Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again.
These lines from Les Miserables came to my mind yesterday as I sat in Victoria Park among my Indonesian friends. We were celebrating Idul Fitri, the breaking of Ramadan fast, and no celebration is complete without singing and performances.
They sang songs and recited poetry about how corrupt their government is and the agencies that send them, and of the pain of having to leave behind family and loved ones to pursue what they hope will be a better life. They come here so that their children will not have to. They come here so that their mothers can receive care for sickness. They come here so that family members can survive.
Yet when they arrive the dream becomes a harsh reality of agency fees, loans, abusive employers, adding up to a hard life for some and an unpleasant situation for most. They sleep on cots in the kitchen, or on the floor, or in cupboards. According to the contracts both helper and employer sign, the helper is to receive either adequate food or a food stipend. Too often they receive only noodles or rice and are expected to work hard on near-empty bellies.
Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me?
Beyond the barricade, is there a world you long to see?
Organizations like ATKI-HK, The Mission for Migrant Workers, and Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants stand with migrant workers here in Hong Kong. They provide the workers with assistance in claiming their rights and standing up as human beings in a society that does not always acknowledge them. In the mission statement for APMM it says, "We dream of a society where families are not broken up by an urgent need for survival. We dream and will actively work for a homeland where there is opportunity for everyone to live a decent and humane life." Beyond the barricade of poverty, there is a world they long to see--of living with family and loved ones in a stable society in which they can provide for their needs.
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!
I was moved as I sat listening to these women express their hearts. For all of the anguish they feel at being apart from children and families, and the hardships they endure at the hands of agencies and employers, they remain joyous. We laughed. We ate delicious food. We sang and danced. (I even judged a beauty contest with two of the other interns!) They welcomed us into their festivities and shared so much with us. Ramadan is a time when Muslims remember the poor and less fortunate by fasting and prayer, and at the end of the month they have renewed relationships with each other and with God. Idul Fitri in Indonesia is a family celebration--families gather to break the fast, say prayers, recite parts of the Quran, visit graves of the departed. Since the migrant workers are so far from home they come together in the community they share here. Though their lives are hard they still give thanks and welcome all to their tables.
I will leave you with this Psalm, a simultaneous cry to God and praise for God's steadfast love.
1 How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the LORD’s praise,
for he has been good to me.