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Heroes and hypocrites

04 June 2018

By Daisy Catherine L. Mandap

Our community is blessed to have so many people from all walks of life and of various nationalities extending help, from outright financial donations to helping out with court cases.

Time and again, I would come across volunteers, mainly from the Mission for Migrant Workers and Help for Domestic Helpers, who go to court and vigorously help foreign domestic workers fight for their rights.

Of a different category are, of course, the seasoned warriors of these NGOs, in particular Edwina Antonio, Cynthia Tellez and Ester Bangcawayan, who have dedicated their lives to helping migrant workers in distress.

These women are all smart enough to have been hired for far easier jobs with much higher pay, but they have chosen to fight for migrants rights instead. For them, this does not only entail speaking at media briefings, but also spending much of their time hearing out migrants in distress, attending court hearings, rescuing them from abusive employers, and even living with them.

They are to me, what real heroes are.

In a different class, but no less admirable, are the students, lawyers and real do-gooders who quietly offer their free time to help our migrant workers.

They include Christine, a young Chinese law graduate from Hong Kong University, who recently represented Mariel, an abused Filipina domestic helper, in her labour claim. It was so heartwarming to see Christine looking as excited as Mariel when the employer agreed to settle the case.

There was also Nicole, an elegant French professional who came to the Labour Tribunal on behalf of Help, to represent another Filipina who was pursuing a claim for compensation from an employer who terminated their contract illegally. Nicole surprised me with her thorough grasp of the case and of the law, and of how fiercely she asserted the helper’s case.

There was also Klaus, an exchange student from Poland who appeared for the Mission on behalf of Lanie, also an abused helper. Klaus pursued the case with a lot of passion and compassion that it felt like he had a personal stake in it.

There are many others who I haven’t had the privilege to work with, or study from afar.  They work quietly and without fanfare, but are a real blessing to the Filipino community in Hong Kong, especially to our highly disadvantaged workers.

On the flipside are a bunch of self-proclaimed do-gooders who often give interviews to mainstream media on how much help they have extended to migrant workers, and how their hearts bleed for them. In reality, these groups thrive on, and sometimes, even make money from, the services they provide to foreign domestic workers.

Without discounting the benefits they provide to our workers, we also have to be aware that their very existence depends on the people they profess to serve.

Thus, it can be downright annoying to hear them speak, or even hint, that we have to write about their good deeds, as if they are doing it all for free, that they are not being paid a comfortable salary for it, or there is no big corporate sponsor propping them up.

At least one has demanded that we have to pay for attending their event – and maybe write about it – because well, it was for a good cause. And all the while they were auctioning off “donated” works from some of our migrant workers.

This same group would also hold forums on the plight of our workers, and organize a panel that has no Filipino in it except for a token domestic worker, as if that’s all we’re good for.

Another group calls itself a “non profit” but appears to make a tidy income from its operations, enough to provide for a bunch of highly-paid expat officers and a huge staff support. Their business model is also not that unique, as there are a couple of low-key companies providing the same service.

One tends to compare them with Pathfinders, a real non-profit which provides valuable help to pregnant migrant domestic workers, but does not go around trumpeting about its good work. Or to Bethune House, which has off and on, suffered from severe funding crisis because of the all-out support it gives to distressed migrant women, but goes about its work quietly.

There is nothing wrong with soliciting support or financial backing from big companies while extending help to the needy. It is in fact, a given, if an enterprise is to survive and continue doing its good work.

But there is wisdom in going about quietly while you help, and of not demanding that you be noticed for all the wonderful things that you do.

Real help could only come from the heart.
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