[Sponsored] “Santa Claus! Santa Claus! Mummy, did you see Santa?” Clutching his mother’s hand, an adorable little boy with bright brown eyes, beautiful curly hair and a big, wide smile shouted excitedly at a Christmas Party held for Hong Kong-born children and their migrant mothers.

Christmas is a season filled with love and hope. Young children across the world, regardless of nationality, religion or colour are filled with excitement and anticipation, carefully writing down their wishes on their list for Father Christmas. What did Santa bring them this Christmas? A toy car? A teddy bear?

For the vulnerable children born in Hong Kong and their migrant mothers, their wish lists may include a hot meal, some warm clothes, an identity, baby immunisations or simply a feeling of being appreciated, loved and cared for.

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PathFinders’ client Christmas party and lunch was sponsored by St. James’s Place Wealth Management and was attended by over 100 migrant mothers and their children.

PathFinders was established in 2008 after its co-founders found two migrant mothers living in desperate conditions at Chungking Mansions. They could only afford to feed their babies with left-over rice water. As the only NGO in Hong Kong that provides support for pregnant, migrant women and their Hong Kong-born children, PathFinders exists to fulfill its vision – “For ALL children to be respected and protected”.

Now approaching its tenth anniversary, PathFinders has so far helped 5,200 vulnerable children and their migrant mothers. Of these, more than 150 babies and children aged 0-2 were at extreme risk – be that through abuse, neglect or even trafficking. In 2017 alone, PathFinders helped almost 1,000 new people through social work cases and hotline enquiries.

The Hong Kong government has imported Foreign Domestic Workers (FDW) since the 1970s. Doing so enables parents to return to the workforce and provides much-needed elder care support. As the end of 2017, there were over 370,000 FDWs working in Hong Kong. Over 98% of them are female. That number is expected to rise to 600,000 by 2050.

Government statistics show a substantial increase in women’s labour force participation rates when their household employs a FDW. The FDW community’s spending here and their remittances home contribute to Hong Kong’s economy as well as their home country’s.

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Santa Claus paid us a visit and handed out presents from Box of Hope to every baby and child. Photo: Pathfinders.

Despite this, there is no shortage of stories about FDWs being the target of exploitation, e.g. low income, poor living conditions, unlawful dismissal and even, in some extreme cases, mental and physical abuse.

Over the last nine years, PathFinders has handled many cases. We have seen employers illegally dismissing their pregnant FDWs, babies being born and found in public parks, mothers in mental and emotional distress, fathers denying paternity of their own children, children living without legal identity for years, and so on.

There are many sad stories and many hurdles to overcome. Fortunately, many of these stories do end positively after PathFinders’ intervention and counseling, and with the provision of critical humanitarian supplies and shelter, as well as education, medical support and access to legal help.

As we begin a new year, we’ll share a positive case story to kick start what we hope will be a year filled with happiness and positivity for our readers.

File photo: Pathfinders.

Linda came to Hong Kong to work as a FDW in 2012. A sweet and good-natured young woman, her upbringing and culture shaped her personality, which led to her being timid and afraid to speak up to people with a higher social status. Fortunately for Linda, she secured a job with a kind employer, Mrs. Ho.

Mrs. Ho was a methodical yet empathetic lady and Linda worked happily for her over the next few years. Everything was going smoothly until the summer of 2016 when Linda fell pregnant unexpectedly during a trip home to visit her husband and children.

Linda was initially unaware of her pregnancy until she noticed physical changes a few months later. Shocked, lost and worried, she did not know what to do and had no one to turn to for help. Months had gone by and she was still too scared to inform her employer for fear of losing her job.

Linda’s growing stomach caught the attention of Mrs. Ho’s sister who raised concern to Mrs. Ho. One night, Mrs. Ho broke the silence and questioned Linda about her suspicion. Despite being surprised and worried at first, Mrs. Ho supported Linda through the final stages of her pregnancy.

Linda gave birth to a baby girl, Sara, in Hong Kong, but sadly Sara was born underweight and weak. Seeing and taking care of tiny Sara had taken its toll on Linda’s health and she was diagnosed with post-natal depression soon after.  Watching Linda struggle, Mrs. Ho realized that she needed professional help. After doing some research and a referral through her personal network, Mrs. Ho approached PathFinders.

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Linda was grateful for the support of her employer and PathFinders. Photo taken at the celebration for Sara’s 1-month old with her employer’s family and PathFinders’ Case Manager.

PathFinders’ Case Manager advised Linda and Mrs. Ho on their respective rights and obligations and provided assistance in setting up Linda’s maternity leave arrangements. For Linda and Sara, the Case Manager provided professional counseling services and regular home visits to ensure their wellbeing.

With appropriate care and intervention, mother and daughter grew stronger each day.  As their health improved, the Case Manager assisted Linda with applying for identity and travel documents for Sara.

Counting Linda and Sara as family members, Mrs. Ho followed Chinese tradition and hosted a gathering for Sara when she reached one month.  During her extended maternity leave, Linda flew home to settle Sara with her husband and children before returning to Hong Kong to continue working for Mrs. Ho’s family.

With support from PathFinders and her employer, Linda was empowered and confident that she could build a happy life for Sara and her family at home. At the same time, Mrs. Ho was relieved that the family didn’t lose Linda’s trustworthy service and most importantly was delighted to see her return to being her happy, healthy and worry-free self again.

Although Linda’s story has a happy ending, can you imagine what could have happened to baby Sara, Linda and Mrs. Ho if there had been a lack of communication, responsibility, empathy and professional intervention? A manageable situation could have just as easily turned into a heartbreaking tragedy.

Linda’s case is like a breath of fresh air. Although there are still conflicts and heartache related to FDWs and their lives here, PathFinders believes that with our continued and broad support  – education, community outreach, social welfare, healthcare and legal assistance – we can increase awareness about and support for these Hong Kong-born children and their migrant mothers.

File photo: Pathfinders.

Our hope is that in Hong Kong, “ALL children to be respected and protected” can be taken off the wish list one day and become reality. The fact that the government is launching a Children’s Commission is welcome news and is going to help a lot.

Click here or call +852 5135 3015 to donate and make a wish come true for the most vulnerable children born in Hong Kong and their migrant mothers.

For further details of PathFinders’ services or for assistance, please visit our website or call our client hotline at: +852 5190 4886. 

Linda, Mrs Ho and Sara’s names were changed to protect their privacy. PathFinders Limited is an approved charitable institution under Section 88 of the Inland Revenue Ordinance file no. 91/10272 and is incorporated in Hong Kong: CR No. 1289039. PathFinders Limited is an organisation in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council since August 2017. PathFinders is secular and non-partisan.

PathFinders Limited is an independent, secular and non-partisan humanitarian services organisation with tax-exempt charitable status in Hong Kong. Since our founding in 2008, PathFinders has helped over 5,200 vulnerable babies, children and migrant women with social welfare, education & community outreach, healthcare and legal support. PathFinders Limited is an organisation in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council since August 2017.