Thousands of kilometres away from their own countries, domestic helpers make the ultimate sacrifice to provide for their families and children back home. Often working long hours, six days a week, these women are among the 370,000 who have come mainly from the Philippines and Indonesia to find work in Hong Kong.
Domestic helpers are entitled to one day of rest a week – usually Sunday. And in a custom that is unique to our city, on this day, thousands gather in Central or Causeway Bay, sitting on cardboard boxes, and sharing food, performing songs and dances, or FaceTiming their families back home.
However, one particular group of domestic helpers will forego this tradition, and instead, make the trip to Discovery Bay International School, where they rehearse as part of the Unsung Heroes choir. Unsung Heroes was started by Jane Engelmann, a music teacher at Peak School, as her way of saying thank you to all the helpers who leave their own children to care for the children of others. The choir soon attracted attention from people around the world.
“It was a little bit slow to get off the ground; but once the choir was established, we started performing in concerts around Hong Kong,” says Engelmann. “The response has led to so many amazing things.”
I Wish I Could Kiss You Good Night – the choir’s iconic song written by Engelmann – acknowledges the difficult decision these women have made and honours their sacrifices. Currently, the song has more than 12,300 views on YouTube, and the choir has performed it at Clockenflap and the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens.
“The reaction from the public is the biggest surprise,” says Engelmann. “I thought that I would make a little choir, have a little concert and that might be the end of it. I never expected that it would lead to a film and international media recognition.”
A documentary called The Helper was released Last year. It featured the heart-warming, inspiring stories of a handful of helpers in the city, and Unsung Heroes played a prominent role.
After the film was released, the choir’s lead singer was offered a teaching job. However, it’s difficult for helpers to get a visa that allows them to work as anything other than a helper. This means it’s very difficult for them to seek better opportunities in Hong Kong. The Unsung Heroes have fulfilled some dreams, at least those of performing at Clockenflap and the Rugby Sevens. Their next goal is to “perform on the pitch with a thousand Unsung Heroes”.
However for this to happen, they would need more people to come and share their stories and voices with the choir. “They will get a lot out of it, as singing can help reduce stress, is good for bonding, and is a fabulous way to connect with people around the world.”
Not only is it a fun and relaxing way to spend their Sunday, they are also making a huge difference.
“I wanted my day off to be worthwhile,” said choir member Analyn Regulacion. “Firstly, I wanted to share my talent and, secondly, I wanted to show all the helpers that we can do other things apart from sitting on the road. We can finally share our voice.
“By singing, we can send the message to every employer [about our talents], and eradicate the stigma attached to helpers.”
Unsung Heroes will be performing tomorrow with local choir The Harmonics. Tickets from eventbrite.hk
Edited by Nicole Moraleda