The media usually portrays the lives of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong as one of extremes—a black and white world of abusive employers and irresponsible ‘helpers’. Yet how accurate is this one-dimensional view in representing the daily experience of tens of thousands of women trying to cope with the challenges of providing a better life for their families? Independent journalist So Mei Chi and human rights photographer Robert Godden explore these issues.

Lintang (left) and Widy (right) transport their mobile library for domestic workers to Victoria Park in Hong Kong where they run the service for free every Sunday. With over 500 titles, their library has ten times as many books in Bahasa Indonesia than the whole of the Hong Kong Public Libraries system combined.
indonesian library books
Indonesian domestic workers study at a mathematics class in Sheung Wan on their day off. The class is run by Bintang Nusantara International that provides a variety of classes for migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong.
indonesian domestic worker sheung wan class
Okah, a domestic worker from Indonesia collects Fang Wai, the son of her employer from school.
domestic worker child school
Bhing reaches out to her daughter Dominique at Hong Kong Disneyland during a rare visit by Dominique to see her mother. Most helpers can only see their children every two years at the end of their contract.
domestic worker disneyland
Erwiana Sulistyaningsih arrives at Wan Chai District Court in December 2014 for the trial of her former employer Law Wan-tung. The shocking abuse Erwiana suffered made news internationally.
erwiana wan chai abuse
Bernadette from the Progressive Labour Union of Domestic Workers in Hong Kong enjoys a day out at Plover Cove Country Park with other union members.
plover cove country park rowing
Yolanda’s granddaughter walks to 7-Eleven with her grandfather in Tarlac, Philippines. Yolanda spent many years in Hong Kong looking after her employer’s children, whom she still misses very much.
7-eleven girl domestic worker
“Both of my parents made sacrifices…and me as well. For almost my entire life, I just lived with a helper.” Jun Jun dropped out of college and spends most of his days at the local basketball court. His relationship with his father is far from harmonious. His mother has yet to return from working in Hong Kong after 20 years.
child domestic worker home
Orlando feeds his granddaughter at his home in Tarlac, Philippines. Orlando’s wife went to work as a domestic worker in Hong Kong over 20 years ago and has yet to return. It is hard to establish trust in the relationship. “She always asks where I am. So I started this Sari Sari [small convenience shop] last year, just to show her I am busy at home.”
daughter feeding domestic worker
Dennis and his daughter Dennis-Ann eat lunch at the local Jollybee fast food restaurant in Tarlac, Philippines. Since Dennis-Ann’s mother Glory Ann went to work as a domestic worker in Hong Kong, Dennis has looked after his daughter.
spaghetti jollybees domestic worker

An upcoming exhibition presents a selection of photos and stories from the book ‘Strangers at Home’, which will be published on 20 September 2015. 

strangers at home

Guest contributors for Hong Kong Free Press.