Thursday, December 31, 2009

I chose the road to...Macau

Busy does not begin to describe my life recently, but I am going to try to update you on what has been going on in the last two months with pictures and a brief synopsis.
In November I traveled to Macau for a short adventure. Macau is an incredibly historic place. It is a Special Administrative Region of China, just like Hong Kong. It was both the first and last European colony in China. Macau was colonized by the Portuguese and their influence is still very much present.

Macau is one of the richest cities in the world, and to put things into perspective as a casino town it overtook Las Vegas in its first year. I spent no time or money at the casinos, but I did go to church at the Morrison Chapel where I met the Filipino Anglican Migrant Fellowship.

I stayed with a professor from Morrison Chapel and his family in his gorgeous house. It was enormous. The picture to the right was the view from my bedroom, on my side or wing of the house :)

During the day my friend Gi took me on a tour of Macau to different museums and historical landmarks. It was a beautiful place lined with cobblestone streets.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I chose the road to...human trafficking

WOW…it has been so long since I’ve blogged and so much has happened that I need to catch you up on! I am going to break it up into two blogs, so here is the first one...

First and foremost, my dear sweet fellow YASCer Melanie Jianakoplos came to visit me in Hong Kong back in October and we had the most amazing time! I saw more of Hong Kong while she was here than I had the entire two months before she arrived. She did an excellent job of blogging about it, so if you’d like to hear the details of our excursions please visit her blog here

The week after Melanie left, my life was forever changed. The United Nations Anglican Observer’s Office hosted its first Consultation on Human Trafficking in Hong Kong, November 2nd-6th, 2009 to address the growing epidemic that is silently terrorizing hundreds of thousands of women and children across the globe every day. Approximately forty people were invited to attend the conference, ranging from trafficking experts, to clergy, to young adult women delegates who had previously attended meetings of the annual U.N. Commission on the Status of Women in New York. Delegates to the consultation included Anglicans from 12 provinces – Korea, Japan, Philippines, England, Canada, USA, Mexico, Kenya, North India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Hong Kong.
Definition of Human Trafficking- recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. (for the use of forced labor, sexual purposes, or organs)
The insatiable demand for sex with children is not something that can be easily digested, yet it is increasing with magnitude daily. The human-trafficking industry is a multi-billion dollar trade with numbers steadily rising and no decline in sight. In varying degrees and circumstances, men, women and children all over the world are victims of what has become a modern day slave trade. As one of the fastest growing criminal activities in the world, trafficking in persons results in serious breaches of human rights and dignity of human beings.

In between the presentations given by these experts, were heart-breaking personal stories told by people working through churches, and best practices in response to trafficking. Edwina Antonio, Executive Director of the Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge where I work, gave a presentation on the services that are provided to domestic helpers in distress in Hong Kong. And as an intern, I was asked to give a presentation including personal stories from victims who have encountered abuses and who became residents at the Bethune House.

The purpose for this five-day conference was to create awareness of the escalating issue and to form strategies on how to go forward and combat this global crisis. I met some of the most amazing women (and men) at this conference who I hope to always remain in contact with. I learned so much in these short, but intense five days. I feel called now in so many ways to this field and will continue to pray for God’s guidance and direction as I try to decipher the next steps to take in making that happen. As the conference came to a close, an exhausted but hopeful group of people joined together in a farewell service and said good-bye to each other with promises of future consultations, and an assurance that this is not an end but only the beginning of what will be a battle we must undertake together for the rights and safety of the countless victims of this monstrous crime of human-trafficking.

The alMOST Rev. Peter Ng and Rev. Winston Ching receiving much deserved awards

Archbishop Paul Kwong and I at the welcoming dinner...Nagulan, what course are we on again??

The beautiful Benny Mendoza from the Philippines and I getting ready for dinner

My new, dear friend Phoebe Griswold (wife of our 25th Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold) and I on Day 2 of the Conference

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I chose the road to...counselor/paralegal?

I realized having arrived nearly 2 months ago that I have probably not painted a full picture of what it is exactly that I am doing here in Hong Kong and what my day to day life is like. I have decided to dedicate this blog to just that and hopefully give you a general feel for my life and work so far. (Before I get started I have a small disclaimer: I am not able to control who all reads this blog, nor would I want to, so there may be some details of my day that I might be a little vague about. Due to the nature of the work I am doing in Hong Kong I must be sensitive to the victim’s situations and safety. Thank you for understanding)

My first 6 weeks on the job I was working 6 days a week, with one off day on Saturday. I would spend 3 days at the Bethune House, Migrant Women’s Shelter in Jordan on the Kowloon side and 3 days at the Mission for Migrant Workers in Central, on Hong Kong Island. This past week my schedule changed to 5 days a week. You might be wondering why I don't get Sunday off, but Sunday is our busiest day because it is the only day off for migrant workers. (I go to church usually before work or a service during lunch). I usually work from 10-5, unless there is some other activity going on. I live in Jordan, so on the days that I work at the Bethune House I am able to conveniently walk to work. On the days that I work in Central I take the MTR (mass transit railway, aka subway/train) which is incredibly swift and efficient. I have gotten in the habit of exercising everyday, so usually I wake up around 7:00am, have a cup of coffee while checking email or skyping, walk/jog/bike, take a shower, and get to work.

THE BETHUNE HOUSE The Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge was established in 1986 to provide charitable assistance, counselling, temporary shelter, emergency relief, and a place of refuge for needy and distressed migrant workers. The Bethune House caters to domestic workers who have been terminated by their employers and/or forced to leave for various reasons of discrimination, contract violations, rape, sexual assault, physical abuse, labor-related conflicts, and human rights violations. Most of them are from Indonesia or the Philippines. The Bethune House accommodates I would say anywhere from 25-30 women at a time (sometimes more), which is well over its capacity, but the women make do sleeping anywhere there is space.

My days spent at the Bethune House might be viewed as more casual, but are by no means less important or less productive. When I arrive on normal days the residents can usually be found cooking; either finishing with breakfast or starting lunch. The residents take turns cooking; Filipino dishes one day (or one meal) and Indonesian the next, and they rotate cleaning the kitchen as well. The most amazing smells come from the BH Kitchen.
When I settle in for the day I usually have at least one new client waiting. She might have shown up over night through one outlet or another and she is filling out paperwork. If she speaks English I will take her into the office also known as the “counselling” room and begin to take her statement. If she does not speak English I will ask someone who does to accompany us and translate for me. A general rule of thumb is that a lot of the Filipina helpers speak English along with their native language Tagalog. The Indonesian helpers speak Cantonese along with their native language Bahasa. Sometimes they speak more languages, but for the most part this is how it is. Usually only one or two Indonesian residents speak English so they are constantly asked to translate, and fortunately for me they are usually willing to. I’m not going to go through every case detail, but I underwent paralegal training when I first arrived in Hong Kong and I essentially take a legal statement of facts and type it into something ready to be presented to the Labor Tribunal or Court, depending on what type of claims we are making. From this point it can be either simple or complicated depending on the client’s case. Some cases are merely monetary claims, and then some are criminal charges placed on the client or on the employer. (As you can see it’s a lengthy process and would take too much space and time to explain it all.) After I type the statement I print a copy and the client will take it to the Labor Tribunal or Labor Department to file her claims. After filing their claims they must take their paperwork to Immigration and pay a fine and extend their Visa. The process goes on from there and I continue to work their case with them. We usually take lunch anywhere from 12:00 to 1:30pm and it is a MUST that you stop for lunch. No options. We always eat together. After lunch I will pick-up where I left off and continue on about the day working cases with clients.
Some days I will be asked to accompany a fear-stricken client to an Agency to retrieve her illegally confiscated passport and employment contract, to the Labor Department to support her in filing her claims, or to any type of government or nongovernment department that is some part of her process in seeking retribution for the wrongs against her. I am usually more than willing to go, because despite how much this truly bothers me internally, the fact that I am a white-skinned American I seem to carry a “fear factor” with me. Both the client feels safer with me and the person I am dealing with seem to be intimidated by me, based only on the color of my skin. I absolutely despise this fact and am sickened by it, but because it helps these women I am willing to use it in their favor.
I love these women that live in this house. The hardest part is that they come and go so quickly.
Some have been here for months, but some are gone in a matter of weeks. It’s hard not to get attached to them and their beautiful faces and spirits, but before you know it they are packing up preparing to leave to go back to their home country. Each one of them gives me something, whether they realize it or not. I can’t heal their wounds, or take away the pain caused to them, but I can let them know that everyone is not the same. And every “westerner” or person with “white” skin is not here to abuse them. I only hope that I have been able to help them in some small way.

When I work at the Mission, I have to leave home earlier and take the MTR. I do basically the same duties in an office building on the 2nd floor at St. John’s Cathedral. We are a walk-in center of sorts, but the Mission has many more simultaneous functions, while I am only there participating in a few of them. I work cases in much the same way as I do at the Bethune House. When I am not working with a case, I am updating and encoding files into a computer. Some days I am sent out into the community with various Migrant Organizations who are protesting, to be a photographer. This can be quite interesting. I have photographed multiple protests at the Philippine Consulate and Chinese Central Government Offices. It is amazing to watch how strong and confident these people are who are fighting for such a just and worthy cause.

So I think that is it for now. I've nearly written a novel and honestly I've only touched on the surface of my day, not really the depth of it at all. More later.

God's peace.

Monday, October 5, 2009

I chose the road to...St.Francis Day

We celebrated St. Francis of Assisi Day at the 11:45 Blessing of the Animals Service at St. John’s Cathedral on Sunday. It was one of the most unique experiences I have ever had. I had been talking with Father Des (Desmond Cox) previously in the week and he seemed a bit anxious about whether the animals would all get along and whether anyone would fight or eat each other. I tried to calm his nerves but of course I couldn't resist teasing him a bit as well. I knew God would be on our side when “show time” actually arrived. They had originally planned to have the children bring pictures of their pets, but decided to throw that idea out the window and go for the gusto and invite the congregation to go ahead and bring on your LIVE animals! It was truly a glorious day.

Father Des, Dean Chan, and Father Martin anxiously waiting to bless the animals

There were puppies, small dogs, big dogs, kitty cats, goldfish, baby turtles, creepy crawlers, you name it and a parishioner brought it. The blessings were bountiful and gratefully ALL of God's creatures got along in the name of St. Francis on Sunday.

All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens, Each little bird that sings, He made their glowing colors, He made their tiny wings.

The purple-headed mountain, The river running by, The sunset and the morning, That brightens up the sky.

The cold wind in the winter, The pleasant summer sun, The ripe fruits in the garden, He made them every one.

The tall trees in the greenwood, The meadows where we play, The rushes by the water, We gather every day.

He gave us eyes to see them, And lips that we might tell, How great is God almighty, Who has made ALL things well.


Friday, September 25, 2009

I chose the road to...Dim Sum

I was delighted to be visited by Douglas Fenton and Peter Ng about a week ago, as one of their many stops on a tour through Asia. Peter is from Hong Kong and was able to enlighten me on a few things about the area. One in particular was a delicious Chinese Noodle Restaurant (his personal favorite) named Tai Ping Koon, where we had Beef Fried Noodles among other wonderful things. It is very close to my house and I have plans to go back soon. I also had my first experience with Dim Sum. It is a Chinese tradition and it literally means “to touch the heart”. Dim Sum involves a wide range of light dishes and is usually served early in the morning or for brunch.

The dishes come in very small portions that might include different meat, seafood, vegetables, fruit, and dessert and it is always served with hot tea. It was quite an experience and I was so grateful to have the two of them there to order for me and show me the ropes. Everything I tried was really good and for some reason that really surprised me. Looks can be so deceiving sometimes.

After eating, Douglas and Peter decided to help me find and install a curtain to cover one of my windows where I had an unfortunate incident involving me changing clothes and someone with a camera in another building. Yikes! It was the funniest thing watching the two of them…Douglas the obvious natural "Interior Decorator", and Peter trying desperately not to get stabbed with the scissors.

It was a riot. But moments later, VOILA!!!! Thank you Douglas and Peter!!

As it turns out there is a light show in the Harbor every night around 8:00pm. Basically there are laser lights that bounce off the tops of the TALL TALL Buildings and keep the beat of some background music that is playing. It is really quite a show, so my friends Janine and Kitty took me to see it for the first time. After it was over we took pictures in front of a lantern exhibit.

While we were taking pictures all of a sudden this Jackie Chan look-a-like comes running up to me and asks if he can take a picture with me. I was stunned....and I was like, uh uh , sure of course. Janine was dying laughing and started taking pictures. And then sure enough not five minutes later another guy walks up and asks if he can have a picture with all 3 of us. It was the funniest thing ever. I'm a celebrity in Hong Kong, who knew?!?

I have been here for a month now and it has been busy busy busy. This week at the Mission we have been preparing for the 23rd Anniversary of the Bethune House. Tomorrow we are having an Open House and Charity Auction Fundraiser. It has been a lot of work, but hopefully it will pay off and we will be able to raise the much needed money for the welfare of girls in the house.

Please pray for a productive and successful day tomorrow!!!