Don’t we sometimes feel helpless in the face of injustice, unfairness or plain crass behaviour around us? Do we tell ourselves what’s the point of protesting in this one instance? The System’s rotten, what can one person do?

Someone showed a few days ago that in a small way, we can make a difference.

At the end of a tiring day, suffering backache and returning home, Doris Lee stopped to look at a poster in the private housing complex where she lives.

She took it home to digest at leisure. The notices had gone up around her block, warning domestic helpers against sitting around in the common areas “playing cards, eating and drinking”.

Now, almost all these helpers are foreigners, mostly women from Indonesia and the Philippines. The posters advised resident employers to “educate” their helpers.

“In fact the domestic workers all have resident cards – they are ‘residents’ too,” said Doris, herself an employer, on her Facebook page the next day. “I could not help but take down this poster to marvel at it at home and maybe get advice on it from the EOC [Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities Commission].”

At 1:15 a.m. people from the management office of the estate knocked on her door, along with two policemen. They told Doris she “stole” management “property”, namely the notice. The police would arrest her unless she could “explain” her action.

Most people would be rattled by such a visitation. Not Doris. She followed up with a phone call asking to know why the notices had gone up.

The notices vanished!

Clearly, the management office had sized her up. And Asia’s Finest are known to trawl the Internet, including Facebook.

She got a reply. A person from the management office told her that another resident had asked that such a poster be put up. Doris (pictured below) would have none of it.

“I reminded him they (the helpers) are also residents. (The management) cannot say particular residents must get out of the way for ‘the residents’. Such a warning (if sensible in the first place) must be applied to all. He accepted this point. Moreover, he should realize that on Sunday, the helpers need some space to go to, and this is their space as much as ours, since they’re residents.

“But apart from the discrimination, if it’s not actually blocking any entrance or path, then people should be allowed to sit on the floor or play or whatever, I said. Otherwise ‘even’ residents like me, ordinary ‘Hong Kong moms’, will worry that if I play on the ground with my kids, someone will come and stop us.

“He seemed to understand the points and also said, there is no rule that the domestic workers cannot eat and drink in the common spaces. He said he would share my view with his colleagues.”

Thank you, Doris.

  • You struck a blow for the legitimate rights of the domestic helpers and stood up for respecting their dignity, the dignity inherent in everyone.
  • You educated a member (perhaps many) of your housing complex’s management office.
  • You have educated us on making a difference, standing up for what is right, even when our personal interests might not be at stake, we might be tired or preoccupied.

A digression: I read the outcome of the intervention by Doris after the news of the death of Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize winner from Kenya. The news hardly made a splash in the printed press, television or the social media.

A friend and former colleague of mine, Lauren Gelfand, ran a line on Facebook saying “Feminist. Environmentalist. Speaker of truths. RIP to a true hero.”

I’d have described Professor Maathai as “fighter for justice”. (Me and my male brain: so set on “fighting”!)

“Feminist. Environmentalist. Speaker of truths.” Lauren, who lives in Kenya now, is right, of course. As are her priorities.

I shared on Facebook a brief Youtube clip of Wangari Maathai narrating a short parable about a hummingbird that tries to put out a forest fire. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eT98uQ74X1c&feature=player_embedded)

A touching little tale, but I wasn’t quite convinced, though, that such hummingbird-like efforts would douse even a square-millimetre’s fire.

How wrong!

Doris Lee showed that they DO indeed make a difference: A hero to the helpers in her housing estate and to all who care about dignity, legality and rights.

BRAVA DORIS! A hero in our midst! Take a bow!

Let’s give her an ovation.

And let’s be minded to emulate her in our own ways, howsoever big or small.

About walkerjay

The author, N. Jayaram, a journalist now based in Bangalore after more than 23 years in East Asia (mainly Hong Kong and Beijing) and 11 years in New Delhi, was with the Press Trust of India news agency for 15 years and Agence France-Presse for 11 years and is currently engaged in editing and translating for NGOs and academic institutions.
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5 Responses to A HERO IN OUR MIDST

  1. staphany says:

    haha i m so glad that both the author and the hero (or shouldn’t we say heroine?) are my friends!

  2. Aris says:

    We need more DORIS

  3. Aniery says:

    Doris Lee is a hero to the helpers and sometimes helpers can also fight and win against ethnic and class discrimination. Some good news for domestic workers in Hong Kong:

  4. Margarita Ardivilla says:

    I am a Filipino and I applaud Doris’ steadfastness. To stem the tide takes audacity. To go against the tide demands courage. Thank you for showing us how to be firm, resolute and unwavering. Be an inspiration always. Mabuhay ka Doris!

  5. Pingback: A PAEAN TO ALL THE GOOD PEOPLE OF HONG KONG | Walkerjay's Blog

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