CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 20 October 2018

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Stories behind the singing and dancing in Central

HONG KONG (SE): Public holidays are the most crowded days for Central, the financial hub of Hong Kong. Foreign domestic workers, who have nowhere to go on their day off,  have little choice but to “occupy Central” week after week. 
 
The Justice and Peace Commission put together a guided tour on July 22 and invited people to come and see the plight of foreign domestic workers first hand.
 
The activity was co-organised by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) as well as the Progressive Labour Union of Domestic Workers-Hong Kong (PLUDW). Volunteers from the PLUDW led 25 participants, divided into three groups, to visit different places in Central to hear the stories shared by the Filipino domestic workers who spend their Sundays there. 
 
Participants walked along the Chater Road, which is closed to traffic on Sundays and public holidays to give space to foreign domestic workers. Some were having impromptu parties with singing and dancing. One worker was making a piece of embroidery depicting the Last Supper.
 
They also visited World Wide House where many go to buy Filipino food, phone cards or send cargo boxes home. The cargo boxes, or balikbayan (repatriate) box, can include every kind of daily necessity such as food, clothes or even canned dog food. 
 
Outside a remittance shop, a number of workers shared that they sent anywhere from half to even three quarters of their salaries home every month. 
 
Jackie Hung Ling-yu, project officer of the Justice and Peace Commission, said the commission was invited to co-organise with the HKCTU and the PLUDW as the two groups had already conducted similar activities for students. She believes Catholics should also learn more about the situation of foreign domestic workers so she accepted their suggestion. 
 
She said the gatherings in Central are not only about simple leisure activities like singing, dancing or eating. 
 
Hung believes people need to look deeper and see that foreign domestic workers are also mothers or wives who need to take care of their homes by making long distance phone calls or sending money and gifts. The outdoor gatherings are chances for the compatriots to talk and unburden as well.
 
She said many people have become used to seeing the large number of foreign domestic workers gathering in Central so they do not bother to understand them. On the other hand, some consider their presence as nuisance, criticising them for making noise or taking up space. 
 
“Both attitudes show a lack of concern,” she said.
 
She said the first question people should ask is why foreign domestic workers prefer staying on the pavement or footbridges instead of their employer’s home. 
 
“There is no place they can call home in Hong Kong and their employer’s home is only their workplace,” she explained. 
 
She shared that her team talked to three foreign domestic workers who have worked in Hong Kong for years. They said that they are used to living in Hong Kong and their employers treat them well, so it is hard for them to decide when they will go home even though they are homesick.
 
Hung said none of the three complained about the heat or the lack of privacy in an outdoor public place. She said one reason could be that foreign domestic workers are mostly optimistic and easygoing. But she believes the main reason is they have no better choices as many private premises do not welcome them. 
 
For example, many residential clubhouses do not allow foreign domestic workers to use their facilities when not in the company of their employers. In another example, years ago the Causeway Bay Centre charged visitors $3.00 to use their lifts on Sundays and public holidays to discourage foreign domestic workers from entering the building (Apple Daily, 23 May 2011). She said she is glad to see many churches offering a place on holidays.
 
After visiting workers in Central for two-and-a-half hours, the participants returned to Chater Road for a sharing session. They reflected that the tour helped them to slow down and take a look at the plight of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. 
 
Hung said the commission plans to organise more tours in the future as participants said talking to foreign domestic workers was a happy experience and came up with many suggestions for the next time … try out some Filipino snacks too! 

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