Dr Hans J. Ladegaard is a Professor and Head of Department of English at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and a long time supporter of PathFinders. He authored The Discourse of Powerlessness and Repression: Life Stories of Domestic Migrant Workers in Hong Kong, which recorded the stories of abused domestic migrant workers and detailed how they empowered themselves through sharing and peer support. Through his research and publications, he has helped raise awareness about domestic migrant workers and adversities they face. In this interview, he shares the symbiotic relationship between him and PathFinders, his research experience, and upcoming plans.

1. How did you get involved with PathFinders? Why did you choose to support us?

I worked with Mission for Migrant Workers from 2008 to 2012 doing research and voluntary work at Bethune House in Jordan on a weekly basis. In 2012 most of the beds at Bethune House were moved to Hong Kong Island. I wanted to continue my research with domestic migrant workers (DMWs), but it was a long commute for me after a busy workday to go to the new Bethune House shelter. So somebody suggested to me I should approach PathFinders. I was so well received by everyone at PathFinders and it seemed an obvious development of my research to focus on migrant mothers and their return to the home country.

PathFinders has supported my research in many ways: organised my field-trips to Indonesia, putting me in touch with migrant worker NGOs in Indonesia, finding translators and volunteers to help me do my research, helping me interview domestic migrant workers in Hong Kong etc. PathFinders is doing fantastic work for some of the most vulnerable FDWs in HK, and when I travelled in Indonesia, I heard many testimonies from migrant worker returnees about how essential the help and support they had received from PathFinders had been to them. So I’m very happy to be part of the PathFinders family and hopefully do my tiny little part in helping provide support to, and do advocacy work for, FDWs.

2. How were your research field trips?

The research I’m currently writing about in my new book Coming Home: Domestic Migrant Workers’ Narratives of Return was conducted in the Philippines and Indonesia (in close collaboration with PathFinders) in 2014. I travelled around the two countries for about a month. I visited 29 villages in East and Central Java in Indonesia and in Bohol in the Philippines, and I was so well received everywhere; the hospitality was amazing, the migrant women’s kindness overwhelming. Many of the Indonesian women had gruelling stories to tell about their experiences working overseas (particularly in the Middle East) so many of the sharing sessions I had in Indonesia were very emotional, and six years later, I still remember many of the stories I heard.

3. From your research, how can FDWs be empowered?

This is a big question for which there are no easy answers, but I think sharing with others is the first step. My research provides many examples that if FDWs keep their traumatic experiences to themselves, this will only make the situation worse. If a migrant woman has been exploited and abused, sometimes for months, there is no easy fix but the first step is to get away from the abusive employer. The first time she is physically or verbally assaulted for making a mistake, she should leave because the research shows very clearly that abusive behaviour is never a one-off thing. It will happen again, and the second time, the abuse is usually worse, so the helper needs to get away. She also needs to seek support from migrant worker NGOs and talk to other FDWs who’ve had similar experiences. Migrant women provide amazing support to each other, and it’s very important they open up to this opportunity. This, I think, is where empowerment begins.

4. What are your upcoming plans?

I’m writing up on the follow-up project on FDWs’ return to their home country, and I have a new project in mind focusing on trauma in storytelling. This area is very much under-researched and I believe we need to know more about what trauma does to migrant women, not just here and now but also long term. I’m also finishing an article on how Hong Kong employers of FDWs talk about their Filipina and Indonesian employees on a Facebook page.

5. Do you have any advice for PathFinders?

Keep up the good work! I truly admire and respect the work Pathfinders is doing and it’s a privilege to be able to work with you. So, please keep going for the sake of the migrant women and their children.

The above interview was conducted by PathFinders’ interns Joyce Leung, Rebecca Mak, Stephanie Chan & Sofia Chiu.