One down, one to go…

Day six of the conference marathon.  I’m averaging about 3-4 hours of sleep a night.  The days are so non-stop that I often forget to drink anything.  It has been raining without release, but it has done nothing to dampen the spirits of the conferencees.  (yes, I just made up a new word I’m pretty sure) 

The IMA was an amazing success.  Over 100 grassroots organizations were present, 35 countries represented, with 69 voting delegates and a 15 person executive committee formed.  The chairperson is a personal friend of mine, a colleague and only 6 months older than me.  She is 27 years old and the chairperson of the world’s first International Migrant’s Alliance!  What an honor for her and a blessing for the body she will serve in!  Congratulations to Eni! 

With the founding of a new Alliance, especially one as historical and ground-breaking as this one, there is much to do.  The Constitution has to be written, revised, rewritten, voted on, discussed, re-voted on and adopted.  There are are resolutions to accept, committees to elect, issues to establish.  It could have been easy to get lost in the details.  I won’t lie, there were times that it the afternoon teetered on oblivion in nuances, but someone always drew the group back in to what was important; the first ever alliance of migrants worldwide.  All the details, suggestions, revisions and votes, led to an Alliance grounded and bound by the need to assert their rights, fight imperialist regimes that keep their nations in poverty and force migration, and find strength in solidarity.  There were moments that I couldn’t keep from tearing up.  I was privy to witness something so amazing, so beautiful.  Strength, determination, loyalty, determination.  Hope in its rawest form. 

“For many years, many have spoken on our behalf.  This time, we will speak for ourselves.” ~Eni Lestari.  I’m glad I was hear to listen.

Let the Conferencing begin!!

I’m here at the beautiful Wu Kwai Sha YMCA Youth Village – surrounded by the mountains and water.  Everything out here is green.  And wet.  Its raining again, of course.  But everyone is excited, and indescribably busy, preparing to kick off our first conference tomorrow, the IMA, to be followed on the 17th by ILPS.  I’ll try and update as I can.  Since I’ve already given a brief overview of what IMA will be, browse this link to learn a little more about ILPS until I can update again!

How I celebrated Tuen Ng

Have I mentioned that one of the things Hong Kong does really well is holidays?  There are 12 statutory or public holidays throughout the year, though there are something like 23 celebrated holidays. (In Hong Kong, celebrated holidays warrant fireworks, festivals and/or parades.) Today was the Tuen Ng Festival, also known as the Dragon Boat Festival.  Apparently they race some boats with dragons on them, some guy beats a drum, and everyone cheers for a boat.  Or something like that. 

I chose to forgo standing in the masses of people, and to sleep in today – a rarity for me that I always enjoy.  When I woke up this morning, er, afternoon, I was beyond surprised and excited to find that it was sunny!!  We are full force in the rainy season here.  Sunday was the first day it hadn’t rained in 17 days.  17 straight days of rain.  Ridiculous.  And even though it didn’t rain yesterday, it was overcast and threatening all day.  So to wake up to sunshine this morning was a complete thrill.

I called up my friends Kate and Joe and we planned to meet out in their area, out in the New Territories in Sai Kung, for a short hike and an afternoon at the beach.  The hike wasn’t to strenuous, just muddy.  There were some incredible views of Sai Kung Bay and the three of us couldn’t get over the fact that there was sun.  Butterflies galore joined us on the hike.  Kate informed us that butterflies only come out when the air is clear.  After 17 ridiculous days of rain, the air was certainly clear.  And warm.  We have been feeling the draining effects of humidity for months now, but today was among the first of many warm days.  It felt great to be out enjoying it all. 

When we finally crest the last hill and descended down towards the beach, we were met with the overwhelming smell of ketchup.  As we walked onto the beach we joined Filipina groups enjoying a rare day off in addition to their regular rest day, old men grilling chicken wings and burgers, children flapping their floatie clad arms in glee, and teenagers blaring their radios.  Hong Kong boasts an absurd number of men in speedos.  They really take away from the beach scenery.  Which, aside from the scantily clothed Asian men, is breath-taking.  A beach surrounded by green mountains.  Beautiful.  That is, until you step up to the water and see that it is yellow.  Junk boats roaring beyond the shark-safety net emit tons of exhaust directly into the water with every trip to and from the harbour carrying the beach passengers.  We chose not to swim, but did cool our feet off for a little while in the water.  Then we laid out our blankets and sarongs and enjoyed the wine, bread and cheeses Joe had packed away for our beach adventure.  Our little dixie cups dug snugly in the sand to keep from tipping, we each turned to our respective books; Linguistic history for Joe, Stephen King for Kate and Nature Conservation for me.  It was a wonderfully relaxing afternoon. 

Trying to beat the setting sun, we packed up our belongings and went back the way we came, finding ourselves in the town square of Sai Kung for a wonderful dinner.  Our salads were incredible and hit the spot; fresh cucumbers, avocado, tender chicken, egg, spinach leaves, cherry tomatoes (which I picked out and piled on Joe’s plate) and a tasty, but not too heavy, honey-mustard-balsamic dressing.  The water they served was among the best I’ve ever tasted, with hints of mint, lemon and strawberries.  So refreshing.  After dinner we walked along the harbour looking for ice cream, which ironically could only be found in the 7-11. 

I didn’t see any dragons.  Or hear any drums.  Or cheer for a boat.  But I am am definitely a big fan of the Tuen Ng Festival holiday!!

 <— Sai Kung Harbour view along the hike

 <—- Trio Beach (please notice the little girl along the shore really excited about something)

And one to grown on….

17.  As in, in the course of my lifetime, I’ve had 17 room/suite/housemates.  17.  On Saturday, the number changes to 18.  Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome contestant Number 18! 

We are receiving three new volunteers at the Shelter, all Indonesians, to help with translating and case loads.  We are SO incredibly excited to be receiving more help – it could not come at a better time.  One of the volunteers will only be staying a couple of months, but as far as I know, the other two will be here for awhile.  And one of them, Vonnie, is my new roommate.  While I am excited to have some company around, and happy to share what little (did I mention my entire flat is maybe 350 sqft?) space I have, it is certainly going to be an adjustment.  I have lived on my own for 9 months now.  Living alone as a new experience for me, and one that, quite frankly, I have enjoyed very much.  I love that I can practically live in my PJs, that I can sing along with my ipod while doing dishes and not worry about the number of times I hit my snooze button bothering the person in the next room over.  At the same time, there are days that its really lonely.  Days that I need to come home and have someone to decompress with.  So it will be really nice to have someone who knows my job and will understand what a bad day means.  Pros or Cons – she’ll be here Saturday. 

I’d like to think that I have a pretty good track record with my roommates.  I keep in somewhat regular contact with more than half of the group, and 4 of them are people that I consider among my absolute closest and dearest friends in the world.  So I’m not worried about getting along with someone new.  At the same time, I’m not expecting a new best friend. 

But let me just say, 2 people, 350 sqft, and a 4 minute hot water heater, just sounds like the makings of some comedy sitcom.

The summer of conferences

This month, Hong Kong will host two major Human Rights conferences.  Our offices have been crazy for months preparing to help host these two events – coordinating everything from housing, to speakers, to food, to visa issues and more.  The conferences will be held back to back, and it promises to be an exhausting week.  But there is also a buzz of excitment, particularly over the first event. 

The International Migrants Alliance (IMA) will be holding its Founding Assembly June 14-16.  This is the “First-ever global alliance of grassroots associations, organizations, unions, networks and alliances of migrant workers, immigrants, refugees and displaced peoples.” (quote from the IMA email list) It will be a time for all of these organizations to gather for the first time and present the issues that affect Migrants worldwide, and offer solutions of how to unify and stand up for their rights.  This has the makings of a historical event, and I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of it all!  (see the post below for the most recent press release regarding the IMA event) 

 

Press Release

“Now we will speak for ourselves”
Grassroots migrants set to launch global formation in June

“For many years, many have spoken on our behalf. This time, we will speak for ourselves.”

This was declared by Eni Lestari, spokesperson of the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB-HK) as migrant workers in Hong Kong and in other countries gear up for the founding assembly of the International Migrants Alliance or IMA on June 15 and 16 in Hong Kong. Lestari is one of the lead convener’s of the IMA representing the Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers (ATKI) in Hong Kong.

Already 121 individuals from 97 organizations and 24 countries have confirmed their participation in this historic event.

Other conveners of IMA include the Turkish group called ATIK-Europe; Migrante-Canada, Migrante-Europe; Migrante International in the Philippines; May 1st Coalition for Immigrant Rights-USA; PhillForum-USA; and TENAGANITA  Malaysia.

Lestari relayed that the presence of a vibrant movement of migrant workers in Hong Kong played part in the decision to hold the IMA assembly in the said territory.

“Successful campaigns were launched by migrant workers in Hong Kong and the migrant movement here is considered as one of the biggest and most active in the world. Hong Kong is one of the focal points when it comes to the gravity of the migrants’ situation and migrants’ resistance,” she added.

There are about 250,000 migrant workers in Hong Kong and almost 90% of them are women working as domestic workers.

The upcoming assembly will be hosted by migrant organizations under the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB-HK) as well as some NGOs in Hong Kong including the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM), the Mission for Migrant Workers or MFMW and the Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge (BHMWR).

Meanwhile, Teresa Gutierrez of the May 1st Coalition in the USA relayed that the IMA was conceptualized due to the perceived need of creating a formation in the world that can represent people living and working in countries other than their home ones and create a common platform for them.

“To date, there are around 200 million migrant workers present almost every country in the world. They came mostly from countries beset with economic and political problems and they work in countries that are relatively well-developed. Despite the different countries of origin or sectors where they can be found, the common concerns on their situation in the host countries as well as with issues related to why they are forced to migrate exist,” she added.

Sixty per cent of the world’s migrants are to be found in developed regions. Most of the world’s migrants reside in Europe (64 million), Asia (53 million) and Northern America (44 million). Almost one of every 10 persons living in the more developed regions is a migrant.

Connie Bragas-Regalado of Migrante International in the Philippines mentioned that among the topics up for discussion in the founding assembly include issues on wage, remittance, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) Mode 4, the war on terror and its impacts to migrant workers, on undocumented migrants, on women and violence, health and HIV/AIDS and other far-reaching social costs of forced migration.

Renowned advocate for the rights of migrants and Right Livelihood Award recipient Dr. Irene Fernandez shall keynote the event.

Regalado said that some of the upcoming programs of the IMA as soon as it is established is on the coming second Global Forum on Migration and Development to be hosted by the Philippine government in October as well as the advancement for the recognition of domestic work as work and thus entitled to the rights of workers indicated in various international conventions.

“The GFMD is a clear example of how governments talk about migrants and migration without taking into serious account the sentiments of the workers themselves,” she added.
 
Regalado reported that participating organizations in the IMA are also making preparations to confront the coming GFMD in Manila. She said that they will make sure that the GFMD in Manila shall not only hear those speaking for migrants but the sentiments of the migrants themselves.

“The time for the grassroots migrants, immigrants, refugees and other displaced people has arrived. The IMA shall make sure that their voices will never be discounted again,” Regalado concluded