“I started my career during SARS. During that time, many employers hired domestic workers to help with disinfecting their households, creating many job opportunities since everyone paid close attention to personal hygiene. During this pandemic, employers are also anxious about the situation but a lot of them decide to carry out cleaning measures themselves instead of hiring domestic workers.”
Foon, who has 17 years of work experience as a local domestic helper, has experienced the two most serious epidemics in Hong Kong, SARS in 2003 and COVID-19. Comparing the SARS period when there were frequent job opportunities, and her present jobless situation, Foon realised that this was the first time she has ever really been “unemployed” since working in this industry.
Foon places a large emphasis on hygiene. She used to work as a clerical worker, but later had to take care of her children, so she decided to change her career to become a domestic helper in order to have more flexible working hours. After cleaning her employer’s house, not only is her employer satisfied, she also experiences great joy. The sense of accomplishment makes her feel very content, motivating her to continue. Foon still remembers a time after finishing a cleaning job, her employer praised her, saying that “the air is fresher after cleaning”. After that, she was hired on a long term basis and worked for more than ten years.
Why does Foon place such a big emphasis on hygiene? “With a clean home, there are less disturbing odours which can improve a person’s physical and mental wellbeing. Sometimes, when toilets are not cleaned for a long time, there can be mould and microbes growing, which can create negative impacts such as irritation on the skin.” She also talks about her experience participating in Habitat for Humanity Hong Kong’s deep cleaning programme. In the process of helping the elderly clean their living environments, she observed that there are a lot of clutter in their small homes, yellowing plastic bags, unpleasant odours from the toilets, mouldy ceilings etc. It was like helping them do spring cleaning. She hopes that after cleaning, it can improve the health and wellbeing of the elderly.
“Some elderly will say to me ‘There is no need! It’s already very clean!’ Sometimes they do not want us to work too hard or move their belongings around, but we will place them in their original position after cleaning or ask them clearly before disposing. After cleaning, they are actually very happy.”, says Foon. The most memorable experience in this service was helping a 108-year-old man who lives alone. She thinks that it is already challenging for seniors living alone, needless to say cleaning alone. Foon is relieved and happy that she is capable of lending a helping hand and able to support her family at the same time.
Helping a group of elderly people living in an undesirable environment is not easy during a pandemic, we are very grateful that Foon and her group of colleagues are willing to participate. In order to safeguard other people’s health, we must take care of our own health. During this period, Foon and her colleagues take a lot of precautions to protect themselves. Besides wearing face masks, goggles and gloves while cleaning, she has even worn a disposable protective suit. Foon says that it is hard to breathe while wearing a mask working, but she uses it every time since being safe is her first priority.
“As domestic workers, we can really help the community. A better hygienic living environment is not only good for the inhabitants but also for their neighbours!”