By Catherine Gurtin, CEO of PathFinders
Like many families in Hong Kong who heavily rely on a migrant domestic worker to care for children and elderly parents, as a mother with young children I am only able to work thanks to the wonderful support they provide.
For the past 49 years they have worked in Hong Kong to provide for their families back home while also improving our livelihoods. They have made an enormous social and economic contribution to the city.
Many of Hong Kong’s 340,000 foreign domestic workers are mothers from the Philippines and Indonesia who made the very difficult decision to leave children behind in order to work overseas and create brighter futures for them. Sadly, despite their sacrifices, their precious contribution has long been undervalued in our society.
Separation of mothers and children due to migration can be extremely painful. As a mother myself, I can’t even imagine the pain behind every goodbye and the deep desire to hug my children during the long months and years of separation. Yet we’ve heard many wonderful stories of how the mothers and their children endeavour to maintain heart-to-heart connections and stay strong, despite the distance.
These dedicated mothers make concerted efforts to be present in their children’s lives – from guiding them in homework to celebrating birthdays together – so they don’t feel left behind. For no child can truly be left behind when a mother is able to remain a constant part of their life, while relying on a caring guardian to meet her child’s needs at different developmental stages.
If you employ a migrant domestic worker who is also a mother, please encourage and allow her to take short breaks during the day to stay connected with her children. As the employer of one, I know just how transformational this simple kindness can be.
Previously my domestic worker was not encouraged to speak with her children, who would be fast asleep at the end of her long working day. Within two months of being with us, she excitedly shared how her relationship with her young children had grown and blossomed, and how grateful she was to have the time and energy to enjoy regular, quality connections with them.
Ensuring every child can stay connected with their migrant mother is so fundamental to their well-being. While a seemingly small gesture, witnessing the impact of regular contact with her children on my helper’s health and happiness is palpable and heartwarming.
It takes a village to raise a child. Helping children grow in a safe, trusting and healthy environment takes a lot of work and the support of many people. It is especially challenging for migrant mothers who have no choice but to leave their children behind, while struggling to parent them and keep their relationship alive from thousands of miles away.
Over the past 14 years, PathFinders has been at the forefront of efforts to enhance the community’s understanding and care for migrant mothers and their children. As part of our ongoing #WorkingMomsHK campaign, we’ve launched “No Child Left Behind: A Mother’s Love Knows No Borders”, a virtual exhibition in collaboration with award-winning photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani, which celebrates the unparalleled strength and resilience of all migrant domestic worker mothers.
Today is World Children’s Day – a day to promote and celebrate children’s rights and welfare around the world. Let’s pay tribute to all these incredible migrant mothers who deserve so much more recognition, respect and gratitude. Let’s do whatever it takes to share love, care and support with their children and give them a brighter future.
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