Thursday, January 16, 2014

In the News

The news is a funny thing. The Mission for Migrant Workers has been in the media a lot this week, for two very different reasons:

First, late last week, the Mission learned about the case of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, a 23-year-old Indonesian domestic helper who had endured 8 months of torture at the hands of her employer. She was beaten, starved, and had her legs badly burned with scalding water to the point she can no longer stand. Erwiana is currently back in Indonesia, but the Indonesian migrant groups and the Mission have begun a Justice for Erwiana campaign here to call for the Hong Kong government to investigate and charge her employer.

 Unfortunately, Indonesian migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to these abuses. While agencies in both Indonesia and the Philippines overcharge for setting up migrant workers abroad, Indonesian law says that they MUST go through these agencies. Further, they charge almost $3000 for this placement, which means the women end up paying their entire $500 monthly salary for months before being able to even begin sending money to their families. They are afraid to leave dangerous situations because they are essentially in debt bondage, and thus these instances of abuse are further under-reported. If you're interested in learning more about the process migrant women from Indonesia must follow in order to work abroad, this photo project is excellent.

I am not directly involved in Erwiana's case, outside of supporting my coworkers who are. I can only hope that she is now safe and that she is able to find justice.

In a completely different vein, the other instance of MFMW in the media is a video that was filmed Episcopal News Service released a video this week highlighting my mission at MFMW. If you'd like to learn more about what my day-to-day life is like at the Mission, please check it out!

Thanks yall,


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Touristy Stuff

Hello again!

Hong Kong has a huge tourist industry, and for good reason: there's tons to do! While I don't generally get to spend my time sightseeing because of work, I try to use my off time to explore the city as much as I can. Hong Kong's fabulous public transportation system and small land area has made this very easy, as it only takes about an hour and a half to travel from one side of Hong Kong to the other.

Check out the photos behind the cut!

Thursday, January 2, 2014


Hello everyone!

First, I’d like to apologize for the huge span of time between these posts. It’s been an incredibly busy few months here in Hong Kong, which is a good thing! However, I have dropped the ball on staying in contact, and I promise to do better.

Here are a few of the things I’ve been up to:

  • teaching baking lessons at the Bethune House, MFMW’s shelter for migrant women in distress;
  • touring Hong Kong with my fellow YASCers;
  • attending an interfaith dialogue on migration in Bali, Indonesia which happened concurrently with the WTO meeting in early December;
  • attending various Advent/Christmas services around town;
  • working! 

I’ve broken up posts about what I’ve been up to into multiple posts, and I’ll be releasing them over the next two weeks(ish).

Birthday Celebration!
For the last two months or so, I’ve been teaching a baking class at the two shelters associated with MFMW. These lessons come with their own unique challenges: only one shelter has a toaster oven with a temperature dial, ingredients for baking are very expensive here, and people from Southeast Asia tend to not enjoy sweets in the same way Americans do. I’ve spent a lot of time googling no-bake recipes! (and if you know of any good ones, please leave me a comment!)

I really love to bake. I find the process calming, and I enjoy making treats for my friends.   It gives me a chance to give someone I care about a physical representation of that affection, and I feel like I’ve shared a piece of myself with that person.

The clients baked me a banana cake!

I don’t really consider myself someone who is good at expressing my feelings. I’m naturally introverted, and it’s difficult to come out share my affection for the people I care about. I spend a lot of my time in Hong Kong not knowing what to say because there is often nothing that I can say. Baking gives me a chance to give a physical token of these emotions and a works as a creative outlet for things I don’t always know how to say with words. After we finish whatever lesson I’ve prepared for the day, we often have a sharing time where the clients are given space to talk about the circumstances which led them to the shelter. These stories are generally powerful and tragic; more often than not the sharing time leads to crying.

Enjoying our treats!
Baking also gives me a chance to get to know the clients without the high-stress atmosphere of the Mission. When clients come in to the office, they’re usually in some sort of crisis situation: they are looking for guidance and support to navigate complex social, political, and economic systems present in Hong Kong, and they don’t always know how to advocate for their rights within these systems. The clients who end up in our shelters are usually in the most precarious positions: they’re waiting on labor tribunals, waiting on a police case, waiting to leave after being fired unexpectedly and without the pay to which they’re entitled, or any other sort of emergency situation. Their cases are always very much on their minds, but it becomes a waiting game rather than the immediacy the mission requires. If I can give them an hour or two of something fun, then I feel I’ve accomplished something for the day.

So much of being a part of the community here is sharing food together. On Sundays, migrants come together to share food and fellowship on the streets. I’m always impressed by the sheer quantities of food that ends up at these gatherings–imagine cooking a full meal (well, rice, meat, and probably a vegetable and a dessert) for 20-30 people. Now imagine doing that every week with only a rice cooker and one or two stove ranges, and transporting the cooking through a crowded city via public transportation. We eat on the ground from plastic plates covered with saran wrap, and nobody is allowed to turn down a portion. In this sense, I am able to participate and share in the migrant culture in my own way.

End result: chocolate chip pumpkin bread!
Baking also reminds me to examine my privilege in ways I’ve never considered. I’ve always grown up with access to an oven and a supermarket, and I have never had to travel to 4 different supermarkets to find powdered sugar before this year. Even in a city of 8 million people and a huge expat population, ovens are extremely rare and ingredients are quite expensive. Purchasing the ingredients for the Christmas cookies I baked last week (albeit 4 batches’ worth) cost me over $25. More than once, a client has looked at something like a package of cream cheese (about $5 here) and told me she wouldn’t be able to afford to recreate that days’ treats. I try to be creative and cost-effective with my recipes, but the variables of ingredient availability and physical space often make this impossible.  While many things about my position have challenged my thoughts about how I navigate the world, it's smaller things like this that catch me off guard and put their experiences into perspective.

I'm grateful to have this opportunity to share this with the clients. They even threw me a birthday party! (My birthday is in November... Like I said, I've been slacking on blogging!) 

If you're curious, here are a few of the recipes I’ve made with the clients:

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