For most people, work ends after they leave the office, cram into the MTR to head home or to meet friends or family for dinner. For Hong Kong’s domestic workers, reprieve from work happens only on Sundays, when the women have 24 hours each week to be themselves. For most women, this involves relaxing, running errands, or chatting with friends in the park. Most people would not choose to spend four hours of their sole day off in a one-room office in Sheung Wan learning how to budget and plan their finances.
Yet that is exactly what dozens of women who attend Enrich’s financial literacy programs do. This particular Sunday, the women are attending a basic financial literacy course, which promises to teach the women the necessities of saving and making smart decisions with their money.
Enrich offers several programs, including business development, assertive communication, and asset building – to huge success. Of their participants, 93% express greater confidence in managing debt and 100% say they are in a better financial position than before the course.
Ping Bevan, a bubbly woman from Bangkok, points the women towards dozens of cards neatly laid out on a desk that describe goals such as “I’d like to be able to support my family/parents” and “I’d like to stop worrying about money every day.”
She asks the women to choose one card that resonates most with them. After a scraping of chairs on the floor and a few nervous giggles, the women return to their seats, cards in hand.
Grace from the Philippines shares that several years ago, her home was devastated by a typhoon. She tells the room that she aspires to one day be able to purchase another for her family.
“I hope after the program that I can learn more about how to manage my finances and about how to use the money wisely,” says Narissa, a young mother from Ilocos Norte, a scenic province in the Northern part of the Philippines.
“I want to have financial freedom hopefully one day,” Narissa explains.
Her dream, she says, is to one day own her own boutique clothing store back home.
Myra, a tiny mother of three, came to the program with the help of her employer, who found the course on the internet. Both she and Narissa chose the same card: to save for their children’s education expenses.
The women in Enrich’s program range widely in age – the eldest this Sunday was 62 and has worked Hong Kong for 20 years. She jokes, though seriously, that she needs money to retire so that she and her husband will have more to do than simply stare at one another all day – a comment that sends the rest of the room into a fit of giggles.
“Migrant women face an enormous amount of pressure to send money home and receive little support to save and plan for their future,” explains Emily Halsall, Enrich’s director of external relations. “Sadly, many migrant women leave Hong Kong after years away from their family with very little to show for it.”
Iriz, the last participant to share her savings goal, shows the room a blank card, explaining that it was too hard to choose only one.
Halsall says that many women come to the program at the recommendation of their employers – who often sponsor them to attend. For $280, employers can send a domestic worker through a four-hour session, while $1000 will get them a trimester long course. “We want the employers to be involved,” stresses Ethel Del Fierro, one of Enrich’s volunteers. Such participation encourages more openness in employer-worker relationships.
The funds also help subsidise domestic workers whose employers do not sponsor them to attend – in which case the women are charged only $20 for the 4-hour financial literacy program.
Is saving money one of your new year's resolutions? We can help you achieve it! pic.twitter.com/n6mybwbhBo
— ENRICH (@EnrichHK) January 16, 2015
With the help of a recent grant from tech firm Google, Enrich has secured the financial resources to train 450 women. The programs aim to help women to not only send money home each month for their families, but also to develop skills to prepare themselves for their eventual return.
The women are modest about their decision to spend their one day off in class. Narissa stresses: “After church this is the most important thing!”
At the end of 2014, Enrich had educated 5,586 migrant women in 318 workshops, impacting an estimated 20,000 family members in home countries. For more information on Enrich and their upcoming fundraiser, Balance on a Shoestring, which challenges participants to live as frugally as a migrant worker for five days from March 23-27, visit their website.