Volunteering for Indonesian Migrant Workers in Hong Kong

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Indonesian migrant workers relaxing in groups on their day off. Source: SCMP

Hong Kong is home to more than 165,000 Indonesian migrant workers. The figure has been increasing throughout the years due to Hong Kong’s high minimum wage (around 4 times of that in Jakarta), aging population which increases the demand for caretakers, and strong employment law enforcement to guarantee the workers’ rights. Most of these workers stay in their employers’ homes and have to work for six days a week. During their day off, which for most of them falls on Sunday, they are free to socialize and explore Hong Kong. One of the most popular spots for them to gather is Causeway Bay – the ultimate shopping and entertainment district in Hong Kong.

Being a frequent Causeway Bay visitor myself, I have had plenty of brief interactions with them. However, almost every time I engaged them in a conversation, they usually were startled to learn that I speak fluent Indonesian as if they did not expect me to be Indonesian myself. I usually further explained to them that I am a student in Hong Kong. At that moment, I realized that there was a huge gap between Indonesian students and Indonesian migrant workers in Hong Kong. Although we all come from Indonesia and currently live in Hong Kong, we did not have a substantial amount of interactions to get to know each other better.

As I was thinking of how to minimize this gap and to have better interactions with them, in the spring of 2018, I found a semester-long volunteering opportunity. The progam was initiated and launched by Dhammamitta Hong Kong, a community for Indonesian Buddhist students in Hong Kong and TCK Learning Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering migrant workers through free workshops. Seeing that the program would allow me to interact better with Indonesian migrant workers and contribute to the country, I signed up for it immediately. The program’s main objective was to leverage the worker’s career capital by providing basic Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint workshops bi-weekly.

Along with a senior at my university and two friends as the organizing committee’s representatives, we were in charge of organizing the PowerPoint workshop. We thoroughly discussed and determined the materials to be included and even planned the end-of-workshop competition. Participating migrant workers would be able to compete with each other and showcase their newly acquired PowerPoint skills by creating and presenting their PowerPoint presentation about Indonesia’s marine tourism. To help participating migrant workers understand the materials better, we also developed manuals for each meeting so they could refer back to the manual whenever they wanted to review the materials at home.

To attract and accommodate more participants, the workshop was held every Sunday morning at TCK Learning Center which is located near Causeway Bay. At the beginning of each workshop, one of the volunteers would demonstrate a brief PowerPoint feature to the whole class, followed by hands-on trials by the participants. During the trials, we, the volunteers would guide and answer any questions from the participants. Since there were around 8 to 12 participants in each meeting on average, each of us was able to personally guide 2 to 3 participants.

Participants were listening to volunteer’s explanation. Source: Ivana Suradja and Dhammamitta HK
Participants were listening to the volunteer’s explanation. Source: Ivana Suradja and Dhammamitta HK
Author was guiding one of the participants. Source: Ivana Suradja and Dhammamitta HK
Author was guiding one of the participants. Source: Ivana Suradja and Dhammamitta HK

Throughout the duration of the program, I had seen first-hand how motivated they were which led to their tremendous effort in developing their PowerPoint skills. In the last meeting, during the mini-competition, I was surprised to see how they were able to apply the skills they had learned in such a short period of time to create attractive presentations. One of the most engaged and passionate participants, Mbak Luluk, even spent time researching the presentation topic, which was Indonesian marine tourism, before the last meeting in preparation for it! She ended up winning the first prize.

Mbak Luluk was presenting her slides for the competition. Source: Ivana Suradja and Dhammamitta HK
Mbak Luluk was presenting her slides for the competition. Source: Ivana Suradja and Dhammamitta HK

Thankfully, the response from the participants was positive and I was able to get to know them and their backgrounds better throughout the program. What inspired me the most was their unending motivation to keep learning and developing themselves. In every meeting, all the participants were extremely enthusiastic and asked a lot of questions to the volunteers. Sometimes they would even ask the materials that were to be covered in the next meeting – that was how curious they were! I also learned that for most of them, they had been actively participating in other workshops organized by TCK Learning Center, such as personal finance workshops, English and Mandarin workshops, and even make-up workshops. They could have spent their only day off by socializing and relaxing with their friends. However, they spared some time to learn new skills. When I asked them about their motivation for joining these workshops, they responded that they saw working abroad in Hong Kong not only as a means to improve their families’ well-being but also an opportunity to develop themselves. Eventually, most of these workers aspire to utilize these skills to start their own business once they return to Indonesia.

The whole experience and my interaction with these migrant workers have inspired me and changed my attitude towards learning. I have become more appreciative of having the chance to study abroad and have tried to maximize my learning by involving myself in any opportunities offered by my university – be it signing up for MOOCs, self-development workshops, and even simply being more engaged in the classroom. Originally, I volunteered to teach them about PowerPoint, yet I believe in the end, they taught me more, especially about being more resourceful and curious.

Group photo of volunteers and participants in the last meeting. Source: Ivana Suradja and Dhammamitta HK
Group photo of volunteers and participants in the last meeting. Source: Ivana Suradja and Dhammamitta HK

For any Indonesian students currently pursuing further education abroad, I encourage you to sign up for a volunteering program in your local community. If you are currently in Hong Kong, there are many volunteering opportunities available where you can help these workers in one way or another. PPI-HK sometimes disseminates information related to these opportunities, so you may keep an eye on that. Believe me, volunteering is truly a rewarding experience!

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Josephine Angela Manuputty
Josephine Angela Manuputty is a graduating senior at HKUST majoring in Chemical Engineering. She first joined a volunteering activity in her freshman year out of curiosity and has since been interested in contributing more. Apart from women empowerment, she is also particularly interested in causes related to children as seen when she volunteered at a local church’s nursery during her exchange semester in the United States. She hopes to bring a positive impact on her community by contributing her expertise and time. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, meeting new people, and watching her favorite series. Reach her at jamanuputty@connect.ust.hk.