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.

Singapore

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.

Worldwide

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!

Conclusion

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

The best gift you can give your domestic worker

gift-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.

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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.