Hong Kong job Market
"Alexa" gets emotional recounting her story of why she can't go back to the Philippines.
Credit: Iris C. Gonzales
HONG KONG (WOMENSENEWS)-She was in the middle of this city's streets, outside Hong Kong's Central Station, with no money, no extra clothes and no idea where to go.
All she had was her wallet, her mobile phone and an Oyster card, a pass for Hong Kong's city train system.
Alexa – not her real name- didn't have any relatives or real friends in Hong Kong. As she walked around wondering what to do she remembered she had a card in her wallet, given to her by another Filipina domestic helper who said it had a number to call in case of emergency.
She dialed and got through to the Bethune House Migrant Women's Refuge. The voice on the other line quickly told her how to get to the shelter, a nondescript bungalow built in the backyard of a church with dormitory rooms that have double deck beds.
She spoke with Women's eNews in a small common space at the shelter, which is outfitted with clean, basic modern furniture. At the time at least 17 women – Indonesians, Bangladeshi and Alexa– were taking refuge there.
Bethune House Executive Director Edwina Antonio says the shelter, established in 1986, helps about 500 abused female migrants a year. Common cases of abuse, she says, include breach of contract, rape and verbal abuse.
Antonio, who spoke with Women's eNews at the shelter one afternoon in April, says no one gets turned away. "We provide at least immediate and temporary accommodation even for just one night, " she says. If the shelter is full, Bethune House recommends the guest to another organization in its network the following day.
Many guests need shelter because they have nowhere else to go after employers terminate their positions or they decide to escape.
In addition to accommodation, the shelter provides counseling and legal and mediation services. Life skills trainings - foreign languages, swimming, handicrafts, self-defense and cooking –are also offered, in hopes of helping distressed women become overall more empowered as individuals.
Bethune House, Antonio says, also gives these workers a chance to stay and work things out. "Before, when women were terminated they slept in public parks, abandoned buildings, while others were forced to go back to the Philippines without fighting for rights or pursuing cases against their employers."
Alexa, now 31 years old, arrived in Hong Kong in September 2014, leaving the rainy days of Manila, the capital of the Philippines, to join at least 300, 000 other Filipina domestic helpers in Hong Kong.