This weekend, we celebrated four refugees who graduated as certified caregivers in Hong Kong. These four women were part of the second cohort of RUN participants to complete a six-month caregiving course with Active Global Specialised Caregivers. The rigorous course includes in-person classes on the weekends, and group study sessions during the week, and we couldn’t be more proud of them!
Through RUN’s PATHS for the Future education program, we work with participants to identify the intersection between their interests/skills and in-demand career paths in the US and Canada (where recognised refugees have the greatest likelihood of being resettled). Caregiving is one such area that we’ve identified for some of our refugees to explore.
Alice*, a single mother from Burundi and one of the graduates from this weekend, says: “I have a passion to work for society. Caregiving is a way to give to the society.” She explains that caregiving is complementary to her previous studies and work experience in the hospitality industry, where many of the families who stayed at the hotel where she worked would offer extra pay to those who could babysit their children. Ever the entrepreneur (Alice also previously owned a business selling women’s clothing), she also talks about the possibility of one day starting a caregiving business.
Three years ago, Alice arrived in Hong Kong, seven months pregnant. She had escaped violence and political persecution in Burundi, and first sought asylum in Rwanda, where she stayed in a refugee camp. The conditions were so terrible that Alice couldn’t imagine staying any longer, especially with a baby, and eventually made it to Hong Kong. “When you are desperate, you don’t choose where to go,” she says. “You go where your life takes you.”
During Alice’s first eight months in Hong Kong, she stayed at a government shelter for asylum seekers, where she describes the cramped and unhygienic conditions, and difficulties with other roommates who were struggling through their own challenges including mental illness and drug abuse. Driven by a mother’s desire to protect her newborn baby, she reached out to several charities in Hong Kong for help, including RUN. Eventually, with RUN’s support, Alice managed to move out to her own place, where she is able to care for her daughter in a safe and secure environment. At RUN, Alice participates regularly in our sports and education programmes. The childcare and babysitting stipend that she receives from RUN enables her to focus on her own healing from trauma through our hiking and track training programmes, and spend time studying English and caregiving.
In spite of Alice’s negative experience in the first few months here, she is grateful for this temporary home. “This country is safe,” she says. “I would like to thank the people in Hong Kong, because we are living in their country. Even though some of them are not friendly to us, I know that many of them are good-hearted people.”
Although Alice’s situation in Hong Kong has improved, she also recognises that it’s not permanent. Alice’s hope for herself and her daughter is to be in a place where she can continue to enhance her knowledge and be a productive person (refugees are unable to work in Hong Kong). “We are not beggars,” she says. “We have our minds, we have our strength, but we don’t have the opportunity to use them here.” Alice goes on to explain that allowing refugees to study not only empowers refugees, but has benefits for Hong Kong as well. “Hong Kong has a high standard of education. By letting us study, people we meet abroad would be impressed by the education we received in Hong Kong. It’s a way for Hong Kong to market itself.”
Reflecting on the recent protests in Hong Kong, Alice hopes that this has opened more people’s eyes to what it means to be a refugee. “We are human beings just like them. What is happening to us can also happen to them at any moment,” says Alice. “In the future, wherever I am living, in the US or Canada, if a Chinese person comes and needs something, I’ll be the one to open my doors for that person, because I lived in their country and they helped me a lot.”
* Name has been changed