker if there is a reduction in their salary or anything like that. In this situation we really recommend domestic workers and employers to reach out to their employment agency and reach out to the Labor Department hotline about what they should do in terms of their arrangement right now. We emphasize to employers that this is an opportunity to build a good working relationship by showing understanding and consideration for their worker. For workers, help your employer understand where you’re coming from and the salary is going to work in supporting your expenses and your family members so you can have a professional and open discussion about this so you can build a good working relationship.

Marie: We have a comment from Marie Agustin. She says that it’s good to know that your training center is free because before she came to Hong Kong she paid almost $4000 HKD.
We’re very lucky that there are organizations like Fair to make migration more ethical to migrant workers.

Victoria: Thank you Marie. Fair Training Center is a non-profit training center and we’re able to provide training for free at the moment because we’re being supported by donors and supporters. If you have friends who are considering going abroad to Hong Kong or other destinations for domestic work we are able to provide training so just keep following https://www.fairtraining.org/. We have a Facebook page as well. Just keep in mind that there are a lot of fees that may be hidden. If you don’t feel comfortable with the fees please ask. In the Philippines there is a law that requires agencies to not charge placement fees to domestic workers. For example if you are going to Fair Employment agency our partner agency does not charge any fees. For medical exams we reimburse them when they come back to Hong Kong. Just be aware of the fees that you are paying for. You should not be really paying more than 10% of your first month salary. That is the maximum agency fee that you should be charged.

Marie: What is your general advice to domestic workers?

Victoria: I would say the biggest thing I learned from working with migrant domestic workers is to really understand your plan and goal for going to work abroad. Understand which financial goal you’re saving up for. Are you saving up for your children’s studies or are you saving up for a home. Make sure that is clear before you come. Also understand how you will budget your money to be able to do that. Definitely take Uplifters courses and then be aware, don’t be afraid to ask questions throughout your migration. When you’re working with agencies try to look up information not just from your friends. Look at good information sources. In Uplifters you can definitely look at a lot of resources here. For Hong Kong you can look at the Fair agency website and Facebook but also even through OWWA’s Facebook page, POLO’s page and website, the government pages they have the regulations and rules there. Make sure that you also understand your rights and entitlements before making a big decision. This is a big decision.

Antivirus Episode #8

Here is the transcript of Antivirus Episode #8 on May 11th to help our community of migrant domestic workers go through COVID-19 challenges.

Hi everyone,

I am Jenely, Uplifters Community Building Officer. Thank you for joining me tonight.

Uplifters is a non profit organization dedicated to empowering underprivileged communities with online education and peer support. We offer a free online money management course for domestic workers. You just need to click “ Send Message” on our Facebook page to enroll. https://www.facebook.com/uplifters.community/

This is the eighth episode of our Antivirus series and we are very happy to be here with you tonight.

Our objective with this Antivirus Video Live is first to reply to your questions if we can or collect them and consult with professionals afterwards so we can answer them later. Secondly, we just want to be there with you. Uplifters is first and foremost a community and we will go through these difficult times with you.

Today we want to take a break from the sad news and get to know one of the strong and courageous women in the Filipino community in Hong Kong.

Our guest for tonight is Admin Mocha as she is popularly known on her page. She is the creator and admin of OFWS (Overseas Filpino Workers) in Hong Kong Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/OfwsInHongKong/ Mocha and her team of moderators provide free advice and assistance to her 240,000 followers. She is a staunch advocate of domestic workers’ rights. Through her page, she encourages them to know and fight for their rights.

Hi Admin Mocha, welcome to our live broadcast. Thank you so much for joining us tonight.

Q. Your page is one of the most active pages for Overseas Filipino Workers in Hong Kong with a large following. Your followers turn to your page for work-related and personal advice. What led you to create this page?

Mocha: Well, first of all, you are absolutely right. I can say my page is a huge page now, huge members of the OFWS in Hong Kong page and in fact I don’t expect many to notice this page, because you know, first I truly understand how difficult the lives of domestic workers or the OFWs are. I know most of my fellow OFWS, I feel them, the burden or the dilemma that they’re working abroad for the sake of their families and their needs. I’m sure no one wants to be away from their family or even their loved ones. But they need to sacrifice because we want to give our very best for our families back home. So here in Hong Kong or even in other countries, I’m sure we have different rules and regulations to be followed and not everyone knows their rights and not everyone is brave enough to fight for their rights but I believe through helping and through some information we can help them. So, I think this is one of the reasons why I like and will continue serving through the OFWS in Hong Kong page.

Q. Has helping other people always been your passion?

Mocha: Yeah since my elementary days I loved helping even in a simple way. I really started when I was, if I’m not mistaken, I think when I was 15 years old when I was in high school. And I loved to share even simple and small things and I love sharing, talking and discovering new things in life. Even until now, I’m in my 30s, but still for me, I’m not going to stop to discover what’s the best skill I can develop. Because for me, I know I’m a domestic worker, I don’t want us to be just a domestic worker. If there is a chance to be more than a domestic worker, why not? So, I think the way of helping each other or my fellow OFWs, I think this is the one of the reasons that you are not just only a domestic worker. You are a person who can encourage, who can help fellow Filipinos in other countries or wherever you are working currently.

Q: In one of your interviews, you mentioned that you want to help educate both domestic workers and their employers so that their relationship can be strengthened. What do you see as the biggest challenge in achieving this goal?

Mocha: Well, I can see at first maybe the communication. The communication is really one of the problems, because not all employers can speak or understand English. Even here in Hong Kong, sometimes I feel it is really difficult when I work with other nationalities and even my current and previous employers, I find that one of the problems is communication. The lifestyle, we need to understand that we are here to work and that for me we are the ones who need to adjust to them, to their culture, their accent when they are talking to us. But of course, we have to always remember and bear in mind that we are the workers.

Q: Can you explain to me further why that is important?

Mocha: Of course, it is really important. First, respect. Respect is really important for me, because even if you are working as a domestic worker, some of my fellow domestic workers think that when you are working in the Philippines and a professional, they assume that when you are here in Hong Kong as a domestic worker, it will be the same but it’s not. What we should remember is to respect our employer and of course the key on how to build good communication with your employer is to know and understand the rules and regulations inside the house of your employer, follow it and respect it. Not just having to do your own rules inside of their house, of course you’ll need to follow and respect what are the rules and regulations inside the house of your employer. And of course the most important one is the communication between you and your employer. How can you tell your employer your problems, your needs inside the house. Because a lot of my fellow domestic workers don’t know how to tell or even to ask for food, they don’t know how to tell their employers., But if they have good communication with their employer I believe that it’s gonna be easy for them to ask and to talk to their employers about their needs and concerns.

Q: We have a question from Ody. How do you manage your time between work and helping us? She’s wondering if your employer is Chinese or Westerner. She admires that you have the time to do all of the work and you can still manage your page and are always able to help.

Mocha: That’s a good question! Thank you so much! First of all I just want to inform everyone that my employer is Chinese. He’s really from China. Before I work and sign my contract, I tell everything. I tell the truth that I am a domestic worker and I am also really active for my fellow Filipino community. So I want to stick to my Sunday off. So when they ask why, I tell them that I run a Facebook page as Admin Mocha and help my fellow domestic workers either via phone or in person. What I have to do first, everyday I have a lot of messages, text messages from the inbox of OFWs in Hong Kong, but you need to balance. I balance my time also. First of all I am a worker here. I have my responsibility, I have my boss/employer, who pays my salary and of course since I am honest, she already knows what my rules are as Admin Mocha on my OFWs in Hong Kong page. So it’s easier for me because I told the truth to my employers. I think that is the thing if you are open to them, it’s easier. For example, sometimes even late at night and someone calls me needing my help, it’s easy, I can freely answer my phone. So we should really remember to be true to ourselves and as much as possible we tell our employers what our Sunday off activities are to lessen the problems.

Q: We admire your contribution to the Filipino community in Hong Kong. What is your advice to Filipino migrant workers to make their migration successful?

Mocha: First of all I have to let them know that Hong Kong is Hong Kong, the laws in Hong Kong are absolute law. So the one thing that I also admire here is our freedom. I have worked in Kuwait before, and there is a big difference. Hong Kong for me is the best. It’s not because we have the pandemic, it’s not because of the protests, but it’s because of the living conditions in Hong Kong compared to other countries. Hong Kong is one the best places where you can start your dreams and to fulfill them as well. Well, for the first timers, you have to remember that you came here to be a domestic worker. The life of an OFW is not just about you’ll never know who’s gonna be lucky or unlucky, but at least in your own self, you need to remember before you come, you should be brave enough and be prepared for the behavior of your employers and expect the unexpected. It would be why sometimes they say “Oh, expect the unexpected.” What we mean by this is maybe you are thinking life abroad is just so easy, of course not. You’ll feel homesick, especially for the first timers and one of the reasons why I have the Facebook page, because through it we can give advice, we enlighten them, share thoughts, comments, advice, ideas about how to develop your skills being a domestic worker. And of course you should have to understand the laws here in Hong Kong and you need to know your rights as a domestic worker. Also don’t forget that now in the internet, it’s really easy, if possible, when you have time, don’t just do Facebook, don’t just go to YouTube, take time to read more about life here in Hong Kong, the rules and regulations and your rights as a domestic worker. In that case, you can get more value from your time through the information from the articles you read. In OFWs in Hong Kong page, we tell them if you are a first timer, you should remember to know all your rights as a domestic worker. You should remember that when you’re abroad, no one can help you, but yourself. Don’t just think because you have your family with you so it’s gonna be easy, no. You are abroad, you should remember you came here alone, you should be able to solve your problems alone. Don’t just rely on others every time because even your friends can make you suffer one day. So always remember you came here alone so you need to be able to rely on yourself. If you feel bad, bored or if you have a problem, remember that God is always with us and He will never give us trials we cannot solve.

Q: What for you are the most important rights that migrant workers should know about?

Mocha: Contract. You should understand when you’re a domestic worker here in Hong Kong, you should be able to understand your contract. Where you are working, the address, you should follow if you are not allowed to work in other places that are not stated in your contract and of course if in case of termination, we cannot avoid that. Every day and night I receive those inquiries of my fellow workers who have been terminated or have their contract finished because maybe they can’t handle the work inside the house of the employer. So what they have to know is their rights and what they have to do, if they are terminated or if they want to terminate the contract themselves. They should know the contract details because sometimes the employer may ask you to clean or work in places that are not in the contract. You can communicate your rights so that it’s clear that only the address and nature of work that is stated in the contract is the only work I should do.

Q: If one doesn’t fully know her rights, what do you think are the problems that could arise from that?

Mocha: Well it is a big problem if you don’t know your rights. That’s why it’s really important to know them. Before we go abroad, we do our PDOS (Pre-departure orientation seminar) and we learn from that the lifestyle, culture and laws of your destination. So I don’t think that there’s someone from my fellow OFW who does not know what their rights are because of the PDOS. They even give you all the contact numbers and details where you need to call or go in case of emergency. But sometimes, I must admit, some of my fellow workers here in Hong Kong don’t know what to do and I wonder why they don’t because since the beginning we all had to take the PDOS. That’s why I always advise them now about the proper use of the internet, instead of social media, try to do some research, study, and learn about the law, culture and lifestyle of the country you are staying in. It really helps. I believe it can help you to develop your skill and improve your relationship with your employer.

Q: I have heard that the government orientations like PDOS, is not well understood by many. Is it true?

Mocha: It’s not because it’s not well understood, but there are few of my fellow domestic workers. They just sit there and listen and but don’t really focus. Maybe it’s the excitement of going abroad, being abroad, earning dollars. It’s not supposed to be like that. What we need to be doing when we are in PDOS is to learn, we should understand and get information that will help us going abroad and help us on how we can work nicely with our employer. It’s not because it’s not well understood by all but I have to admit that during the PDOS, a few of my fellow Filipinos are just too excited going abroad so what they do is forget what they’ve learned by leaving or losing their notes or information they may have written down or collected during the orientation shortly after departing the country. It’s not the PDOS facilitator/organizers fault as they really give the information needed.

Q. Can you give us some tips on how to cope with changes and stressful situations at work due to Covid-19?

Mocha: Well this is a hard question, but in my case I know and I believe that most or all of the employers, most of the time because of the Covid-19 we are inside the house or shall we say stay at home employees. And I’m sure that many of my fellow kababayans don’t want to stay at their employers, especially those employers who are perfectionists who don’t want to see any dust at home. Even those who are taking care of little children and they can be naughty at times, so a lot of patience is needed for your “Alaga” for your employer. And always remember that it’s just because of the Covid-19, just like me, it’s natural. We don’t like those employers who are perfectionists and strict, for me, I am thankful because I am lucky with my employer. I’m still open with my employer. I can go, I can take my rest day, I can go out, you just have to remember to take good care of yourself and of course to avoid those crowded areas. For those of you who are asked by their employers to stay at home, I can understand that it’s unfair. Resting might be difficult without having your own room to rest and with everyone inside the house, children being naughty, your employers being very busy, it leaves you no choice but to just work on your supposed rest day because you’ll feel embarrassed. It is very unfair for us but this is life. We have to face reality, we need to understand that there will be changes because of Covid-19 but remember that it’s only temporary. So don’t feel bad, don’t feel sad when your employer asks you to not go out on your day off, just ask your employer and be clear, for example you can say “Ma’am, if I’m not gonna be taking my day off today, when will my day off be?” or when you’re lucky maybe your employer will pay you. Because of the pandemic, it’s really hard, I feel for those who are experiencing the changes happening in their work situation. Especially those stay at home employees, what I’m gonna say to you guys is that just enjoy your work and always remember that this Covid-19 is just temporary. It’s not forever. So that’s ok, just stay at home and love your work, enjoy your work, even with those perfectionist employers, even at times when they are loud and seem like they’re just talking nonsense, but since you can’t do anything, you just have to accept and listen to them. Accept the reality, but always remember that you should really take care of yourself for no one can help you the best but only yourself. So don’t be sad if you weren’t able to take your off day, just try to understand that your employer cares for you and doesn’t want you putting yourself at risk by being in a crowded area. Also, I believe that there are some or maybe a few employers who are watching now. And I’d like to take this opportunity to tell them that they also need to respect the rights of their workers regarding their rest days. Don’t think that just because your workers are inside the house you still should not ask them to work if it’s their rest day. Because, in a week, we only get one day to rest. And because of the virus, some employers don’t let their workers out, due to the fear that their workers might catch the virus and bring it back home with them. We should all try to understand, both employers and workers, we are the same, all human beings. We respect our employers but of course the employers should also respect us. It can’t be just because you’re the employer, you’re always right. We have our rights also. There are so many cases from my OFWs page that their employers don’t allow them to take their off day because of the virus. But the employers don’t even consider that, they are also going out, they go to parties with their friends and come back home most days of the week. Unlike us, we stay at home the whole week and only have that one day for ourselves and can only go out for a few hours as we need to get back home. There is really a discrimination and it’s unfair. Employers need to remember that we are all the same, all human beings.

Q: Who is your role model?

Mocha: For me, it’s my fellow domestic workers, from whom I am encouraged. I have developed myself into who I am today. So I can say that they are the role models in my life especially here and being a domestic worker myself.

Antivirus Episode #7

Here is the transcript of Antivirus Episode #7 on May 5th to help our community of migrant domestic workers go through COVID-19 challenges.

Hi everyone,

I am Camille, Uplifters’ Head of Programs. Thank you for joining me tonight.

Uplifters is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering underprivileged communities with online education and peer support. We offer a free online money management course for domestic workers. You just need to click “ Send Message” on our Facebook page to enroll. https://www.facebook.com/uplifters.community/

Our objective with this Antivirus Video Live is first to reply to your questions if we can or collect them and get back to you later if we can’t answer them directly. Secondly, we just want to be there with you. Uplifters is first and foremost a community and we will go through these difficult times with you.

This is the 7th episode of our Antivirus series and we are very happy to be here with you tonight and to have Doctors Without Borders as our special guest.

Doctors without Borders is an international, medical humanitarian organization, which operates in more than 70 countries worldwide. They provide medical care to people affected by armed conflicts, epidemics, pandemics, natural disasters and exclusion from healthcare.

Today we are very pleased to have Eliza and Guleed from Doctors without Borders with us so we can learn more and ask our questions on how to protect our health – and our mental health! – in these Covid-19 difficult times.

If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, stay home and seek medical attention. Follow the directions of your local health authority.

There are still a lot of uncertainties around Covid-19. We’ll do our best to help you differentiate fact from assumptions and opinion.

This is an information sharing broadcast about anxiety and stress management under Covid-19, not a therapy session. If needed, professional mental health support needs to be conducted by a qualified counsellor/psychologist/therapist.

Eliza Chang is a nurse specialized in infection prevention and control. Part of her role is to prevent or control the spread of infections in the community.

Guleed Dualeh is a Psychologist and works as Mental Health Activity Manager at MSF.

Hi Eliza and Guleed, welcome to our live broadcast. Thank you so much for joining us tonight!

Situation seems to stabilize in Hong Kong, with more than two weeks without any local infection. But health authorities said the epidemic could only be considered under control if no new cases were reported for at least one or two incubation periods (14 days). Social distancing measures are being eased up.

On the contrary, Singapore is seeing a spike in cases, especially among migrant workers, with the case count now exceeding 18,000. The city is still under a strict lockdown.

The virus keeps spreading in other parts of the world, including in The Philippines (with the total number of infections now being more than 9,000) and Indonesia (with the total number of infections now being more than 11,000).

The situation evolves quickly and in all cases, we should
Keep observing preventive measures
Keep in mind that the impact of Covid-19 related stress and anxiety can remain on the long term, especially for those who live far from their family.

I was thinking maybe we start with you Eliza so we can discuss how to best promote health before we zoom on the topic of mental health, which I know is of particular concern for our community.

I also encourage all of you who are with us tonight, watching this live, to ask questions and comment. We’ll do our best to reply to you.

Camille: We now know what are the key preventive measures and in Southeast Asia, they seem to be fairly respected. Could you please remind us why are they so important and how they allow limiting the spread of the virus?

Eliza: A lot of people have been asking this question, why preventive measures are so important? And how are these preventive measures that allow limiting the spread of the virus? So, first of all, with these preventive measures, it can reduce the chances of being infected, or scrubbing these viruses or other diseases by taking just all these simple preventive measures. I always emphasize to the participants in our workshop, even to our beneficiaries, that simple preventive measure really matters. It just consists of hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene, in other words it’s the cough and sneeze ethic. Because everybody knows that we should wash our hands, but we need to ensure that we wash our hands correctly and timely with soap and water. But when hand washing is not available, alcohol-based hand rub is an option. So, make sure that you rub your hands for at least 20 seconds and ensure you wash all parts of our hands, not just the palm, not just the back of your hands but all part of your hand. Because if you just rub palm to palm for twenty seconds, it doesn’t mean that you’ve cleaned your hand correctly. And also, it’s very important that we should always remind ourselves, remind the people around us to avoid touching our face with unwashed hands. Because there is an interesting study that shows that people touch their face more than 16 times in an hour. And one thing when we’re talking
about cough and sneeze ethics, it’s just that covering your nose and mouth with tissue paper or bent elbow when sneezing or coughing. Because with these simple gestures, it helps prevent the spread of droplets. As we know the main transmission mode of this virus is through droplets when we sneeze, when we cough or even when we speak.

So, the second preventive measure is social distancing. Recently people keep talking about social distancing, the government has been reminding us of social distancing. So just hold a distance of 1 meter. At least 1 meter, if possible, that you can keep a distance of more than 1 meter from each other. Because when we are too close to someone, especially when that person coughs or sneezes, then we might breath in droplets. Because now that we have so many cases of asymptomatic COVID cases so we don’t know who we are we with and whether that person is healthy enough because other than COVID virus it can be just a common flu or some other infectious disease that also can spread thru droplets when we are too close together, we might just breath in the droplets directly.

The third preventive measure is avoiding crowded places. Because when the place is crowded, it’s very hard to maintain social distancing. It’s very hard to maintain 1-meter distance from each when there’s too many people. And also, you’re more likely to come in close contact with someone that might have COVID-19 or other infectious disease, they might not show symptoms yet. And of course, if you need to go to crowded places, when you have to do something there, you need to go there, you might want to wear a mask to protect yourself and also to protect others if you are not feeling so well.

The last preventive measure that I want to emphasize is, stay home if you are sick. If you have to wear a mask, you need to use it correctly. Use the mask correctly. Be responsible to yourself and the people around you. Seek medical help if you have flu symptoms and you have contacted with suspected or confirmed cases or travel history. These are the points you have to remember; you need to seek medical help, there’s no way to self-diagnose that am I having just a common flu or am I catching the virus. There’s no way to self-diagnose, you need to go see a doctor. And also, when you are seeing a doctor and you’re not feeling well, be honest. Do not feel ashamed or shy to declare your health conditions because you know yourself best when you’re not feeling well. Outsiders, your close friends, they cannot tell, cannot differentiate when you’re feeling good, feeling healthy or if you’re not feeling well today because of course we know ourselves better and also because nowadays during these pandemic people tend to feel shy or ashamed to declare that I am not actually feeling well or I have some flu symptoms because they are set to being stigmatized I think, but like I said, be honest. And talking about masks, if we wear a mask, we need to wear it correctly and dispose of it correctly. Because often people know there is a lot of education on how to wear a mask correctly but also people tend to forget when they take out their mask, they forget to dispose of it properly. Because applying and disposing of masks correctly can help prevent or slow down the spread of the virus. And also remember that masks are just an extra preventive measure, hand hygiene is still very important, it’s still the key. There’s this one that I want to emphasize to everybody including myself that all these preventive measures, that this is not a multiple-choice question with a lot of answers that we can choose. We cannot choose which one is the best preventive measure that I want to follow, because all these preventive measures have to be taken together to ensure full effectiveness. And also, one that you just have mentioned, please respect the local authorities’ guidelines or some new laws that have been implemented so always check on the latest guidelines that were released by local authorities.

Camille: How are these preventive measures adapted into daily life? What are the specificities that may apply to domestic workers as their work precisely consists in taking care of others and cleaning homes?

Eliza: Ok, so like just now the preventive measures that I’ve mentioned, we can try to think back that all these preventive measures that I’ve mentioned, is none of these are newly invented because of this coronavirus outbreak. It’s just something that we might have learned from school or from our mother or at home. It’s just some common practices because we might have forgotten all of these preventive measures or think that they are not very important and we don’t take them seriously until something happens. It’s always like that. We might know this back in school, but we are not practicing it because it is not important until something happen that were suddenly reminded of this, yeah I have learned this from school because of this outbreak so we can take this opportunity to remind ourselves, to remind the people around us to start practicing all these basic preventive measures that have been neglected for some times. So just remember this message I want to bring to everybody is to protect your loved ones, you must start protecting yourself first. So like all these preventive measures we’ve been doing, we wash our hands every day before eating or after the toilet or there must be some times that we will wash our hands, but for now during these outbreaks you just have to increase your hand washing frequency and do it correctly. We know that “yeah I wash my hand” but how long? like for 3 seconds? or as long as the water runs through your hand, is it considered clean? This is the time for you to really think about it “Am I washing my hands correctly?” “Are they really clean?” So sometimes if you keep forgetting to wash your hands before touching your face for example, you need to find ways to remind yourself, for example, a sticky note or a handmade poster on your toilet door or your living room or on a place it’s easy for you to see when you come back from outside. So, you just need to find a way to remind yourself, your family or people around you to wash your hands, dispose of your mask correctly. So, it’s like a reminder for you and the people around you.

And also, been saying that be responsible, start practicing the correct hygiene, the cough and sneeze ethic and also help the younger children, the younger ones adhering to all these practices. We as an adult we can set as a role model to tell the younger ones that you have to practice these preventive measures correctly by showing them the way or by leading them to do it correctly and also we can do like when we’re meeting our friends or family or colleagues, we can remind each other to practice all these preventive measures, and also please do it in a good way, friendly way to avoid conflict because we don’t want to act like a teacher telling you what to do, we don’t want to make people feel bad for not doing it correctly, so do it in a good way and friendly way because it take time for people to understand and accept, they might understand that they need to do all of these preventive measures but it also takes time to accept, “yes I need to do it and do it correctly” and the final part is make it as part of daily routine because I believe that everybody understand the need of washing your hand, the need of maintaining social distance but will people accept it and make it as part of daily routine? So we just need to do our part in ensuring a better and healthier community because all these preventive measures seem small but they actually play a very crucial role in preventing the spread of virus to protect us, to protect everybody. Like I mentioned before, to protect your loved ones, you must protect yourself first.

Camille: Our community reported facing difficulties related to their well-being, often related to the stress and worries they may feel when it comes to how Covid-19 could impact their lives. It is true that the situation sometimes feels overwhelming. Are these feelings normal and can they be managed?

Guleed: Thank you again for having us here this evening. Are these feelings normal and they can be managed? I would say yes to both of them actually. These feelings are normal because the situation that we’re facing is not a normal situation. We have never been in a situation like this before, this is a new virus. So yes, It’s definitely normal to feel overwhelmed, or stressed or anxious or all of the above. Everybody is different and everybody’s reactions are also different. A lot of thoughts are flying through our minds in these times. You know can I get infected, can I infect others, what about my job, will anything happen to my job, are we missing out events, I’ve planned a lot of things that was supposed to do and now suddenly there’s all of these restrictions that are put on un in terms of gatherings, travelling, meeting. Some of us might be living abroad so we might be restricted in going home or having family members come to us. All of the emotions that we’re going through, it’s very normal to go through them at this time. I think also if we think about it, we’ve been on this for quite some time now. We’re almost going on six months since we’ve been facing the coronavirus and now the Covid-19 as it’s called. That’s a long period to be exposed to uncertainty. I say uncertainty because we don’t know how long this will go on. We don’t have a playbook, we don’t have experience with it as per say. That in itself can be very stressful for even the best of us. But what I will say though in terms of can it be managed,i would say yes it is possible to manage it. We have to remember that this is not the first time that we have been faced with the challenge. This is not the first time that we’ve been faced with something where we have to overcome some adversity. I just wanna remind everybody and that is also something that we put as a reminder in our workshops for stress and anxiety management. We do have the capacity to overcome challenges. We do have it and I wholeheartedly believe that we will be able to overcome this challenge as well.

Camille: It is well known that under high stress we sometimes don’t know what to do, what to start with to make the situation better. When we feel down, it sometimes seems impossible to start feeling better again. Efforts feel too difficult. Are there easy things we can do to feel better?

Guleed: It is interesting that you said easy, Camille because it can seem overwhelming to even do minute things that you were able to do before. You might be a very resilient person in general then suddenly it’s hard to get out of bed or it’s hard to make a decision or it’s hard to stand your ground in a given situation whatever it might be. I think the first thing I would say is be kind to yourself. Start by some self-compassion. It’s very stressful as it is and you know we might not have the same amount of energy that we used to. Do some small adjustments, small things that if you change it up might have a huge impact on you and on your well being in general. There’s the basic things like sleep. Make sure that you have sufficient enough rest. If we don’t have enough rest, there’s a chance of becoming more hypersensitive to everything that we’re presented with and we’re presented with a lot these days. So good sleep, good nutrition, a little bit of exercise as well and having a sense of routine. Keep a sense of routine. Even though there might be a lot of restrictions that have been put on us try to see if you can keep some routines going, some healthy routines. I think those are some of the things that you can do. I think also there’s so much information going around in the news outlets and in social media. There’s so many experts and everybody has an opinion about Covid-19 but again we have to remember we don’t really know what it is or how long it will last. So to limit all of that information try to stick with one news outlet, a trusted news outlet. Don’t check the news the first thing you wake up and throughout the day and it’s the last thing you see before you go to bed. Keep yourself updated, have a conversation going and stay connected with your communities as well. Sometimes we feel that what we’re going through is something that we’re only going through ourselves but this is a global pandemic which means that not only in our inner circle but globally we are experiencing some of the same feelings and some of the same challenges as well.

Camille: I do agree with you. There’s a lot of information out there and sometimes it’s very difficult to navigate all that information. It can feel very stressful so maybe one thing that I personally do is I pick my 2 or 3 reliable media and I stick to them. Only when I have a question that I can’t find an answer to then I will start asking around. Community support is key for sure.

Guleed: Absolutely and also how do we navigate something that we haven’t experienced before. It is a challenge and it is definitely difficult but it’s not the first time that we’re faced with difficulties like this. One of the main things we can do is put a perspective on it and just remember this will not last forever. And we’re talking about compassion also. Set some realistic expectations on yourself. Nothing is gonna be perfect. There might be a lot of plans and a lot of things that have fallen through but it’s beyond our control.

Camille: What makes the situation feel that overwhelming is also that we may feel powerless; like the whole Covid-19 situation being completely out of our own control as individuals. Yet, we still need to adapt and navigate changes brought in by Covid-19 into our lives. But how can we do that when we feel anxious, scared or hopeless? What are the specific strategies that you would advise us to follow?

Guleed: There are different ones. We utilize them in the workshops that we have. Breathing is key. It’s definitely one that we always go back to. It’s something that you can do anywhere anytime. It doesn’t cost anything. It doesn’t require a lot of knowledge. It just requires you, yourself and take in some deep breaths. We also went through mindfulness which is something that you can try out. Everybody usually has access to either social media or YouTube. There are a lot of guided meditations. There’s some guided mindfulness exercises that one can do. I also encourage socializing. We hear social distancing. It is a new term that we have been so familiar with now. It’s not necessarily social distancing. It’s physical distancing, that’s what we have to remember. We don’t have to distance ourselves socially because that can be even more anxiety inducing. The fact that we can’t connect with our community, our family members, our friends and loved ones. We still can do that in a different way. Zoom has been a big hit now. Try to meet up with people virtually or in smaller groups, whatever is possible where you are. Remind yourself of some winning strategies that you have used before that worked for you before. Again as I said to begin with this is not the first time that we’ve been faced with adversity that we have been able to overcome. We can overcome this as well. We do have the skills.Also remember that when you do connect with friends and family it’s normal to talk about Covid-19. It’s such a big part of our lives now. It has become such a big part of our realities. But put it in the back burner a little bit. Reconnect on things that are not related to this because our lives are still going on. Reconnect with the things that bring you joy or joyous memories or plan for things that you are looking forward to, there might be weddings or birthdays, whatever it might be. Remember the joyful things as well. Spirituality, if that is something that can feed your soul. Look into your communities as well. Stay informed with trustworthy outlets as we said before which is also important. And then if those things, and this is just a couple of the examples that we’ve been going through and the things you can do for coping, if they don’t really work, seek help. There is help to be given. Camille you showed the hotlines for some of the crisis hotlines that people can call into. Utilize them. Utilize your communities. Keep the conversation going. What you’re feeling and what you’re going through, it’s not just you. You’re not alone in this.

Camille: This is very clear. Thank you, Eliza and Guleed. It was very informative. I found it very reassuring as well. Thanks a lot for your kind words and encouragement. Again we’ll get through it together. This too shall pass. Thank you so much, Eliza and Guleed.