Let's celebrate Helper Appreciation Month in Discovery Bay

To mark DB’s second Helper Appreciation Month, Katie Scott speaks to the educators in our midst about the role helpers play in framing the minds of our youngest residents.

 

This May, for the second year, Discovery Bay families are being asked to recognise the work of their helpers, whether with a grand gesture or a simple thank you. It is all too easy to start taking the extra help many of us enjoy for granted. As concept co-creator Steve Chitty states, this is an opportunity to foster good feeling.

Helper Appreciation Month is now spreading across the waters and Steve explains that people around Hong Kong are taking the initiative. He says: “The ultimate hope is that it will become self-perpetuating and will just encourage us all to have another look at the people who help in our lives.”

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Recognising helpers’ input

The role of the helper in each household is different but many are educating our children, from early learning with the youngest wards to helping the older children with homework, where they are able. As I write, our helper, Vicky, is showing my youngest son a book of multi-coloured birds and slowly saying their names. She laughs as he declares each one to be a “duck, duck” and then carries on patiently.

At Discovery Mind Primary School (DMPS), principal Sarah McCormack actively encourages her pupils to be mindful of the work of their ‘aunties’. The school also proactively offers guidance to parents and helpers as to how they can support children’s learning. This has included lessons on how to help with their reading.

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Natalie Regazzoni, owner and headteacher of Woodentots, sees helpers supporting children with their social skills and personal-care skills. “These are important areas to develop during the early years because socialisation and independence are skills children need to have in order to progress and for adapting to school life.

“Observing the playgrounds and the plaza, it is usually the helpers with the children during the week and I know many organise play dates for little ones,” Natalie continues. “Therefore, they are the initial adult the child will look to for guidance during play; they are the ones who should be teaching how to share and take turns, deal with conflicts, understand good/ bad behaviour, etc. A lot of helpers also take children to accompanied classes, so they pick up some basic teaching practices from being in a class environment.”

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Appreciating helpers’ skill sets

Natalie is supported at Woodentots by Auring Gasmena, who is a permanent Hong Kong resident and a helper. She explains: “Auring helped me for a few weeks in the class and I found her to be a natural with the children, eager to learn, very practical and she used her initiative. When the opportunity to ask her to work with me full-time came up, Auring agreed and she’s been working for two years now.”

For Auring, who started a bachelor of elementary education in the Philippines, it is a chance to put into practice what she learnt and, she states, she just loves being with the children.

DB resident Scott Stiles, one of the driving forces behind Helper Appreciation Month, is the co-founder and general manager of the Fair Employment Agency – an alternative to the unscrupulous agencies in Hong Kong, which charge monumental fees to helpers for matching them with an employer.

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“There are helpers who are vastly over qualified for the largely menial jobs that they are called upon to do,” Scott says. “The Philippine government has even launched an initiative to encourage some of its trained teachers, working as helpers in Hong Kong, to return home.” However, he adds that parents looking at potential candidates should manage their expectations and be aware that qualifications vary from country to country and so may be different in scope from those in their home country.

At Enrich Hong Kong, helpers can take part in courses in multiple languages including Bahasa Indonesian, Thai and Tagalog. Enrich advisor, Myriam Bartu, another DBer behind Helper Appreciation Month, aims to build helpers’ skill sets and thus empower them to lift themselves out of debt and poverty.

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The desire to better oneself has huge advantages for employers. Courses, focused on financial management, have the additional benefit of building confidence and improving communication skills, which makes for better working relationships within the home.

Expressing gratitude

Helper Appreciation Month, though, is largely about the community educating itself about the helpers who live among us. A series of informative and empowering events are planned for this month and DB schools are again taking the lead. “Helper Appreciation Month gets great traction with schools,” Steve says. “They just seem to take the core idea and do their own thing.”

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Last year, the local kindergartens really got on board. At Bayview House of Children - Discovery Bay, the focus was on expressing gratitude. “It was the perfect way to reflect on the people who contribute to making our lives happier, better and easier,” says principal Ramesha Backelandt. “We asked the children to find out a few personal details about their helper (favourite colours, food, activities etc.). This was an eye-opener as most students had no idea. They thought that what aunties liked was what children liked – playing lego, going to the park…

“The children sang a few songs about being thankful and we read a beautiful story about acknowledging and appreciating the people around us,” Ramesha adds. “After the story, the children gave a present and a flower and said thank you. Most helpers cried and I received many texts saying how much the school event had meant to them.”

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Last May, DMPS held afternoon tea parties for helpers and a pamper afternoon where they were served cake and offered back massages by their charges. Sarah draws attention to a specific homework class the children were set for which they had to interview their helper about their home, specifically what they missed most about it. “It emphasised to the children that these lovely ladies are making a huge sacrifice for their own children,” she says.

This year, Discovery Bay International School (DBIS) is providing free use of rooms for a series of Helper Appreciation Month wellness workshops. In 2015, Enrich Hong Kong held a series of training sessions at Discovery College (DC), and this year, the school is organising student events across all three levels.

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DC principal Mark Beach argues, however, that the appreciation should be constant. “I’m personally not a great fan of things such as helper appreciation days or months, as I believe that we should be showing appreciation to one another on an on-going basis,” he explains. “I do understand, though, that it is helpful at times to remind some of our community about the importance of this. More importantly, it allows us to take the time to actually understand our helpers as people; who they are, what they’ve sacrificed to be here in Hong Kong, what amazing ‘hidden’ talents they have, and so on.”

Mark argues that when students become nonchalant about the help and support they receive, their actions betray them: “I see things like students coming to school with their helpers carrying their bags, or dropping rubbish and expecting others to pick it up for them,” he comments.

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Christie Leung, school supervisor at Discovery Montessori Academy says that to counter this, helpers and parents should be discouraged from offering too much help. “Hands-on work is extremely important especially to young children,” she explains. “It lays the foundation of the development of cognitive skills. Working parents should guide their helpers to provide as many opportunities as possible for children to work with their hands in their day-to-day lives. For example, buttoning their clothes; pulling on their shoes and socks; cleaning up the table after use; eating by themselves; cleaning themselves up and carrying their own bags.”

It’s not just children. Parents can take their helper for granted too, and this trickles down. May’s event may serve as a reminder to all of us to be thankful. As Natalie says: “Feeling appreciated boosts self-esteem. It motivates people to improve themselves and encourages a positive work ethic. After all, who doesn’t want to be appreciated for the work they do?”

Find it

• Enrich Hong Kong, www.enrichhk.org
• Fair Employment Agency, www.fairagency.org

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