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!!!

Monday, September 21, 2009

I chose the road to...surrender


In the past three weeks I have dealt with cases that are easy and some that are more difficult…but then there was this girl, we'll call her Anna. I was drawn to her from the moment she walked into the door at the Bethune House. She was so quiet and tiny. Unlike the other girls in the house who are often times outgoing and flamboyant with their new found freedom, Anna was withdrawn and child-like, but beautiful. She said she was 25, but looked to be about 18. She couldn’t have weighed more than 90 lbs and was probably not even 5 feet tall. I must have looked like a giant next to her. Maybe that’s why she seemed so scared? Either way, she was to be my first case that I would work from start to finish all by myself. We started off with an interpreter but I realized pretty quickly that she spoke English, so I dismissed the interpreter. She was Indonesian. Usually they speak only their native language along with Chinese, but not English so I was impressed with her more advanced language skills. I wanted her to feel comfortable so we made small talk about the fact that she had learned to speak in English in Singapore which is where she worked before she came to work in Hong Kong. Things were going fine until we got to the part in her case where I have to find out why she was terminated from her employment. I’m not going to go into all of the details of her case because I don’t feel like that is appropriate, but what I will say is that she was over-worked, under-paid, abused, and left in a desperate situation. She made a decision to steal a very small amount of money from her employer in hopes to have them terminate her so that she could be freed from her contract and seek other employment, but she was unaware of the laws of Hong Kong and made a very large mistake that will cost her dearly. My heart sunk. She had no idea that regardless of what the amount was or what the employer wanted, the Hong Kong Government would press charges against her and she would most likely go to jail and have a criminal record and never be able to work in Hong Kong again. She told her employer on purpose that she took the children’s change purse with money in it, hoping to be terminated, but the employer refused to terminate her. Her plan back-fired on her and created an even larger problem. Long story short she ended up on our door step at the safe house having no idea what to do. I took her statement and my supervisor asked me to go with her to her Employment Agency and help her ask them to get her clothes and things out of her employer’s house so that she could move into our safe house. This is where the story takes a painful turn. These Employment Agencies are manipulating, money-hungry, slave-owners for lack of a better term. They basically make a fortune on exporting labor (ie, PEOPLE!!) So the last thing that they care about is the welfare or well-being of any of these girls, they just want their money and to continue to make the employer’s of the domestic helpers happy. So when I show up with Anna to get her things, first of all they see an American and they all rush to my side to help me because they think I am there to BUY A SLAVE!! They see “Rich American”. In other words, they think I am there to purchase a domestic helper for myself. When I inform them that no, in fact I am not, I am here with my friend to help her get her belongings back they quickly change their tune. They take her from me to a room and won’t let me come with them even though I try. After 20 minutes she comes back and tells me thank you so much for my help and that I can go. I was so confused and helpless. I didn’t know what to do. There was a woman from the agency standing over us and I asked her to please allow me to speak to Anna alone. I asked her if she was okay, and she said she thought so, but that the agency told her that she needed to go back to the employer’s house and make things right. I felt so bad. I could see the fear in her. I didn’t want to leave her there alone. I wanted to protect her and I couldn’t. I was so powerless and I had to walk out the door without her, without knowing if she was going to be okay or not. I gave her my number and told her to call me anytime day or night and I would come get her, but I still don’t know if she is okay. I pray that she is.
As I began walking back to work alone I was remembering our conversation on the MTR on the way to the agency; she asked me if I was from America and I said yes. She said she wanted to be “big” like me. I laughed and said, oh no, I want to be small like you!! Then I said, “isn’t it funny how all of us want to be different than what we are?” I would give anything to have taken her picture. I can still see her face in my mind, but eventually I know that I won’t be able to remember it anymore. Cases and faces will come and go and it will be hard to keep hers in my mind. Maybe she will come back or even better maybe things will work out for her.
Once again I am reminded why God has called me to Hong Kong and even though this reminder was more painful than the last, I obediently accept all that is to come.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I chose the road to... rally

My first day of work really started last Sunday. I was sent out to numerous meetings and to a rally to photograph the events taking place. Several groups of migrant workers had formed and/or joined organizations to help their cause in an attempt to fight for their rights against the Hong Kong government.They gathered in an organized fashion on Sunday and marched in a protest to the Central Government Offices. It was truly a sight to be seen. The Hong Kong police officers were there and showed concern over the possibility of a riot, but I think their fears were put to ease when they realized the topic of the protests were wage related and no one appeared to be violent.

So I spent the day taking photos and speaking to different migrants about their organizations. As you can see from the various banners they have formed different groups for different causes. Some are Filipino groups, like my friend Juvy's organization called MOVE that is against worker discrimination. There are others specifically for Indonesian's, Thai's, Sri Lankan's, ect. ,but for the most part they come together with one unified stance as Foreign Domestic Helpers working together to fight their injustices.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Me & Juvy
(she is teaching me everything at the Bethune House)

More Protesters
Me & Mercy - a resident in the Bethune House

A Volunteer & MercyCross Stitching Christmas Cards along with some volunteers who came to the Bethune House

Sol teaching the girls to use a sewing machine

Annie teaching a class to the girls from Indonesia

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I chose the road to...curry

I am such a little MacGyver :) I made my own ice bucket by cutting up an old water bottle. I only bought one single ice tray (because that's the way they sold them, individually) and decided I needed an ice bucket and voila!! My Daddy would be so proud :)

On Monday night I had dinner with two new friends Jeanette and Wade. They are both educators from the US and have been living in HK for almost a year. Jeanette is actually the Dean of a Nursing School back in the states and has been teaching for a program here in Central. She was given my email address about a month before I arrived here by a woman I met in Birmingham while I was fundraising at a church there. We have been corresponding ever since and it was so nice to finally meet her. She and her husband Wade took me to have the best Thai food I’ve ever had in my life. It was divine.

The mixed vegetables with curry were my absolute favorite and if I can find it again, I will be going back soon!! Jeanette and Wade were able to give me some great suggestions on how to survive as an American in HK and where to shop and eat. I am so grateful to have met them and look forward to seeing them again soon.

So this is my blog. So far the topics have been light-hearted and funny. For the most part, a foreigner’s account of learning the basics in a new culture. I have had the luxury of writing pretty frequently and I know once I start working I won’t be able to write as often. I will begin my orientation at MFMW tomorrow and my paralegal training the following day. Then the “real” work begins Sunday I would assume. I can imagine that the tone of my blog is bound to change somewhat. This is going to be a challenging and heart-wrenching experiencing, and honestly in some ways it already has. Just meeting some of these girls that I am here to work with tugs at my heart, knowing that they have endured all types of abuse.
First, I want to give you some background on MFMW. It is a program that deals with personal and legal cases involving migrant workers by means of “crisis intervention”. It also focuses on empowering migrants through education and training workshops advocating women’s rights, by providing counseling services, liaising with NGO’s, and networking with union organizations as well as campaigning programs to make the general public aware of worker’s rights and concerns. The Mission’s services are for the more than 220,000 plus foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong. Of this number 98% are women who come from poor and underdeveloped countries of Asia. (Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal).They are women who are brought to Hong Kong to be domestic workers and are underpaid, overworked, trapped in the vicious cycle of debt, and discriminated against because they are foreign. They are migrant workers whose labor rights are violated. They are women who are victimized by physical and sexual abuse. They are mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters who suffer from the mental, emotional, and social cost of forced migration.

So why am I here, you might ask?

I know my contract says I’ll be a case worker/paralegal/counselor of sorts and I’ll find out more of the specifics in orientation tomorrow, but I can tell you why God says I’m here. I’m here because I love these women already. As I type this, my eyes fill with tears for the first time since I’ve been here, and it’s not because I’m home sick. It’s because these girls are packed like sardines into a safe house called the Bethune House, on the third story of the Mission. They welcomed me on the very first day in so many ways I can’t even remember them all.

They have been so patient with me and so incredibly helpful. They cook the most amazing food and love to watch me eat. I see God in ALL of their faces and they are all almost always smiling even though they have lived through horrible tragedies. I have so much to learn from them. This is why I’m here.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen