Domestic Worker Eny Bawse on Protecting Migrants’ Wellbeing
Hong Kong/Ohana/Health & Wellness

Domestic Worker, Tedx Speaker Eny Bawse on Protecting Migrants’ Wellbeing

Domestic Worker and Tedx Speaker Eny Bawse on Protecting Migrants Wellbeing Photo by Instagram/Self Love Cupid

A year after finishing secondary school, Eny Bawse left her small village in Indonesia to become a domestic worker in the capital city of Jakarta at 15 years old. Quitting school early to help with financial obligations was a familiar—if not traditional—route for dozens of her family members.

“When you are a teenage girl in a village where I grew up, there are only two options for you: either you go to work or get married,” Eny told The Beat Asia in a video interview.

While peers her age were busy getting a degree, then 22-year-old Eny set afoot in Hong Kong as a foreign domestic worker. The city has been her home for the past 13 years.

“I didn’t have a vision. I simply did what most girls were doing,” Eny shared while taking a break from doing chores.

Eny’s migrant story is nothing new, and perhaps its lack of uniqueness makes it a compelling one. She shares the same narrative as the nearly 140,000 Indonesian foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong (as of 2022 data), often touted as the unsung backbone of the city’s economy. According to a study by Hong Kong charity Enrich and information aggregator Experian, migrant domestic workers had contributed US$12.6 billion to Hong Kong’s economy in 2018. These workers—mostly dominated by Filipinos and Indonesians—also extend their contributions beyond the general economy. They help run the household and look after children, enabling mothers to return to the workforce after giving birth and boosting the family’s income.

Eny Bawse Self-Love Cupid
Photo by Facebook/TEDxTinHauWomen

Last November 2023, Eny got to share her story to dozens of those women, whose lives are made easier through an outsourced help. She was among the speakers at the 7th TedxTinHauWomen, the longest-standing annual women-dedicated Tedx community in Hong Kong.

“I decided to do TedX because I knew that 99% of the audience are women, [who are also] our employers. [I thought that was the perfect venue] to remind them that you and your helper are a team in taking care of the family and running the household.”

Eny said applying for the slot was a shot in the moon.

“I am a nobody. I applied one week before the deadline. I recommended myself,” Eny recalled, laughing.

At the centre of her speech was Self-Love Cupid, a community that promoted mental health among the domestic workers community in Hong Kong. She founded this in early 2020 as a platform to help fellow domestic workers look after their wellbeing.

Self-Love Cupid began as a Facebook group where Eny shared simple posts about mental health and wellbeing to her fellow domestic workers. Forced to enter the labour workforce at a young age, with no clear vision, and away from home, Eny found relief in therapy sessions to deal with her own mental health problems. She supported these social media posts with a weekly peer meeting conducted over Zoom every Saturday. The meetings typically started at 11 PM, a time when most participants had finished their work for the day, and often extended into the night until everyone had retired.

But while this venue opened the doors for Eny to connect with the migrant community while talking about a topic close to her heart, she said there's only so much that a Facebook group can do for a topic that is as complex as domestic work.

She later joined Resolve Foundation as a fellow, where she met other individuals working on social justice, as well as other domestic workers doing something for their communities. Last year, Eny secured funding from Resolve to support Self-Love Cupid, which had mostly relied on her own pockets. Today, Self-Love cupid promotes mental health through a series of offline activities ranging from Zumba and laughter yoga, to photography and acrylic painting workshops.

“Instead of telling them what to do, I create activities that they can experience,” Eny shared.

“It's a common mentality among domestic workers that you’ve got to be the hero of your family and sacrifice yourself for your family's happiness. I want to tell them that in the long term, that’s harmful to us. It's your responsibility to take care of yourself. You earn your own money, you have the right to spend it on your own,” she added.

Eny Bawse Self-Love Cupid
Photo by Instagram/Self-Love Cupid

Self-Love Cupid has more than 2,400 likes on Facebook, while its private group has over 400 members. Eny said their virtual peer meetings often attract up to 25 participants per week.

Recalling her journey as a Tedx speaker, Eny said she is grateful to have been given a platform to highlight how empathy from employers can go a long way in protecting the wellbeing of domestic workers.

“The experience was amazing. It forced me to grow. All the communities were led by women. It's great to see women supporting women,” Eny said.

But speaking at Tedx is just one of the many goals Eny hopes to tick off her list. Starting summer, she plans to transition their weekly online peer meeting to a monthly face-to-face gathering.

Eny also hopes to complete the content of an online course on personal growth and resilience that she had created in 2022.

Outside Self-Love Cupid, Eny is mulling a focus on personal coaching to help women boost their self-esteem.

"Even if I'm no longer in Hong Kong, I still hope to be able to do something for [domestic workers] and guide them in their personal journey."

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