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 sports 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 a 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 long 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 starting line to checkpoint 8 we did well. However, from checkpoint 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’ 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).
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.