Portrait of Domestic Workers Becoming Photographers

Meet three talented domestic workers who were attracted to photography out of nowhere and soon became passionate about it. These dedicated women saved for months to invest in a camera and so learnt about an interest which gradually became their passion.

Yanthi, Eni and Sugi were the official photographers for our one year anniversary party in Singapore.


I’m Yanthi from Central Indonesia. I am 46 years old. I have 2 brothers and two sisters and I am the youngest in the family. My father was a farmer & my mother is a housewife. Sadly my father passed away last year.

I’ve been working in Singapore for 20 years for the same employer. I have learned so much with my employer. When I arrived, I didn’t know how to speak English and I felt so lonely.

To overcome these overwhelming feelings, I took some English courses and also studied computer & entrepreneurship at Aidha. The English course helped me to communicate better with my employers and their kids. I realised how I love to learn new things; it feels like I am upgrading myself!

To stay with one employer is great because you don’t have to adapt yourself over and over again. The best thing my employer did for me is to allow me to study & upgrade myself.

When I first arrived, I didn’t have a day off for 2 years. After 2 years, my employers gave me a day off every Sunday. I used this time to study and do some volunteering work. I don’t really like to spend time doing nothing. My motto is keep learning and don’t give up.

To stay with the same employer, it is a must to develop a good relationship between the two parties. Both employer and employee need to be understanding and accept the weaknesses and the strengths of the other.

I’ve been passionate about photography since high school. I learnt by myself by capturing people, friends or nature. The more your take photos, the better you become. I started to use a digital camera (DSLR) after I graduated from Aidha. There, I learnt about budgeting and saving so I managed to save enough to buy my Nikon D5200 in 2012. It took me 2 years to save up to buy my digital camera. I joined a group of photography events because I could not afford to go on a photography course.

In order to photograph models, you need to make sure to dress the models nicely. They need to have neat makeup and hair styles. Then, you need to find a good environment so the whole picture is beautiful. Also, you need to make sure the model knows how to pose naturally. The model needs to understand what the photographer wants in the first place. This collaboration is essential to make good photos.

These are professional Indonesian models wearing beautiful dresses. I love the background as it contrasts in color and shape with the models’ dresses.

I love to capture people; for me the human body is beautiful, that’s why I love to capture models.

Aidha changed my life for the better because I learned about budgeting, how to use a computer, how to be more confident and how to start a business. Before I joined Aidha, I loved spending but since I graduated, I really love saving.

I heard about Uplifters from Ms Marie. I met her at Aidha when I did some volunteering work for them. Uplifters is really good. Like Aidha, they are helping FDW (Foreign Domestic Workers) learn how to save, become more confident and so much more. I hope Uplifters can encourage more FDW to learn as their courses are online and easily accessible.


My name is Eni. I am from Indonesia and I’m 33 years old. I am a single mother with a 4 year-old son. My mother is looking after him. I entrusted my mother to be his second mom to teach him how to behave and respect others. I’ve been working in Singapore for the past 10 years.

I started photography in August last year. I bought myself a camera for my birthday. I started to hang out with my friends taking pictures of them and it gradually became my passion.

During my day off, I ask my friends if I can take pictures of them. I love to capture their smile, laughter and happiness. It gives me a positive mindset to look at their pictures.

I heard about Uplifters from my friend. She said it was very useful to know about money management and empowering oneself. I could see how happy she was during the course; she said it changed her life and she became more motivated. Because she liked it so much, I decided to join the course. After I finished the 3 week class, I realised how it really helped me to track my expenses and I could start to plan for my dream, as well as increase my savings too. I feel so happy today with all the things I learnt from it. I am very blessed to have had the opportunity to enrol in this course. Now, thanks to Uplifters, I start to manage my salary, I have a clear vision of my future and I’m more confident. Thank you Uplifters!

If I had a message for other domestic workers it would be: Don’t limit yourself to just look at something that makes you happy; give yourself full support to reach your dreams, learn more and don’t give up!

This is one of my favorite pictures. I love their smiles. They look so united and the colours of their dresses give me such a positive energy!


My name is Sugiarti Mustiarjo, I’ve been working in Singapore as a domestic worker for 18 years. Despite having independent brothers and sisters, I still send money to my parents every now and then.

I started photography 3 years ago when I bought a digital camera as a birthday present to myself. I attended a photography workshop with Aidha and Lensational. Before I bought my camera, I used to take pictures with my phone as a way to keep memories alive.

My tips to other domestic workers would be: keep reminding yourself the first reason you’re here, it’s okay to express yourself, share your passion, be creative but keep in mind that your work is the most important thing, surround yourselves with positive activities and positive people. Stay safe.

I learned about Uplifters through Facebook and I thought it was a good opportunity for domestic workers as their courses are free and online.

This picture was taken in Koh Samui, Thailand. This is where my dream of ”seeing the world” started, on this tiny island where my journey of life began.

I have a soft spot for black and white photography.

This picture was taken during a migrant poetry competition in 2017. This woman won the competition. I edited the photo with double composition format. This was my first “official photographer“ engagement.


Depending on whether you have money or not, there is no limit when you are passionate about something. These women have sacrificed months of wages to meet their thirst for learning and that has led them to a new, exciting and beautiful path.

Thank you to these three talented ladies for sharing their expertise at an Uplifters event!

Maid of Heart and Sole pairing with Uplifters

Healthy minds in healthy bodies!

On 24th February 2019 Aleli, Eden, Milkha and Rosie will be running a 50 km race in Hong Kong for the benefit of Uplifters. Click here to participate.

Not only they will raise funds for Uplifters but they will also advertise the online education platform while running, raise awareness to fellow domestic workers about what Uplifters provides. 

Uplifters will be there to support them during the race and we are so honoured, proud and excited that such inspiring women chose our cause to run the Victoria 162-H50 this year!

Thank you ladies!

Who are Maid of Heart and Sole?

They are a racing team composed of two Indonesian and two Filipino runners:

 Aleli Pena (also called Thana by her friends), is a 40 year old filipino mother of 2 children (16 year old daughter and 4 year old son). She has been working in Hong Kong for 14 years as a domestic workers. Aleli started hiking with the MeetUp group (Hong Kong Meet Up). She later decided to try the 100 km Oxfam trailwalker under their sponsorship. That’s when she started to run and discovered she had a passion for trail running. She trained every Sunday. Her employers are flexible and she does not take care of children anymore so she can also run early in the morning.

Aleli is the team leader of Team 0262  ‘Maid of Heart and Sole’ which consist of four domestic helpers who run with her and participate to help raise funds for Oxfam. They want to represent the Domestic Workers community in Hong Kong and promote their ability, determination and enthusiasm to excel. 

 Rosie Rusinah, is a 35 years old Indonesian from Java. She has been in HK for 13 years. She started to run in 2010. Her Chinese employer was very sporty and she was running regularly. Looking at her employer influenced her to be more fit and healthy. She also realised that Hong Kong had a lot to offer and was also attracted by the beautiful sights while hiking. To have flexible employers is very important to pursue this quest in her opinion.

“I want to promote Uplifters as I always support good actions for domestic helpers.”

 Eden Marciano is 39 years old and is from the Philippines. She is a single mother of an almost 5 years old boy. She has been working in Hong Kong for 15 years. Her friend introduced her to running in 2011. They usually run at night after her work is done.

“I want to run for the benefit of Uplifters to raise funds and support its amazing platform for empowerment of migrants domestic workers. My tips to fellow domestic workers: just notice the small pleasures in life and appreciate them. SMILE and do regular exercise. It’s the best way to improve our mood and it helps us both physically and mentally.”

Milkhatus Sholikah is Indonesian, 43 years old and a single mother. When her son was 9, she decided to migrate to Hong Kong as a domestic worker in order to support him financially. She started to run in August 2018 after a friend asked her if she wanted to join her for the Oxfam Trailwalker. She’d never run before and despite her lack of experience, she began training with them. She has also paddled for the last 3 years for 2 different dragon boat teams. She is an Uplifters alumni student.

“The reason why I decided to run for Uplifters is because as an alumni student I want to help and give back to the community. Besides I hope my activities could inspire other Uplifters students as well.”

Their Oxfam trail extraordinary achievement:

They ran for the Oxfam trail last year under No 262 which is their lucky number! Their team is called Maid of Heart and Soul and can be followed on their Facebook page.

They finished the Oxfam trailwalker 100 km in 24 hours and 55 minutes. They were ranked 10th of all female teams and 226th of all teams. Their official Oxfam fundraising page is always in need to support good actions for domestic workers.


Why fundraise for Uplifters?

Aleli : “I can do something by running and promoting sports as well as raise awareness on health and with Uplifters, it is a great opportunity to learn, improve and prepare for the future for all domestic workers. We want to promote the good actions that are helping helpers.

We want to encourage domestic helpers to pursue what they are passionate about, it can be through sports, through studies and why not both! Healthy minds in healthy bodies!

I think Uplifters is an amazing idea and gives another purpose for what to do on a very hot or rainy day. Helpers need to do something meaningful on their day off and learning about financial literacy, cooking or any other skill is important. I believe that as soon as you open their eyes, they would want to learn more.”

The 24th February race: Victoria 162 2019 – H50

On 24th February, Aleli, Milha, Eden and Rosie will be running 50 km for the race Victoria 162 (H50) departing from Quarry Bay at 8am and finishing at Kennedy Town.

General Info:

  • Distance: 31.9 miles
  • Minimum Elevation: 76 feet / Maximum Elevation: 1685 feet
  • Total climb: 7170 feet / Total descent: 7165 feet.
  • H0 Quarry Bay 鰂涌
  • H1 Windy Gap 大風
  • H2a H2b – Wong Nai Chung 陽明
  • H3 Coombe Road 甘道
  • H4 The Peak 山頂
  • H5 Kennedy Town 堅城

Click here to participate

Uplifters wishes best of luck to Maid of Heart and Sole and thank them for their generosity and enthusiasm!

Do you know what your domestic worker does on her day off?

Usual day off for a domestic worker

We all have seen a sea of domestic workers gathering in popular spots on Sundays at Victoria Park in Hong Kong or the Botanic Garden in Singapore. Normally we see them playing cards on cardboard boxes on footbridges or on the beach enjoying a BBQ as a community.

Occasionally we see them trekking the walking paths, exercising with friends, singing as a group, preparing for shows, or inventing and creating new styles of dancing. They have fun, they laugh, they look happy.

While I was working in a domestic workers’ recruitment agency in Hong Kong, I met many domestic workers who wished to change employers just because they did not have their day-off on a Sunday. They were missing meeting with their friends or families (for those lucky ones who have their relatives working in the same city) and consequently they would rather change employer to be able to see their loved ones on their day off.

My involvement as an employer

For years, I didn’t ask my domestic worker what she was doing on her day-off. I thought it was not really any of my business. After all, it is her life, her privacy. But as I became more and more aware of the well being of domestic workers and their life in general, I felt I had to ask her. I didn’t want to be intrusive but on the other hand I didn’t want her to think that I didn’t care either.

When I watched the movie “The Helper Documentary” it struck me to see the impact that employers can have on the well-being of their domestic worker. The example of Liza Avelino is the most obvious one to me. She discovered a passion for hiking and eventually climbed Mount Everest, just because her employers suggested that she should do something more fulfilling during the weekend than sitting on a cardboard box and they encouraged her to join a hiking group.

Some amazing examples

There are many other examples of domestic workers who fulfil their passions thanks to the encouragement of their employers. Milkatus Sholikah, one of our Dare to Dream students, completed the 100 km Oxfam Trail-walker in November 2018 in Hong Kong. She is very thankful that her employers motivated her to participate and allowed her enough time to train. She had never participated in any race before! Read more about her achievement in the South China Morning Post.

Some are also interested in photography and several helpers have become famous like Xyza Cruz Bacani, who has been in exhibits worldwide. In Singapore, Ana Rohana, an Indonesian Domestic Worker and amateur photographer was just featured in Channel News Asia.

As employers, we do have a responsibility for the well-being of our domestic workers. But how do we encourage them? They are all different and not all of them are like Liza, Milkatus, Xyza or Ana.

Jaybie , a domestic worker in Hong Kong whom I have interviewed recently, is passionate about sports and is sharing her experience with us:

“It is very hard and stressful for any domestic worker to be away from their families and kids… My suggestion is to get away from the stress, therefore I spend my day off attending sports events such as yoga, hiking, running and volunteering in race organisations to get a free race pass in return… I don’t want to waste my free time doing nothing.

We don’t need to be rich to be able to keep ourselves healthy while working. All we have to do is to find a way to balance our job as domestic worker and our chosen activities.

MeetUp (worldwide) and Decathlon are promoting many different courses such as yoga, boot camp, Cross Fit, badminton, tennis, etc. It is free and you will find daily sports events in your location that you can join throughout the week. If I have spare time after work, I can join boot camp or Cross Fit classes. I am very lucky to have an understanding employer who likes the fact that I am interested in sports and supports me in this way. I sometimes wake up very early for a sunrise run or after I finish cooking, I escape for an evening jog.”

Her message for other domestic workers: “Don’t make excuses, sports provide a healthy balance in life and is a good way to release stress. Anything is possible if you maintain proficient communication and a good relationship with your employers, that’s the only key!”

How to encourage them?

The best thing is to engage a conversation with her:

  • Just out of curiosity, what did you do yesterday? I hope you had a good time!
  • Do you have a specific hobby that you enjoy doing on your day off? Or do you want/need to rest? Let me know if I can support you in your passion!
  • Is there something in particular you would like to learn?
  • We would be very happy to help you make the most of your day off.

All in all, it will be a great dialogue. She may not say much at first but it will start a positive habit in sharing about her day off.

You can suggest some activities like:

    • Hiking
    • Photography
    • Yoga
    • Relaxation meditation
  • Free or cheap courses organized by NGOs
Activities you can find in Hong Kong and Singapore

Hong Kong

YMCA offers many different courses to domestic workers: baby care, elderly care, paediatric first aid/CPR, baking courses, bookkeeping, dressmaking, English courses, and so on.

TCK is a learning Center and a registered charity that offers low-cost classes, workshops and other activities for migrant workers.

Helperchoice is a hiring platform free of charge for domestic workers. It has created its own academy and provides a variety of courses from cooking and baking to financial management, English and Cantonese classes, sewing and more.  

YWCA, Center of Learning and Life Enhancement. This center offers First Aid/Child CPR, Self-Enhancement, Money Management, Kitchen Management and Cooking courses.

Splash Foundation offers domestic workers twelve weeks beginner swimming courses in Hong Kong.  Even though the course is free of charge, there are certain requirements to keep to.  

Enrich is a Hong Kong charity organisation promoting the economic empowerment of migrant domestic workers through financial and empowerment education. Their money management programs are taking place on Sundays.

EmpowerU is part of Hong Kong University. They started a program for domestic workers to study and learn new things from HKU professors and volunteers.  They provide free lectures, training and workshops in Hong Kong on Sundays. It teaches domestic workers lessons on practical Health and Nutrition, Basic Rights and Women Empowerment, Nature Appreciation, Physical Fitness, Performance Arts, thus upgrading their knowledge and skills for their respective work environments, and in preparation for their homecoming.


Home (Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics). HOME’s Academy offers a wide range of workshops, such as:  English, computer literacy, cooking and baking, care-giving, dressmaking, cosmetology, and financial management.

FAST (Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training). They organise many courses: cooking, baking, pastry making, infant care, elderly care, foot reflexology, nursing care, computer skills, English, stress management, financial management and entrepreneurial skills.

Expat Kitchen  not only teach about cooking. It also teaches how to operate some kitchen appliances, manage and store food hygienically, quantify the ingredients properly, differentiate and select side dishes, salads and dressings to complement the main course, and so on. A cherry on the top of the course is, of course, hands-on workshop in preparing dishes from various cuisines.

Aquaducks up skills water safety knowledge and emergency procedures in theory and practice. It teaches basic but essential swimming skills and techniques.

Aidha is a Singapore based charity organisation. Aidha’s mission is to help foreign domestic workers and low-income Singaporean women to achieve economic independence through financial education, wealth creation, and entrepreneurship. Your domestic worker can be enrolled into monthly classes, such as: money and tech management; planning a financial future; classes to start up their business, and certainly classes to improve their English.


Uplifters (online education) is a non profit organisation whose mission is to help migrant domestic workers through online education. Their free money management and personal growth program helps domestic workers become financially literate (budgeting, loan risks, savings, interest rate, investments etc.) and acquire personal growth tools (self-confidence, communication skills etc.).  Through Uplifters your domestic worker has an opportunity to reach out to a Domestic Workers’ Group, which offers support whenever she might need it.

Ling Long Chinese is an online Mandarin courses and are easy to follow with videos and exercises. The first level is free. The others are fee based. Ling Long offered 50 of Uplifters team leaders a free scholarship and 10% discount to any potential student mentioning Uplifters!


I personally really like the fact that my domestic worker is active and enjoys her day-off by doing something fulfilling. Examples of domestic workers running, hiking, and learning new skills are inspiring and we can contribute by helping them achieve something wonderful. I feel it is a part of our role as an employer to guide them and support them.

And since domestic workers may have a bit more time off available in Hong Kong for 2019 (see article from the Asia Times), this topic could not come at a better time!

If you want to share an inspiring experience or show the impact a course had on your relationship with your helper, do not hesitate to write about it on our Facebook group for employers.

Article by Marion Dechy with the help of Elena Wolf

Why should you care about your domestic worker’s financial education?

By Marion Déchy

Chinese New Year is approaching and you are probably thinking of giving a red pocket to your domestic worker.  Do you know what she will do with it? Will she save it or is she going to spend it right away?

13 years ago, I arrived in Hong Kong from London, never had a domestic worker before and the concept of ‘maids’ was only a vague memory from my grandparents during the war! I was one of these young mothers thinking ‘I can do it all by myself, don’t need a domestic worker!’. Quicker that you can guess I came to realize that I could not avoid hiring a domestic worker to help me out with just about everything! We hired a domestic worker who stayed with us for 12 years. I learnt so much with her.

She was a great domestic worker but still it took time to adjust, to “teach” her, to show how we were living which was totally different from previous families she’d worked for. She learnt how to cook and she became a great cook, a independent meal planner, and the best help when we had guests at home. She was a meticulous cleaner and home organizer, she was incredibly loving and patient with my kids. Oh well I could go on and on. 

But even with the best domestic worker, you can’t avoid turmoil, that’s for sure.

When a loan shark calls you every day

We have had a couple of phone calls from money lenders after a couple of years. Then our domestic worker asked us for help when one of her ‘friend’ made her sign a guarantee letter for her loan and suddenly disappeared, leaving her to repay some crazy amounts. Then it was the friend she was sharing a SIM card with who disappeared leaving her to pay a 1,000 HK$ bill. We’ve always backed her up (not always happily though) since as her employers we were legally responsible of these misfortunes. A few years later we had even decided to change our phone number as a loan shark kept calling everyday but our domestic worker were telling us it was a mistake. We’ve had a conversation at this time with her about this issue and we were quite firm on the fact that even though we loved her, we could not keep her if another situation like this was to be repeated. She confessed it was really difficult for her to say ‘no’ to her friends asking her help in making a loan. Some time later when we spoke again about miscellaneous things, I asked her how she was doing with her friends, she told me she was no longer seeing any friends because she was too scared to be involved in another money issue. And believe me I was under the impression that she was respected by other domestic workers, she was above 45 years old and had a lot of experience. I could not have imagined for one minute how tough peer pressure can be in the domestic workers community but it is a reality.

What my job taught me about domestic workers

Working in a recruitment domestic workers’ agency helped me understand a lot about domestic workers. I saw how incredibly grateful domestic workers were when I was giving them very simple tips for their interviews or trying to boost their confidence or just simply by listening to them.

How tough it is for them to have to deal with a different world far away from their families and outside of their comfort zone and how helpful you can be by just simply sharing tips with them.

In fact I realized how we underestimate the needs of domestic workers on so many levels.

I have joined the non-profit organisation Uplifters last September. It’s a new non-profit in Hong Kong founded by Marie Kretz Di Meglio. They provide a free online money management course to domestic workers.

They learn how to prepare for the future, how to save money, how to avoid being ripped off by some malevolent people taking advantage and even how to say ‘no’ to unnecessary financial requests from their own family back home. In other words all they need to know to  break the cycle of poverty and build sustainable futures for themselves and their families.

We do learn about those tools in the ‘modern world’ and we decide to use them (or not). Domestic workers don’t have access to those tools and arrive unprepared in our cities to work for us. How can they possibly manage? Something’s not quite right!

Why employers should care?

As Uplifters is self-funded we started a crowdfunding campaign in January and this has probably been the most interesting journey of my years working in Hong Kong.

Recently and because of our communication about our crowdfunding campaign, I have been asked very interestingly and rightly so “why as an employer should I get involved about my domestic workers’ financial education, why should I sponsor it, why should I care at all? She is working for me and she is very busy, I don’t want to distract her, it’s already difficult enough sometimes to be on the same page so I’d rather not disturb our routine”.

So many employers naturally feel that way I thought I needed to write about this.

First of all as an employer, wouldn’t you want her to be concentrated on her job and doing it well rather than being stressed out and worried about money issues? Whatever your relationship with her, you would see on her face or her attitude when something is wrong with her, right ? As an employer, you trust your domestic worker with your household and loved ones. So yes you do want your domestic worker to be responsible, reliable and be good at what she does! You do want her to succeed and reach her dreams. You do want her to be happy, pleasant and do a good job for you. As a mother, I think you do worry about your domestic worker taking care of your children when she is not feeling well, whether she is physically sick or mentally not there or depressed. 

It is proven that the helpers that are going through financial literacy programs get a better understanding of what is ahead of them and better plan for their future. That gives them confidence, a more positive mindset and give them a better way to cope with uncertainty and difficulties. It helps them defines their goals in life. Not only they dare speaking about their dreams but they also realize they can actually reach those dreams. As a result they become more positive, motivated and happier and they find a better balance in their life in general.

How would you feel if one of these loan sharks come knocking at your door asking to repay the loan your domestic worker made a few months back, leaving you distressed, leaving her depressed and your relationship damaged?  

Aren’t we a lot of employers experiencing the bad surprise to have to repay the loan of their domestic worker? My domestic worker made a loan of 1,000 HKD and ‘forgot’ about it. A few years later, we had to repay 6,000 HKD. This is a common story that unfortunately puts a lots of strain on the relationship.

If the domestic worker learns the pros and cons of loans, how interest rate works, how to budget and control her transfer of money to her family, they would have less risks to get into these delirious situations.

Secondly, it’s an opportunity to improve your relationship with her.

We asked students from the Uplifters course how did the course impact their relationship with their employer”. Here are a few replies:

Janelyn : “Now that I am more driven to my passion to learn and earn, I am more dedicated to my work, I am giving all of my efforts to learn new things and impress my employers. Now we have a much better communications.”

Rubi : “With my employer it’s changed a lot of things as I am more confident when I speak English and I am more humble”

Cristina: “There was a great impact on how I managed my communication skills to understand each other’s.”

Maylin : “my employer when they know about the course I took they did not worry anymore that I will spend my money in not important things, and the trust itself started to build.”

Joan (I love her testimony!) : “I believe that when your employers knows that you are learning something to improve yourself you gain respect from them. It’s good that you let them know as well that you are productive in terms of learning new things as they won’t look down on you”

Finally, as a responsible employer, wouldn’t you want to provide your employee with these crucial life skills? I would say on a personal note that I would find it normal to care for people that works for you and are taking care of your home, your kids and is a part of your family life. Isn’t it the basics of management : care and consideration for your employees? Should it be different for domestic workers? As an employer, I would also want to know that the salary I give my domestic worker will contribute to some kind of a retirement or part of an investment that will help her build a business when she decides to go back home for good.

Knowing her daughters will come to Hong Kong to work as domestic workers strangely does not have the same rewarding feeling, don’t you think? Don’t we all strive for the same achievement in life ? Why would domestic domestic workers not have the same dreams nor the same chances in life? They work all these years for us away from their family and their own children, don’t they deserve a little bit of our help to achieve their goals?

Not only employers should care but I do feel it is their duty to help their domestic workers get access to basic financial knowledge that will prevent them to fall into destructive traps.

·  In Hong Kong Enrich is the leading charity for domestic workers’ economic empowerment. They offer face to face sessions on Sundays as well as one to one financial counselling services for emergency cases. 

·  Uplifters offers a 3-weeks free online course. It is flexible, they can participate when they have time and it won’t disturb their day of work. Students are enrolled in group chats so they get important peer support. 

Overall those courses offer them a chance to learn important life skills, improve their chances in life and also build up healthy friendships. This is basically a win-win for them and for employers, that’s the beauty of it! 

Break your chains! You are not an elephant


As a man was passing elephants, he suddenly stopped, confused by the fact that these huge creatures were being held by only a small rope tied to their front leg. No chains, no cages. It was obvious that the elephants could, at anytime, break away from their bonds but for some reason, they did not.

He saw a trainer nearby and asked why these animals just stood there and made no attempt to get away. “Well,” trainer said, “when they are very young and much smaller we use the same size rope to tie them and, at that age, it’s enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away. They believe the rope can still hold them, so they never try to break free.”

The man was amazed. These animals could at any time break free from their bonds but because they believed they couldn’t, they were stuck right where they were.

Like the elephants, how many of us go through life hanging onto a belief that we cannot do something, simply because we failed at it once before?

Failure is part of learning; we should never give up the struggle in life.

A 43 year old single mom, entrepreneur, 100 km distance runner and domestic worker

Milkha - Uplifters student Milkhatus, or Milkha as she’s known to her friends, made a big impression on me. She is an incredibly determined and hard-working woman. Milkha is a domestic worker in Hong Kong but she’s much more than that. She’s also an entrepreneur, a 100 km distance runner, and a single mom raising her son without any financial assistance. While her life circumstances are tough, she doesn’t let them defeat her.  Instead, she makes the most of them.

For me, she is the embodiment of the saying “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions” (Stephen Covey).

Meet Milka, Uplifters student

She is Indonesian, 43 years old and a single mother. When her son was 9, she decided to migrate to Hong Kong to work as a domestic worker in order to support him financially.

She has been working abroad for 10 years now and, in the course of that time, she has achieved so much! She learned two languages in just a few months, covered the costs of her son’s upbringing, supported her own siblings’ studies, invested in a small business in Indonesia in order to have an alternative source of income and, during her time off, still found the energy for intense sport activities like paddling and, most recently, running and hiking. In fact, she just took part in one of Hong Kong’s more challenging races: the 100 km Oxfam Trailwalker.  What an inspiration!

When I asked her if anyone, or any specific event, influenced her, she replied: “My hard life – it taught me to be practical and realistic and, most importantly, it taught me discipline.”

In truth, Milkha did not really need to participate in our Uplifters’ course “Dare to Dream” as she is already a strong, confident and wise woman who is preparing for the future and making the most of her stay abroad. However, the fact that she believes that this is a valuable program for her fellow domestic workers is very high praise and means a great deal to us.

In the following interview, you will read about the challenges she has overcome in her career as a domestic worker, why she decided to start running and how she kept herself motivated during the 100 km Trailwalker race – a gruelling challenge and the first race she’s ever done! She also shares some of her experience at Uplifters and important messages she has for fellow domestic workers and employers.

My interview with Milkha

Marie – Can you please tell us about the challenges you have faced in your life as a domestic worker?

Milkha – When I first arrived in Hong Kong, I could not speak Cantonese very well and my English was not very good either. So that was my first challenge living here: language. I had to improve my Cantonese at the same time as I worked on my English because my employer’s father was living with us and he didn’t speak any English. Mistakes and misunderstandings happened for sure, but I was still able to do my job well and I was lucky to have an understanding employer. My employer’s father taught me Chinese cooking on top of Cantonese!

Marie – Why did you start running?

Milkha – I started to run last August after a friend asked me if I wanted to join her Oxfam Trailwalker team. I’d never run before so I wasn’t very confident at first. Despite my lack of experience, I thought it would be an interesting adventure so I said okay and began training with them. At that time, my dragon boat team practices were on break – for the past 3 years I’ve been paddling in Hongkong for two different teams.

As I mentioned, running is a new experience for me and it’s been a good one: it keeps me active, fit and healthy. The Oxfam Trailwalker race was a challenge – especially since it’s the first race I’ve been in.

I still remember the first day of training – it was really hard! Despite all the blisters, bruises and pain I had all over my body, I still needed to do my job the next day. That was a looong day!  But the training was a lot of fun and so I even enjoyed the sore muscles (hahaha).

Marie – How did you find the race? Did you feel like giving up during the race? If so, what motivated you to keep going?

Milkha – On the actual race day, our team was so eager to do it (especially me), that it kept our adrenaline pumping. We had so much fun on the trail. We met new friends and teamed up together as one – we really enjoyed the whole experience. From the start line to check point 8 we did well. However, from check point 9 to the finish line I felt I had no more power – I felt sleepy, my legs were tired and I could feel the pain all over my body. But I kept saying to myself… don’t stop, stay hydrated and keep going… we’re almost there!!!  I remembered how hard the training was, how much time and effort we put in to get ready for this day… I think the whole team felt the same. While we didn’t run anymore, we walked fast and we did it! And, of course, thinking of my son and the support from my employer, friends, coach and everyone else who was involved kept me going. I’m very grateful to them all.

Marie – Why did you join the Uplifters’s course “Dare to Dream” and how did you hear about it?

Milkha – I heard about Uplifters from a Facebook friend and joined. I thought “Dare to Dream” sounded like a useful course for us, as domestic workers, because so many of us still do not dare to speak openly for ourselves. When we enter our employers’ homes, we think we must simply follow orders without thinking or offering our own suggestions – most of the agencies drilled this into us from the time we were at the training centre in Indonesia. For newcomers, cultural expectations and not understanding the subtleties of the language can make it really hard sometimes. Some employers are understanding about this, but I’d say most of them aren’t. So, in “Dare to Dream”, one of the important things we learn is how to open up by gaining both knowledge and the confidence to speak more freely.

Marie – What are your own dreams for the future?

Milkha – My own dream is to look after my little farmhouse, to stay healthy and fit, and to enjoy life. I also hope that my son learns about what’s important in life from my example.

Marie – What is your message for fellow domestic workers? And for employers?

Milkha – For my fellow domestic workers, I’d like to suggest that, if you aren’t already, you start doing more positive activities during your days off – things that feed your soul and help you grow as a person. For those of you who already do, keep up the good work! Try to learn new things and share what you learn with others.

In terms of employers, I hope more employers become willing to listen to their helpers and discuss things more openly. I also wish that working hours would become more reasonable and that living conditions for helpers could improve (such as a private room with easy access to basic facilities such as a toilet and shower for each helper).

Domestic workers:  to enrol for free in Dare to Dream, just private message our Facebook page  (click on Send message at the top) or directly with our Facebook Chatbot here.

Employers: you can recommend your domestic worker to join our Facebook group More than Just a Maid where she will get all the information about our free courses.


The best gift you can give your domestic worker


Marion, our expert in creating a happy “domestic worker – employer” work relationship shares with us her top 5 gifts to give your domestic worker. For more tips and advice, subscribe to our newsletter and join our Facebook Support Group for employers!

After 12 years with the same domestic worker, I think I have been through it all  in terms of gift giving. I have given her all sorts of presents I thought she would enjoy, beginning with things for her room (e.g. decorations, a rug, cushions).  I soon realised that, even though she politely thanked me, she was just not interested in this type of gift.  Let’s be realistic – most domestic workers simply don’t have the space for many decorations and this type of gift may not be the most relevant to them.

My first ideas

After interior design items, I tried giving her jewellery and skin care products including earrings, manicure sets, hand cream for her work-worn skin, a gift box from l’Occitane but, once again, she didn’t seem to truly enjoy these types of gifts either.

Next I thought “let’s do vouchers” – that way she can find herself what she wants or needs. The issue with some vouchers, however, is that she may have to add a bit of money to get exactly what she wants and that is not really the point of the gift.  So I thought, OK, cinemas offer vouchers and she can invite friends to go with her and do something fun. We gave her the movie vouchers but I’m not sure if they were ever used.

Friends gave me tips and I read stuff here and there on the internet but nothing seemed to be relevant for my domestic worker… You may be wondering “Is she really so difficult to buy for?” Nope, I don’t think so. I simply had not found THE perfect gift for her.

The fact is, as with anyone, it’s sometimes hard to really know if our domestic workers are happy with the gifts we choose. However, if we understand where they’re coming from, what’s important to them, and who they are as individuals, it can help give us some direction.

Until one day, we had finally found a present  she liked

One day, I was with my family at the airport.  We were looking around the duty free shop when my 7 year old son turned to me holding a perfume bottle and said “Mummy, let’s buy this for Yaya!”.  My response was ‘Hmmm. I’m not sure she would like that’ to which he replied ‘No, she will like it, Mummy. I promise! She told me’. When we offered her the bottle of perfume, she exclaimed ‘Oh, I love perfume!’. So that was it, we had finally found a present we knew she liked.

A good tip: give your children the mission to secretly find out what your domestic worker would like for Christmas!

The problem was that we were not going to buy her perfume for each Christmas and birthday so we still had to have other ideas to work with. Here are a few of the other gifts my domestic worker has enjoyed over the years (and one she’ll be getting this year – shhh!).

My top 5 gifts for my domestic worker

1. I think the number one present for domestic workers is cash. In some cultures, cash doesn’t represent any kind of effort and may be considered a ‘lazy’ gift. At the same time, we want our presents to have a long lasting effect. However, cash is a meaningful and powerful gift to give a domestic worker.  One they can use in the way most relevant to their needs.  I also give a bit of cash for my domestic worker’s own children. Whether she saves it for them, gives it to them, or buys a gift for them with it is entirely up to her. I remember one of the first Christmases I did this.  She came back from the Philippines and showed me photos of the kids with the new toys she had bought for them with this cash. I could feel how happy and thankful she was to be able to treat her children.

2. Another great present is paid leave and an extra ticket back home. Check with her first and contact airline companies as they may have special offers for domestic workers that you wouldn’t see on their websites. Some domestic workers may not be willing to go home even if you pay for the ticket because they have no savings. It’s very common for domestic workers to actually borrow money before going back home. It’s hard for them to say no to their relatives’ money requests and come home with no gift to give. This is a good occasion for you to discuss her financial situation and encourage her to join a financial literacy course. Check our free online course Dare to Dream.

3. When I started to work with domestic workers, I noticed they were very grateful to get a body check. So this became something we ‘offered’ her and it was always very happily welcomed! I use Igoodlink (Hong Kong) for this – we like them because they have always been very reliable and professional and it is easy to arrange online. QHMS is another centre but I haven’t tried personally.

4. You can also choose to give the gift of health and kitchen happiness. In November, we met with Natalia Morrison who is a health consultant here in Hong Kong. She recently published a comprehensive cooking book which she wrote with her domestic worker. We highly recommend getting a copy for yourself and to consider offering one to your domestic worker as well. Check out our blog or Natalia’s website Home Cooking East & West where you will find details on how to get your copy.


5. Finally, the gift of a training course is a gift of growth and opening doors – it can build a domestic worker’s skills and strengthen her resume for future endeavors including when she decides to go back to her home country. The support a domestic worker gets for learning is empowering. It is a priceless gift and everyone benefits.

The best gift of all: the gift of education

In general, domestic workers are always grateful for their employer’s consideration, respect and generosity.  When we asked them to share what was the best thing their employer ever did for them, a great number of them replied that it was the fact that their employers encouraged them to do some training – to learn something different or new to widen their experience or improve their skills.

“I am a very lucky helper, I have a very good employer. They treat me like I am their own family, sponsor me to go study, help me to start my own business back home.” Susilowati M.

“They appreciate my hard work in looking after their kids, they care for my health and they support me to get more skill and improve my knowledge and they pay for my school fees.” Yuliani P.

In my opinion, one of the best gifts of all is offering the gift of education – it is priceless and, as Confucius says:

And remember that with as little as USD 10, you can sponsor one domestic worker’s free life skill course at Uplifters. With only USD 30, you sponsor her full free empowerment program.


Dedicate this Donation

Honoree Details

Select Payment Method
Personal Info


Donation Total: $240.00 Monthly

{amount} donation plus {fee_amount} to help cover fees.

Finally, don’t forget the power of a simple Christmas card pointing out your appreciation for all of her hard work and offering her your best wishes – having the whole family sign it is sure to make her feel appreciated. Shall I mention as well the odd bag of “give away” stuff that she is always excited and thankful to get? I wouldn’t really call this a “present” even though it feels like it when I give it to her.

Wishing you and your domestic worker a Merry Christmas!

Marion Déchy



Helper Hiring Fear Factor? Build Trust & Communicate

It takes a special person with a brave soul to agree to live and work in someone else’s home – often without a clear idea of what’s expected and what the living and working conditions will be like.  At the same time, it also takes a brave soul to welcome someone they don’t know into their home to live and work – without knowing how that person’s personality may change the dynamic of a family’s day-to-day life.

This is where we were just about 3½ years ago. We had just hired a live-in Domestic Helper for the first time and, after working for many years in Singapore for two different Chinese families, our Domestic Helper was coming to Hong Kong for the first time to work for a Western family. We all knew it would take time to build a positive, trusting relationship but we were determined it would happen.

For my family, the story actually began almost a decade ago when my husband (Allan) and I decided to leave our home in Canada to take our son on a one year family adventure to Japan where Al and I had lived many years before.

The one year stretched into 4 (we all loved it there!) and then my husband was recruited to work in Hong Kong – where we’ve now been for over 5 years.

During this adventure, my son and I really missed having a dog in our lives. Our landlords in Japan didn’t allow pets so, when our landlord here in Hong Kong said it was OK to have a dog, we were ecstatic! However, despite the fact we were looking at adopting an elderly dog who had been waiting for a home for 3 months, we discovered that the local Rescue wouldn’t let us adopt one of their dogs if someone wasn’t at home during the day. As my husband and I were working full-time and my son was at school during the day, we weren’t eligible to adopt a dog.

To make a long story short, we hired Elsa Amistad to come work for us and we’re so glad we did.  We got our dog, Max, and we were treated to incredible Filipino, Malaysian, Singaporean and Chinese dishes which I very quickly decided I wanted to learn how to make.





Above: Elsa (left) and Natalia (right) at home in the kitchen

My background is in health, food & nutrition. I was a dietitian for a couple of decades and had my own cooking school in Japan.  Luckily, Elsa was happy to share the secrets of her favourite recipes.  I watched and wrote these down.  I then showed her how to make the favourite dishes of my own family and friends – things she wasn’t familiar with making but which she said her own family and previous employers’ families would love to eat!

I collected our favourite recipes in one place to give both Elsa and I easy access to them. One thing led to another and we thought, why not share them with other people?  Together, Elsa and I chose over 160 of our favourite recipes to share in our book “Home Cooking East & West” – recipes which are almost equally divided between those from the East (Japan, Thailand, Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia) and those from the West.

We also thought it might be helpful to share some of our thoughts about working together since we had had some unexpected, and often amusing, incidents due to assumptions we had each made based on our own past experiences. And so was born a chapter and workbook to help employers and Domestic Helpers communicate effectively to promote “Kitchen Happiness” and nourishing, relaxed meals.

There’s also a chapter featuring a month of menus (based on recipes in the book) for days when people don’t want to think about what to cook for supper (or breakfast or lunch!) and information for healthy meal planning for days that they do.  We’ve also included some interesting kitchen tips and information on food safety.

I have a FB page you’re welcome to like and follow if you’re interested – I’ll be sharing recipes and health tips twice a month or so (I don’t want to overload anyone’s inbox!). You can find it at @NataliaMorrisonHealth.

The book is available at Swindon Books (TST), Kelly & Walsh (Landmark and Pacific Place), and Hong Kong Book Centre (Central). It is also available online by clicking on Swindon Online. You can also order directly from the authors by visiting the Home Cooking East & West website at https://www.homecookingeastandwest.com

By Natalia Morrisson


Create a positive work relationship with your domestic worker

I’ve employed domestic workers for more than ten years and encountered many different scenarios while working for four years in an ethical hiring agency for domestic workers.

I want to save you time and share with you the best management practices I have learned over the years and how to create a positive work relationship with your domestic worker. I will also give you information to better understand their backgrounds.

Adopt these 8 best management practices and create a positive work relationship with your domestic worker

1. Give clear guidelines and time to adjust

At the beginning of an employment contract, provide a schedule of tasks (daily, weekly or monthly schedules) and a clear understanding of your “house rules”. Discuss in depth the way you do tasks, how you want her to take care of your children, your flat, your pet(s), how to plan meals, your grocery  shopping habits, etc. Communication is key.

Give straightforward instructions that are easy to understand. Remember that she is not a native English speaker you may not be either. She might be shy to ask for clarification if she does not understand. Give her time (at least a few weeks) to adjust to the way your family works and to deal with homesickness if she is a newcomer.

In the long term, avoid micromanaging her. Once everything is on track, let your domestic worker try to do things on her own. Sit down regularly with her to discuss what is going well and what needs to be adjusted. At the beginning you can do it weekly or on a monthly basis, then as often as needed and at least once a year for an annual performance review.

E.g. “Hey Julia, here is your weekly schedule. I don’t mind when things are done, I let you manage your time – as long as everything is done that’s great. I am here if you have any question or if you find it difficult to finish everything. We will discuss if you feel that it is too much for you, your input and suggestion are important to us, feel free to share them with us.”

2. Care about her

“Strictly professional” does not necessarily work with domestic workers.

By Marion Déchy – Before joining Uplifters, Marion worked for an ethical domestic worker agency in Hong Kong for 4 years. She is very familiar with issues faced by both migrant domestic workers and their employers.

Reprogram your brain for happiness in 3 simple steps

little moments for happiness

Happiness is something you can build. Little by little, each time someone says something mean to us or ignore us, it creates a “hole in our hearts” and make us less confident and less happy in the long-term. But a simple way exists to change your brain into a positive mood.

Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson says as simple as it may sound, brain science backs the well-known popular wisdom, “positive brings positive.”

Positive brings positive

During a talk, “Taking in the Good” for Chicago Ideas Week in 2013, he explained how to create positive connections in our brains.

He said that as a child he was repetitively bullied by other children. He did not face any major life trauma but still, years later, he realized during his studies that those negative moments had changed him and made him feel empty inside. Hanson said he felt like he had “…a hole in my heart.”

One of our basic needs is to feel valued, included, recognized and appreciated. Hanson said he began to notice a reaction that seemed amazing at first.

“If someone was nice to me, or wanted me on their team, or hired me, or if a good thing happened, and if I stayed with the experience by focusing on the good, I started gradually feeling better,” he said.

The longer you stay with a happy feeling or memory, the stronger the connection will become in your brain and gradually, you will reprogram your brain to be happier.

3 steps to happiness

To “reprogram” your brain to happiness is very simple. Follow these 3 good practices:

  1. Appreciate little pleasures of life even when it is hard: a nice flower, a good moment with a friend, the taste of coffee. Finding the good in small things, day by day, is not naïve but a way to change your brain.
  2. Don’t rush. When you live a happy experience, take the time to really feel it in your body for at least 10 seconds. This way, a good small fact will become a great memory.
  3. Make a conscious effort to remember happy experiences. (We suggest to write them down in a notebook). If you practice those methods day by day, you will be able to close your eyes and think of a good memory or loving experience very easily!


To finish, if you choose to concentrate on the good each day, you will fill yourself with calm, joy and confidence. It is good for you but also good for the people you know and love.

More about Rick Hanson: he is the author of Hardwiring Happiness, Buddha’s Brain and Just One Thin – books that have been translated into more than a dozen languages. He is also senior fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California Berkeley and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom in San Rafael, California.