As today is International Women's Day, I'd like to share something that I strongly believe in.
Yesterday, I screened 'The Helper Documentary '. The film, directed by Joanna Bowers, brings to light the plight of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong. It resonates with me on a very personal level - I'm Filipino by blood (as are nearly 50% of Hong Kong's domestic helpers), born and raised in Hong Kong where having a helper is the social norm. Though I didn't have a helper growing up, most around me did.
What is a foreign domestic helper, you ask?:
How is that any different to a 'baby sitter', 'nanny' or 'au pair'?:
A lot of our close family friends work as domestic helpers, so it's always hard to hear about struggle, heartache, prejudice and injustice of any magnitude. When you're Filipino, you're raised to treat almost everyone like your own Tita (aunt) or Tito (uncle)! Sadly, although there are many employers out there who treat their helpers like family (a big shoutout to you all), there are 2 words I can think of that encapsulate the overall attitude I've always observed: under-appreciated and misunderstood. I think this film does a beautiful job recognising and paying tribute to these women.
Watch 'The Helper Documentary' Trailer here:
Before the film began, Jane Englemann, Peak School music teacher and founder of vocal group, 'The Unsung Heroes' featured in the film, spoke candidly from the heart about how it came to be. She talked about how many people who come to Hong Kong think its bizarre to have a helper at first, but eventually cave in and go on to hire someone, ultimately taking the luxury for granted down the line. What a breath of fresh air! It felt like the beginning of an open conversation that needs to happen.
The Helper Documentary focuses on the stories of 4 women who have left their loved ones behind in their home countries. Hong Kong's nearly 400,000 domestic helpers all share a similar story. They work as domestic helpers in order to provide a better life for their families, because even at a wage of only HKD$4,410 (USD$562 / GBP £405) per month, they make more than they would in their own professions as teachers, engineers, doctors and so on back home. As the documentary progresses, we get to know these women on a more personal level; who they left behind, their hopes, their dreams, and most importantly who they are outside the label 'helper'.
The movie is eye-opening yet uplifting. We aren't bombarded with heartbreaking case after case, but are introduced to Nurul, an Indonesian helper who ended up terminated, homeless, pregnant and heavily in debt. The Helper Documentary does an amazing job raising awareness of how dire situations can be without painting any individual group as 'the bad guy'.
Would you work under these terms?
We follow Joy, Jane and The Unsung Heroes' inspirational and moving journey to Clockenflap, Hong Kong's largest music festival. We see why and how the choir was formed, their rehearsals, the composition process of their original songs "Kiss You Goodnight" and "Sing Your Song", and their performance at Clockenflap 2015.
The Unsung Heroes about to enter the stage at Clockenflap 2015
I've worked with The Unsung Heroes a couple of times in the past couple years when they've come to sing in my theatre, including the performance they did the day before the film premiered in 2017. I have to say, I cry every time they sing "Kiss you Goodnight".
So yes, I cried buckets again last night and it was so worth it!
Because of this film, people have learned so much and have hopefully found new appreciation for those we hire to take care of our kids and do our household chores.