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Mission eyes expansion as it marks 35th year

28 March 2016

By Vir B. Lumicao

Church-based non-government organization Mission for Migrant Workers is celebrating its 35th anniversary this month with an eye on expanding its services to outlying areas of Hong Kong and boosting its work from plain policy advocacy to social advocacy.
The Mission's foundation day was on Mar 3, but it was work as usual for the handful of staff and volunteers who man its offices on the St John’s Cathedral grounds. Mission general manager Cynthia Abdon-Tellez said the NGO had just finished the third 10-year impact evaluation of its outreach to migrant workers, the very reason for its existence, and had lined up some simple anniversary activities, as follows:· offering a special song in a High Mass on Mar. 6 at the St John’s Cathedral in thanksgiving for the church’s setting up of the NGO;· publication of the Mission’s new brochure in line with its progress;· release of case statistics on the various services it rendered in 2015; and· extension of services to migrant workers in far-flung areas of Hong Kong such as Stanley and Yuen Long.
Mission's Cynthia Abdon-Tellez
“Actually the initiative came from the Anglican Church, dahil kahit na sinasabi nila na walang problema, yaong nami-meet nila na mga migrants na nag-a-attend ng church service, napansin nila may certain level of stress. Siguro dahil nga malayo sila sa mga pamilya nila, mga nanay na ang iba. So noong 1980, ang response sa atin sa Pilipinas was nagre-request nga sila ng church worker,”she said,
In 1980, a young and idealistic trio comprising Cynthia and Jun Tellez, and Gina Alunan conducted a three-month survey in Hong Kong to find out the conditions of the Filipino migrant workers in the British colony and see what program could be implemented for them. The three came from three different religious sects: Jun was Methodist, Cynthia was Aglipayan, and Gina was Catholic. From the consultations they held with different people who lived here, they designed a program for the Filipino migrant workers. The program was named Mission for Filipino Migrant Workers because the initiative was tailored for Filipinos, the dominant group of foreign workers in Hong Kong, and the originators were from Manila.
According to the program, someone would attend to individual workers with problems. An education plan would be implemented for the Filipinos here who were mostly educated to tertiary level but could not read the employment contract because it was too complicated, but needed to know their rights and responsibilities.
“Kahit maturuan mo silang lahat at lahat iyan ay successful, parang wala ring mangyayari dahil ulit-ulit lang ang problemang iyan, so kailangan mo ng organizing,” Tellez said.
So organizing, research and documentation related to the policies and laws back home followed. When she presented the program in 1981, St John’s Cathedral along Battery Path was also thinking of a similar survey on the Filipinos and what should be done to help them. The three met with church leaders and in 1981 they set up the Mission for Filipino Migrant Workers, now housed in a building next to St John’s.
Over the years, the NGO began catering to the needs of various Asian workers in Hong Kong, so in 2005 it shed the word “Filipino” from its name but retained the acronym, MFMW, which by now meant Mission for Migrant Workers.
Since the Mission’s founding 35 years ago, the number of abused and aggrieved workers it extends help to has continued to grow, and they come from various faiths and nationalities. The Mission is church-based but serves all who need help because it is driven by faith. “So it doesn’t matter what the client’s faith is, hindi iyon ang tinitingnan,” she said.
In its early years, the NGO attended to many cases of Indian and Bangladeshi victims of abuse by their Hong Kong employers. Today, it is handling many cases involving both Filipino and Indonesian domestic workers, mostly concerning employers’ violations of the Labour Code and an alarmingly growing number of physical abuse of the migrant women.
“We thought the number of physical abuse cases would taper off after Erwiana’s case, but now we are seeing an increase in similar cases,” said Abdon-Tellez, citing recent reports of domestic workers being physically abused by their employers.
As of March 8, at least two Filipinas, an Indonesian and a Sri Lankan, joined the more than two dozen migrant workers who sought shelter in the Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge after they were illegally terminated, maltreated or charged by their employers with offenses such as theft. Bethune House was set up by the Mission in 1986 originally to provide temporary shelter for Filipino domestic workers who were often banished by their employers penniless and with nowhere to go in the middle of the night. The Mission is planning to expand this year in outlying areas of Hong Kong such as Stanley, and in the New Territories such as Yuen Long, and other distant places far from Central to reach out to workers who congregate there on their days off.
“This year we’re trying to see whether makapag-expand kami hindi lamang sa Central o Kowloon areas kundi sa New Territories at ibang areas ng Hong Kong na hindi masyadong matatao kung saan merong a number of functions na dinarayo naman ng mga Pilipino,” Tellez said.
She said initially the Mission would visit those places on certain days of the week or certain Sundays in a month to establish regularity until people who need its services would know where to go. Tellez said the Mission’s new tack is to involve Hong Kong people in its social advocacy projects so that they will get to see up close the situation and understand better the sentiments of migrant workers.
The NGO has started tapping the local youth, mainly students, professionals and corporates to support its projects, ranging from strengthening ties between the FDHs and the local community through outreach and forums, to sourcing funding for its operations.

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