Domestic Workers in a Foreign Landscape: A Field Lab

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Semester at Sea
Feb 13, 2016


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Culture, Education, History

Domestic Workers in a Foreign Landscape: A Field Lab

Written by student: Carson Cuevas, Hofstra University

Prof. Dong Wand lectures to students during her East and the World: Women of Asia class, aboard the MV World Odyssey, February 8, 2016. The students reflected thier expirienes from the recent field lab in Hong Kong. (© Semester At Sea 2016)
Professor Wang lectures to students during her East and the World: Women of Asia class, as the students prepare for their field lab.

In the high rises of the coastal metropolis of Hong Kong, 330,000 migrant women work to balance a life for themselves while providing for their family back home. The women work primarily as immigrant domestic workers, a field which is often overlooked because of its deep cultural ties. Students in Professor Dong Wang’s East and the World: Women of Asia class visited with organizations working to empower these women both financially and legally.

A visit with two NGOs, Enrich and Helpers for Domestic Helpers provided students with context on frequent problems domestic workers encounter as immigrants from the Philippines and Indonesia to Hong Kong.

Assisting these domestic workers through economic and legal matters is at the forefront of many NGOs in the Hong Kong area.

At Enrich, workshops focused on financial education seek to help women manage their personal finances and make decisions regarding investing in their future.

“We actually encourage them to think about long term goals and help them to achieve them,” says Axelle Modrin, Programme Manager at Enrich.

Axelle Modrin, Programme Manager at Enrich lectures to students about the programme in thier HQ bulding in Hong Kong. February 5, 2016. (© Semester At Sea 2016)
Axelle Modrin, Programme Manager at Enrich talks with students as they participate in a mock financial literacy exercise.

Additionally, workshops on entrepreneurship and empowerment are held, along with opportunities for one-on-one mentoring.

Arriving at Enrich, students participated in a mock financial literacy exercise that helps women more efficiently plan monetary expenses and savings. According to Enrich, Many workers earn $4100 HKD per month [approximately $525 USD] having little to no money left over at the end of the month after living expenses, debt and remittances are paid off. Women typically spend the first six to eight months paying off an initial placement fee of 15,000-30,000 HKD required for accepting a job as a domestic worker.

“I was so unaware. It’s actually a big problem and people really need to know it exists,” says Chanda Khea, senior from Johnson and Wales University.

Students are seen inside the St. John's Cathedral in Hong Kong while participating in the East and the World: Women of Asia field lab. February 5, 2016. (© Semester At Sea 2016)
Students observe St. John’s Cathedral while while learning about NGO Helpers for Domestic Helpers.

In the afternoon, students visited Helpers for Domestic Helpers (HDH), an organization also focused on providing aid to domestic workers who face hardships in the workplace. One-on-one sessions with clients serve as opportunities to explain workers’ rights and help them to prepare for potential legal proceedings they may face as a consequence of a corrupted workplace setting.

As students left Enrich and Helpers for Domestic Helpers, they felt the strong impact the organizations were making on the issue and ultimately left having a new respect for women who are a voice for the voiceless.

Still though, the women behind the cause expressed the challenge of tackling such an issue along with their inner drive to keep fighting saying, “It’s an uphill battle but…we have to fight it.”

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