One in every seven women of reproductive age in Hong Kong is employed as a foreign domestic helper, according to government statistics. And there are more than 6,000 migrant pregnant women, mothers and children in our city.
These women may have their working contracts terminated and these children may be undocumented, unprotected and denied education.
“I didn’t know this was happening ... I hate to say this but they are almost like a different class in Hong Kong, where they don’t fully understand their rights living here,” says Martina Feltracco, a 16-year-old student of Li Po Chun United World College. Martina was a writer and dancer on Hear My Story, a Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation project in collaboration with Pathfinders, a local charity which helps migrant mothers and children with everything from legal help to medical services and education opportunities.
“When we first heard their stories, we felt really sorry for them, but when we met them, we actually had a lot of fun with them,” says Nastassja Torio, 18, of YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College.
Martina says before meeting the migrant mothers, she thought they wouldn’t want to open up because “they’re going through such a difficult time ... we need to understand they might not want to dance with us or talk to us.”
But to her surprise, the first thing she noticed was that they were all smiling and extremely happy.
“They were so happy to dance. Despite everything they’re going through, for an hour they were able to forget it all and just have fun. Most of us obsess over small things in life,” says Martina, who said this realisation was the most eye-opening part of the experience for her.
“Seeing that and seeing them so happy made us even more motivated to help them and tell their story in the right way,” says Nastassja.
Students were paired up with the migrant mothers at a creative writing and dancing workshop with the theme of Past, Present and Future.
“In our pairs, we talked about [the theme] and that’s when we saw the similarities we share – we don’t care about what people think – and ultimately we’re all scared and we all have problems in our lives. We discovered that the best way to get through it is to say: ‘We don’t care; it’s my life and I don’t care what you think’,” says Martina. “I think it’s fascinating that, despite the age gap and very different lifestyles we have, we have the same way of thinking.”
But finding out what they had in common wasn’t the purpose of the project.
“Our goal wasn’t that we would find similarities between the two groups at all, it was just about introducing two communities to each other to see how they would interact and spend time together,” says Kirsten Ho, one of the project artists.
Another thing they didn’t anticipate was that it would end up almost like an English language class, says Ho. The students ended up teaching the migrant mothers how to spell and how to write. “It’s a lovely way of coming together,” she said.
After talking and dancing with the migrant mothers, the students made a dance film with the help of project artists.
The choreography was based on small paragraphs of text – from poems to letters – written by the students from the point of view of a migrant woman.
Nastassja, who is from the Philippines, found the task easy: “I’ve only been in Hong Kong for 12 years. I never quite felt I was from one place or the other, I always feel split ... maybe they go through the same thing, it’s a matter of finding out where they belong and how they identify.”
Martina, on the other hand, focuses on insecurities, which stemmed from her own feelings. “We all have insecurities and now they’re getting bigger and bigger, because of social media and how the world is changing: it feels like we all have to live up to certain standards,” she said.
And she combined that feeling with her migrant woman partner’s feeling and turned it into writing, which questioned whether Hong Kong is as inclusive as it seems.
While Martina felt the project highlighted the similarities of the two groups, Nastassja felt she was able to see “how similar yet different we are as people.” As she explains: “we don’t face the same kind of difficulties they do. They come here to look for new lives, we kind of take our lives for granted.”
Edited by Lucy Christie