Frankie Meehan, EAL and TOK teacher and Head of Service K–12, Dover Campus
30 November 2020
Not done travelling yet
HER Journey, a project represented by four UWCSEA Dover students, made it to the final of the Young Aurora 2020 humanitarian initiative in November 2020. They impressed the judges with their well-researched and strategic response to a complex social justice issue: the rights of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Singapore.
”We are an advocacy group,” explains founding member Karen Xinchang Liu. “We aim to educate workers about their rights, but also to cultivate empathy among employers and their children.”
Karen (Grade 12), Callista Walla (Grade 11), Yanda Priyatna (Grade 12) and Yueyang Gue (Grade 10) are among 18 students who took on this challenge. After extensive research and over a year spent building bridges with local NGOs, including Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) and the Centre for Domestic Employees, the team devised a three-pronged approach: an ‘Empathy Challenge’ card game; a series of ‘Know Your Rights’ videos for FDWs; and an ongoing podcast that spotlights stories from individual FDWs the students have interviewed.
The seeds of the project were sown when Karen did the UWCSEA HOME Cooking service with women from a shelter for maltreated FDWs. “My perspective on the nature of labour rights changed,” she recalls. “After talking with the women, I realised that on top of economic and legal inequality, they face a culturally rooted disdain for their occupation”. That led to the early drafts of the Empathy Challenge, which was later trialled with both FDWs and employers at events on and off campus. “We invited workers and employers to sit together,” says Yanda. “Each took on the other’s real life role. A pair could only win lots of points if they reached a consensus.”
Once HER Journey had been formed, the group reached out to four community organisations and gradually won their trust. “At first, they were sceptical,” says Callista, “but we soon convinced them we were serious. One thing that helped is that we offered to support their existing advocacy agendas instead of creating our own from scratch.”
Since then, the team has conducted interviews with workers concerning their migration and employment journeys. These have provided material for HER Journey podcasts, a storytelling project that features domestic workers’ own perspectives and their advice for peers. That advice takes centre stage in the ‘Know Your Rights’ video series, which shares solutions to common labour rights violations with a larger audience.
“We’re not done yet,” says Yueyang. “Five of us are just Grade 9, so we plan to make this project live on. FDWs continue to be denied their rest day and other rights, and depression is on the rise, so we must do everything we can to raise awareness and provide support.”