It’s May. Ask not what your helper can do for you – ask what you can do for your helper. Kate Farr reports on Helper Appreciation Month.
Take a stroll around the neighbourhood any day of the week and you’ll see DB’s legion of ‘aunties’ pushing strollers, walking dogs and stocking up trolleys at the supermarket. Without doubt, the people who travel to Hong Kong to work in our homes as domestic helpers make our lives much easier. But as May marks Helper Appreciation Month, we take a look at just a few of the ways in which local groups and organisations are working to help our helpers.
Founded right here in DB and taking place each May, Helper Appreciation Month has a stated aim to ‘inspire public and private acts of gratitude and appreciation towards Hong Kong’s domestic workers.’ The month typically features a range of initiatives, with individuals, families, businesses and non-profit organisations all finding ways to recognise the hard work – and the many sacrifices – of Hong Kong’s often-over looked helper population, which amounts to a staggering 360,000 individuals.
Movie making and dragon boating
Released in 2017, The Helper documentary gives a rare insight into the lives of just a few of those 360,000 – many of whom have left behind their own families in order to care for others. At once inspiring, thought provoking and deeply moving, The Helper features The Unsung Heroes, a choir composed of DB helpers, founded by DBer Jane Engelmann.
While its cinema release has now come to an end, many schools and other community groups continue to privately screen the documentary. Meanwhile, the film’s message of hope and support is underscored by its ongoing Thanks A Million Facebook campaign, which aims to gather one million messages of thanks and appreciation for domestic helpers worldwide.
One of the women profiled within the film is DB resident Liza Avelino, whose remarkable courage, tenacity and sheer willpower has seen her scale both Mount Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp – the first domestic helper ever to achieve these incredible feats. An avid hiker and all-round sportswoman, Liza has now set her sights a little closer to home, founding Hong Kong’s first all-domestic helper dragon boat team.
She explains, “My team is called the Filipino Dynamo Dragonboat Team. It was inspired by my mountain climbing team calling me the Filipino Dynamo during my trip to the Himalayas. Simply put, we domestic workers are indeed dynamos – an energy-generating machine when it comes to work.
“Initially, there were 27 girls willing to pay for their own registration to join the dynamic dynamos, then we found a sponsor and accepted more who were willing but couldn’t afford the fee,” Liza adds.
Now sponsored by Palma Baby Food, Liza’s dynamic dynamos already number 50, and she hopes to recruit even more members in the future. “We are reaching out to all employers to continue supporting their helpers by encouraging them and giving them permission to join these kinds of activities,” she says. “My team will start small this year, as we want to show Hong Kong that we are solid and capable of joining this year’s races. We will definitely be appealing to willing sponsors to help and support us next year.”
And Liza’s message to Hong Kong’s wider society? “Please continue to support us in promoting the wind of change on how the rest of the community sees us; not just as helpers doing housework, but as human beings, capable of doing so many things, with our own goals and dreams.”
Financial and physical wellbeing
Helping others to achieve their dreams is not-for-profit organisation Enrich HK, whose financial literacy and economic empowerment courses are enabling domestic helpers to plan for their – and their families’ – futures. Offering information on everything from retirement planning to which mobile phone contract offers the best value, Enrich also provides a hotline service for those in need of urgent answers to their financial questions.
While Enrich’s classes are heavily subsidised for helpers, it also encourages employers to support their aunties’ on-going financial education. Workshop scholarships, which cost just HK$2,000 for 27 hours of tuition, enable the graduates to fully prepare for a more secure future.
Another group offering classes for domestic helpers in DB is Andiappan Yoga Community. This group of fitness instructors aims to share the many health and wellness benefits of yoga through free classes that take place all over the city. Classes at Discovery Bay International School are held every Sunday between 8.30 and 9.30am.
Spokesperson Eva Kunyi explains, “Yoga helps the women who attend manage their stress and pressure from work, and on top of that they gain flexibility and strength. Our mission is to share yoga with those who may not be able to afford yoga classes.”
With close to 500 participants per week now joining Andiappan’s classes across Hong Kong, this mission can be deemed a success by any definition.
Helper Appreciation Month has grown from a small initiative to a fully-fledged movement, particularly in DB. Stay tuned for updates on this year’s events.
• Andiappan Yoga Community, www.yogacommunity.org
• Enrich HK, www.enrichhk.org
• Filipino Dynamo Dragon Boat Team Facebook page
• May Helper Appreciation Facebook page
• Thanks A Million campaign, The Helper Documentary Facebook page
• The Helper, helperdocumentary.com
Images: Kate Farr and Baljit Gidwani – www.evoqueportraits.comTags: helper appreciation month, the helper documentary, liza avelino, palma baby food, filipino dynamo dragonboat team, thanks a million campaign, enrich hk, andiappan yoga community