HONG KONG_ Early Sunday morning, outside the Sacred Heart Church of Sai Kung, canopies have been set up against the rising, dazzling sun, presenting a vista of colorful square matrices. Hundreds of Filipino domestic helpers have already gathered there.
Olivia, 45, a Hong Kong domestic helper Photo: EileenAmong them is Olivia (who does not want her full name revealed), a 45-year-old domestic helper, who is doing voluntary work for the church while waiting for the ceremony to start.
For Olivia and many of her counterparts, the event on their only rest day each week is most precious.
“Many of them go worship every Sunday in various churches,” says Sherry Wong, a volunteer at Hong Kong Union, a non-governmental organization serving local ethnic minorities, “The community gives them a sense of belonging.”
After church, they usually go together – in groups of 30 people or so – to parks, having fun there till curfew, the last minute they are allowed to be out.
These weekly activities provide major relief for their daily toil under long, painful separation from family, says Wilma Carlos, a friend of Olivia’s, who is also a domestic helper in Hong Kong.
“We are like a family here because we live very far from our own family,” Olivia says. “We love each other and show care to each other.”
According to statistics from GovHK, – an official Hong Kong website – Olivia is one of the 160,850 local domestic helpers.
Having arrived in 1995, she has been working here for over 15 years and is now serving a local family in Causeway Bay. Prior to that, she also worked in Singapore for two years.
“Singapore is a nice place where people are more equally treated,” she says. “Some people here [in Hong Kong] are very mean. They feel like they are really high in society. They look down on us because we are just maids.”
However, she decided to come to Hong Kong because the pay is much higher. She needs money to support her family and the education of her son.
Having left home since 19, Olivia has become the breadwinner ever after. Both her sister and brother married early and work in the Philippines with measly wages, as is the common case for most Filipinos without a higher level of education.
In 1999, she went back to get married and had a baby. However, six month after their marriage, her husband lost his job. So she returned to Hong Kong and continued with her job when her son was only one year old.
“Maybe that’s my luck, I accept that already,” she says, “But I must support my son to university, so that he won’t be like me.”
Aware that education is crucial in making his outlook brighter in her home country, she makes every endeavor here to earn him a better future.
Her routine work includes all household chores: cooking, washing clothes, shopping, cleaning up, etc. A normal working day ranges from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday. Every two years, she is allowed a 25-day holiday, the only period she could go back home to spend with her family, especially her beloved son, who is already 13 now.
Travelling expenses, which is to be covered all by themselves, is another hindrance for them to go back, even on holidays, says Wong, the NGO volunteer.
“I really miss my son, and my husband,” a look of sorrow flashes across Olivia’s eyes accompanied by a slight sigh, “Sometimes I cry when I look at their pictures, when nobody is around. But I have to carry on.”
“He’s really my inspiration, and he’s the No.1 in his school,” she says, with a proud smile passing across her face.
Meanwhile, she says her son also needs her and wants her to be back all the time.
“Just two years, I’ll be back. I hope to send him to university myself,” she says.