In honor of International Women's Day (March 8) and my birthday (March 7), I am asking my favorite women to join me in supporting a group of women for whom I have enormous admiration - refugee mothers currently seeking asylum in Hong Kong. While monetary support is needed and very appreciated, my primary intent is to ask my community of amazing women to take a moment to simply honor an amazing community of refugee mothers in a way that best suits you - it can be through a prayer for their well-being and protection, expanding your knowledge about refugees and sharing it with others, or making a financial contribution to support refugee women.
As background, every Tuesday morning I gather with refugee women to take care of their children so that the mothers can hike, swim, or take a yoga class in order to de-stress and heal from the traumatic events that drove them to seek asylum in Hong Kong. These activities are organized by R.U.N., the Hong Kong off-shoot of the international charity Free to Run and now an independent charity in Hong Kong click for description. After the women finish their morning activities, they regroup with their children at the R.U.N. office where we share lunch and conversation.
The majority of women come from East Africa where they have been victims of gender-based violence or whose lives have been threatened by political conflict and often atrocious human rights abuses. Because they are often fleeing for their lives (literally) when they leave their home country, they come to Hong Kong for protection as it is one of the few countries that does not have too many visa requirements for Africans and, thus, allows for a quick exit without taking the time to apply for a visa.
While Hong Kong is a country with a rich history of accepting refugees (first from China during the Civil War and Cultural Revolution and then from Vietnam as Hong Kong was one of the first destinations for those fleeing the aftermath of the Vietnam War), today's refugees are offered very little assistance by the Hong Kong government when they arrive and are offered limited legal protection as Hong Kong has not yet signed the UN Refugee Convention. Hong Kong law prohibits refugees and asylum seekers from working while they wait for the courts to decide if they will be granted official refugee status - a process that can take up to 10 years. Without the ability to work, the refugees must rely solely on a government allowance limited to HK$40 (US$5) per day in food coupons, (HK$200) US$25 per month in transportation payments, HK$1,500 (US$190) per month for housing (paid directly to the landlord), and a free roll of toilet paper, tube of toothpaste, toothbrush and box of Kotex for the women. No money is given for clothing, furniture, cooking utensils, or medicine, let alone unexpected emergency needs.
Currently, three of the mothers that I meet with each Tuesday are pregnant. While these women are eligible to see doctors at the government hospital, they are given no money for maternity clothes, pre-natal vitamins, special food for nutrition, taxi money to get to the hospital when they go into labor or any of the "extras" that are required during pregnancy. Once their child is born, they receive no support for diapers, clothes, pumps, formula, blankets, and other baby needs until the Immigration Department processes the baby's birth certificate which typically takes between 4 and 5 months.
I know these women and they are brave, caring, smart, and surprisingly good spirited. They have all endured abuses that are unfathomable. Some are already mothers whose children I paint, dance, and do homework with every Tuesday. One is an incredibly patient mother with whom I spent 8 hours as she worked her way through the government hospital bureaucracy so that she could receive emergency pre-natal care. Like all mothers, they deserve to bring their newborns into this world with the safety, support, and basic supplies with which we all came into this world and, for those of us who are mothers, offered our own newborns.
So, in honor of these women and International Women's Day, I have set up a New Mothers Fund to collect support for these women as they prepare for birth and for their newborns as they await their immigration status. If you would like to contribute to this fund, you may do so here. As I mentioned above, my true aim is to foster a spirit of connection and compassion between my community of amazing women and another less advantaged community of amazing women so a monetary contribution is not necessary and small ones (HK$100 or US$10) are very, very welcome. Just please take a moment on the day when the very famous women of this world are making the headlines to also honor the equally important women who are showing great courage and leadership but are also facing the overwhelming challenges that come with being a refugee.
Happy International Womens' Day to my favorite women with thanks for your very important friendships!
With love and gratitude,