By Solaire Hauser
HONG KONG – Every Sunday, a big crowd of people in colorful robes gathers at the Kowloon Mosque and Islamic Centre located on one of Hong Kong’s most crowded streets, Nathan Road. While shoppers, restaurant-goers and general street traffic pass by, Siti Khoidah walks up the steps to the entrance of the mosque, takes off her shoes and steps inside.
Khoidah is a native Indonesian who came to Hong Kong to work as a domestic helper. Every Sunday, the 26-year-old goes to the Kowloon Mosque, to see her friends and family and to learn.
Her weekly visits at the mosque are one of the reasons she came to Hong Kong.
“I worked in Singapore before. We didn’t have a day off on Sunday.”
Latest numbers show that there were more than 150,000 domestic helpers from Indonesia in Hong Kong in February 2012, and the number keeps on rising.
For many of the domestic workers who come to Hong Kong, the possibility to go to the mosque on the last day of the week is very important. Here, they do not only get to pray and meet with fellow workers, but also have the opportunity to take part in English-language classes.
Another reason the city is so attractive for foreign workers is the salary. According to the website of the Hong Kong Labour Department, the Minimum Allowable Wage (MAW) for a Foreign Domestic Helper is HK$ 3,920 per month, as of 20 September 2012.
A study conducted by the Asian Migrant Centre in 2006 found that underpayment was the most serious problem among Indonesian migrants in Hong Kong then. Nevertheless, Khoidah says that what she gets paid for her work in Hong Kong is more than what she would earn in Indonesia.
When Khoidah first came to Hong Kong about four years ago, she worked for a Hong Kong local whom she calls Mr. Kenny. Before she became a family helper in his household, she learned Cantonese. Soon she will start working for a new employer who is from Pakistan.
Even though Khoidah says she is very happy, she does not want to stay in Hong Kong forever. When her new 2-year contract expires, she plans on going back to Indonesia and finding a husband. “I would like to live in my hometown after I get married,” she says.