26 October 2016
Indonesian domestic workers (R) attend a mathematics class in Sheung Wan on their day off. Okah (L) collects Fang Wai, the son of her employer from school.
Indonesian domestic workers (R) attend a mathematics class in Sheung Wan on their day off. Okah (L) collects Fang Wai, the son of her employer from school.

New photobook aims to capture the lives of domestic helpers

In Hong Kong’s mainstream media, stories related to domestic workers usually run along one of these two themes: “the mean employer” or the “irresponsible domestic worker”.

The cliches however fail to do justice to the issue of migrant workers, who have many more facets to their lives, as independent journalist So Mei-chi discovered.

Interviewing many workers here and their families back in their home countries, So found that beyond the extremes of the usual media discourse, there are many individual stories of domestic helpers that are worthy of our attention.

The result of her research is “Strangers in our Homes”, a book that explores the multifaceted lives of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong as well as their families back home. It sets out to challenge stereotypes and create space for a new dialogue on these women.

The book, which includes several poignant photographs by Robert Godden, will be published on September 20 by Joint Publishing. It is sponsored by Amnesty International Hong Kong.

According to Amnesty International’s 2013 report “Exploited for Profit, Failed by Governments”, 335,000 migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong work an average of 17 hours per day, with more than half not being granted their weekly rest day.

So and Godden decided to tell the stories of these women who came to Hong Kong to support their families back home.

“I hope to present a more realistic and fair portrayal of both the employers and the employees through the book,” says So.

“In most people’s eyes, domestic workers are solely defined by their job, but like all of us they are in fact multifaceted individuals with diverse interests, talents and lives. Through the photos we try to give people a glimpse of that,” Godden noted.

In the next few weeks, the publishers will hold public dialogues with the following themes: “From our home to their home” and “Looking into domestic workers from a third eye”.

Domestic workers and young people who were raised by the helpers will be invited as guest speakers during the events.

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Lintang (left) and Widy (right) transport their mobile library for domestic workers to Victoria Park where they run the service for free every Sunday. Photo: Robert Godden

Jun Jun (R) dropped out of college and spends most of his days at a basketball court. His mother has yet to return from working in Hong Kong after 20 years.

Domestic worker Bhing reaches out to her daughter Dominique at Hong Kong Disneyland.

Erwiana Sulistyaningsih (L) arrives at Wan Chai District Court in December 2014 for the trial of her former employer Law Wan-tung. Orlando (R) feeds his granddaughter at his home in Tarlac, Philippines.

Dennis and his daughter Dennis-Ann eat lunch at the local Jollybee fast food restaurant in Tarlac, Philippines.

Yolanda spent many years in Hong Kong looking after her employer’s children, whom she still misses very much. Her granddaughter walks to 7-Eleven with her grandfather in Tarlac, Philippines.

Bernadette from the Progressive Labour Union of Domestic Workers in Hong Kong enjoys a day out at Plover Cove Country Park with other union members.

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