Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

For Filipina Domestics, Hard, Lonely Life

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

For Filipina Domestics, Hard, Lonely Life

Article excerpt

HONG KONG and TAIPEI, Taiwan -- At least 2,000 women are crowded into St. Joseph's Church on Garden Road, Hong Kong, for the 8 a.m. Mass. Half of them have not seen their children in two years.

Another 2,000 -- also far from a home to which they infrequently return -- will be at the 9 a.m. Mass, then the 10 a.m. and the 11 a.m. and so on throughout the day.

These are Filipinas, some of the 150,000 working as domestics in Hong Kong. There are another 65,000 in Taiwan. Throughout Asia, including southern and mainland China, there are probably a further 750,000 documented Filipinas -- the undocumented reportedly could go as high as 2 million.

They work 12 and 14 hours a day, six days a week, living in cubbyholes and small rooms in apartments and houses as they serve families throughout Asia.

Traditionally they have one day off a week: Sunday. Predominantly Catholic, the Filipinas flock to churches like St. Joseph's. In Hong Kong, after Mass, they gather in Chater Garden.

There they read each other's letters from home, joyfully show photographs of the growing children they rarely see -- children being raised by others including husbands with whom they barely share a life.

This is the heart-wrenching underbelly of Filipino poverty . For families separated for the sake of economic survival, the meager pay remitted home from Hong Kong and Taiwan is the mainstay of support back in Manila, Mindanao and Cebu.

It is not an easy topic for the women to discuss. Outside St. Joseph's, sisters Susana Foronda and Cynthia Yutuc talked to NCR more about their trips home than their lives away from the Philippines. Foronda's husband farms, but her income helps support the family. Yutuc, who has been in Hong Kong for 15 years, and Foronda, for 10, are a support system for each other and were delighted to introduce a niece who also works in the colony.

Another Filipina, the mother of three younger children, started to explain how she coped without them, started to cry and could not continue.

Outside the church, although the 8 a.m. Mass has not reached the offertory, lines are forming for a seat at the next Mass. Inside, Maryknoll Fr. Ron Saucci will draw on his own family's experiences in his homily as he reaches across cultures to give relevance to the readings.

In Taiwan, explained Mercerdarian Sr. Stephana Wei Wei of the Rerum Novarum social services center, there are perhaps 60,000-70,000 Filipinas. Rerum Novarum, which provides legal aid to Taiwanese workers, also cares for these migrant workers.

"The domestics are more vulnerable than other migrant workers," said Taiwan-born Wei Wei. "Factory workers have standard labor law to protect them, but the house is a private area and the Filipinas depend on the mercy of the employer. …

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