In 1985 Emma Philapal dropped out of college in the Philippines to become a domestic helper in Hong Kong. Four years later, she went home to marry and then returned to Hong Kong for work. Within a year, her marriage was in ruins because of her husband's adultery. Pregnant and broke, she returned to the Philippines. But after her child was born, she was unable to resist the lure of Hong Kong's higher-paying jobs, even though it meant long hours and leaving her daughter in the Philippines. "Each time I hear a baby cry, I think of my daughter and start crying," she says. Yet she doesn't feel abandoned. "The Lord has a plan for me. The church is family to me, and I get the support and prayer when I need help."Philapal's situation is increasingly common in Hong Kong, one of Asia's most prosperous cities. For more than two decades, Hong Kong families have hired foreign helpers, especially Filipinas (women), for housework and childcare. The profession of domestic helper has become so tightly linked with Filipinos that the Chinese term banmui (Philippine girl) has become synonymous with maid or servant. Hong Kong is now home to an estimated 170,000 Filipinos, 141,500 of them domestic helpers.One reason workers like Philapal remain hopeful is that Hong Kong's local churches are reaching out to her and others. Not only are they caring for an at-risk group of migrant workers; churches are also equipping these workers to be a Christian influence where they work—mostly non-Christian households.

"I am nobody"

Every Sunday in central Hong Kong, Filipinos become visible for a few hours when they gather en masse on their day off. Gathering in the shadows of international banks and luxury boutiques, they reconnect with kababayans (fellow Filipino ...

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China: Maid in Hong Kong
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October 2, 2000

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