Rurwati is a beautiful, intelligent 29-year old Indonesian woman who's been living and working in Hong Kong as a domestic helper for ten years. I met her on Saturday afternoon at an anti-WTO rally in Victoria Park.
Here's the story she told me:
She's from Suribaya on the island of Java, Indonesia, and she had a baby at age 19, ten years ago. The baby's father left her before the baby was born.
Broke, depressed, and with a newborn to support, she chose the life of a maid abroad over the alternative of prostitution in Indonesia (she didn't tell me this last part, but I know it's true.)
So she came to Hong Kong to work as a domestic helper in the house of a Chinese family.
Like almost all the other 98,000 Indonesian domestics in Hong Kong, Rurwati lives in the home of her employer and works six days a week cleaning the house and doing laundry (but unlike many DH's in HK she doesn't do child care or cooking.) Her monthly salary is 3320 Hong Kong Dollars ($428 US), she has no health insurance, social security or pension or workers compensation plan, and if her employer complains about her she will be put on a plane and sent back to Indonesia.
I asked her what is her plan for her life? She slumped her shoulders and said she has no plan. She would like to open a small business at home in Indonesia. Yes, she'd be happy if a nice guy would take her away from Hong Kong to a new life somewhere else.
She had planned to spend her day off relaxing and window shopping, but a friend asked her to "help carry some supplies to the park." Being a helpful person, she was willing to change her plans and help. So it was off to Victoria Park with boxes of leaflets, armbands, snacks and bottles of water.
In the park she discovered thousands of people, including many Indonesians, at a big rally. They told her a little bit about what was happening with the rally and WTO Ministerial meeting.
Before Saturday, Rurwati had never heard of the WTO and she's never read a book about world politics or neoliberal economics. But life has been her classroom, and she instantly grasped the meaning of the WTO protests and joined in as an enthusiastic participant. She is but one of millions of migrant workers worldwide who have been victimized by an increasingly integrated global economic system that punishes the poor and weak while rewarding the rich and powerful.