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Sisters hidden for 3 decades in HK rebuild life in Philippines

08 March 2021

By Vir B. Lumicao 

The sisters saying goodbye to Hong Kong in December last year

For two sisters who had lived in the shadows in Hong Kong for three decades because they had no identity documents or official status, moving to the Philippines and being able to move around freely is more than enough to ease their longing for their birthplace.

Dawn and Kaye, who flew home to the Philippines last Dec 19, are adjusting well to an environment where the people are shy but friendly, and where the village falls silent at 9pm as people go to bed, then wake up at 5am.

“When we were in Hong Kong, we won’t be sleeping until 4am because my friends and I would be playing video games. Here in the Philippines, we’re awake by 5am,” Dawn said in reply to queries The SUN Hong Kong sent her through non-government charity PathFinders Hong Kong.

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Dawn said she and Kaye are overwhelmed by the friendliness of Filipinos but find it difficult adjusting to the slow pace of life where they are now.

“People here are extra-friendly, but services are very slow! Unlike in Hong Kong where everyone is just rushing, here they’re just doing everything at their own pace,” she said.

“I do love the quieter life here in our village, food is way more organic and healthier… We’re adjusting quite well here, it’s so relaxing, the air is so much cleaner,” she said.

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But Dawn said she dislikes how inconvenient moving around is in the Philippines compared with Hong Kong, where shops, buses, the MTR and taxis are not far from one’s doorsteps. For her, jarring  tricycle rides on bumpy roads are a challenge.

Staying with their maternal grandmother and surrounded by relatives, the sisters are learning many things, such as the “many pamahiin” or superstitious beliefs of rural folks that prevent them from going out at night, and doing things their way.

“My mom’s family has been guiding us with everything, teaching us their ways of doing things here. They’re always willing to help out, so we’re very lucky to have them. It took awhile for my cousins to talk to us because they’re way too shy,” Dawn said.


“It feels great to be spending our time with my grandma, cousins and Mom’s siblings. They were very welcoming when we arrived here, they were also thankful we know how to speak Tagalog, so, they’re not having a hard time communicating with us,” Dawn said.

She said Filipinos they meet in their grandma’s place “can be so shy and timid, but once you get to know each other they will joke ALL the time”. The folks there love to ask the sisters questions about how it is in Hong Kong and how things are going.

Dawn said Filipinos are very welcoming but get intimidated when they find out you grew up in another country. In contrast, Hong Kong people usually ask questions such as “Where are you from? Are you born in Hong Kong?”


She said once you tell them you were born abroad, they treat you differently, but in a good way.

The sisters when they were too young to understand why they couldn't go to school

Dawn and Kaye got their birth certificates in Hong Kong only last November, shortly before deciding to come of out hiding and fly to the Philippines.

During the 30 years or so that they spent in Hong Kong, the sisters never went to school and stayed most of the time indoors. They mingled only with their Mom’s church friends out of fear they would be found out as undocumented.

When Dawn was born in April 1990, her domestic worker mother Feli reportedly badgered her musician father to get her registered, but he balked each time they were at the Birth Registry.

“He would always tell my mom to just go home because he didn't want to queue up and wait,” said Dawn.

By the time her younger sister was born, their mother, a former domestic helper, had already overstayed her visa in Hong Kong, and so was scared to go and have the birth registered.

Dawn said when she was around eight years old, she figured that there was a problem because they didn’t go to school and never sought medical help when needed. “We would only use over-the-counter medications,” she said.

Some adults who knew about their situation treated them differently, calling them “aliens” or “nobody” when their mom was away or out of earshot.

“Some people are mean, but most of people we were surrounded with are good people,” Dawn said.

Kaye, meanwhile, was not aware of their situation until she was a teenager, when her big sister explained to her why they couldn’t do things their friends did, or stay out late because they had no Hong Kong ID and might get into trouble.

The turning point came in 2015 when a girl aged 15 jumped to her death off the bathroom window of a luxury flat in Repulse Bay because like them, she had no identity.

The girl’s father, insurance executive Nick Cousins and mother Herminia Garcia, a domestic worker who had overstayed her visa for 20 years, did not register her birth, as well as that of her younger sister, for fear of retribution.

Garcia was jailed for 20 months for overstaying while Cousins got eight months in jail, suspended for two years, for failing to register his daughters’ births.

A PathFinders' seminar: The NGO gave the sisters and their mother hope

Dawn said the incident shocked her family, but it also gave her reason to look for help. When she came across an article about how PathFinders has been helping migrant women and their children in Hong Kong, she saved their number and checked out their website.

She told Feli about PathFinders but their mother hesitated due to their previous experience of paying big sums to people who promised to help them, but did not deliver.

The violent anti-government protests in 2019 served as the impetus for them to contact PathFinders, fearing they could be checked by police in the streets any time.

PathFinders helped the sisters and their mother to surrender to Immigration officers in Kowloon Bay on Oct 16, 2019. They were granted bail of $100 each and told to report back every four weeks until they got their birth certificates.

Dawn said she and Kaye were aware they could have stayed and fight for permanent residency in Hong Kong because they were born here.

“People were telling us that we have the right to stay in Hong Kong because we were born there, but we didn’t want to complicate things any more, we just wanted to be free, to do something with our lives,” Dawn said.

“Our mother wanted to go back to her homeland to be with her mother and siblings while my sister and I wanted to start a new chapter elsewhere,” she said.

She said Kaye has already registered for Alternative Learning System, or ALS, a parallel learning system that provides a practical option for those who do not have or can’t access formal education in Philippines schools.

“She’s going to start from there and see what she can do, she wants to pursue her photography,” Dawn said.

“We miss Hong Kong dearly! Every single day since we got here, I’d always remember something about Hong Kong. I miss the food there so much, my friends, the convenience. I just miss everything about Hong Kong except the pollution,” Dawn said.

The sisters didn’t ask Hong Kong Immigration whether they can come back for a visit or for work in the future, Dawn said.

“But I do hope that if nothing works out for my sister here, she can go back there. If not, Hong Kong is not the only place on earth where she can start a career. But I’m sure we can go back to Hong Kong for a visit one day,” she said.

As for herself, Dawn has other plans, and they do not concern Hong Kong. “I am working on my paperto fly to my fiancè in USA,” she said.

The sisters, indeed, are finally home.
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