Mentors’ takeaways from HK mentorship programme

June 14, 2022
Category: Capacity Building | PowerUp Campaign

As we turn our focus to capacity building, we spoke to our Hong Kong mentors who supported our participants: Julianne Chan (solicitor, Simmons & Simmons), Benjamin Chan (barrister) and Sakshi Buttoo (foreign registered lawyer, RPC).

Here’s what they took away from the programme.

How they started with JWB

Benjamin Chan: I attended a workshop organized by JWB on civil claims for workers. There was a questionnaire that we were asked to fill out, and I expressed my interest in becoming a volunteer. Then one day in 2019, I received a request from JWB.

Julianne Chan: I trained with Simmons and Simmons and during my training contract with the employment team, I was placed on some pro bono cases of JWB. I told the firm that I wanted to continue working on these cases, despite switching out to other teams as part of my training. The firm was very kind to allow it so I kept on doing that throughout my entire training contract, and subsequently also in a personal capacity as a mentor to JWB community paralegals. 

Sakshi Buttoo: I am a litigation lawyer, qualified in England and Wales and when I arrived in Hong Kong, I didn’t have any work. So I actually volunteered at JWB full-time for a small time whilst I was job hunting. Now, I am a registered foreign lawyer with RPC and my work with JWB has continued through the firm on a pro bono basis and on a personal level too.

How JWB’s mentorship course developed

BC: The mentees are very passionate about helping others. They also have knowledge to help the workers in relation to their work problems. I thus felt that the role of the mentors would be more like a support role, rather than someone who actually leads the worker, because I didn’t believe that the workers needed to be led when they are actually very self-motivated. 

BC:  The main core of the mentorship program is actually the coaching sessions. I think through that process, a relationship was developed between the mentees and mentors. 

I think a lot of the learning itself was created through that interactive process. These mentees don’t necessarily have a lot of time to read, as they are very busy. In my group, we didn’t spend a lot of time reading material, but just took the opportunity to really practice.

SB: It was quite fun doing it because it’s not only about teaching but also the soft skills, like how to speak with someone who’s just gone through something terrible. It was a learning curve for all of us actually.

Everyone’s commitment to the programme

SB: Our mentees are probably the most hardworking people I’ve ever met in my life. As full time domestic workers, they are the first to wake up in the morning, and just work continuously until they go to bed. And then on their only rest day, they’re giving up their time to volunteer again. It’s just absolutely inspiring and very humbling that we have people like that in society. That is a real credit to Hong Kong, actually. I’ve definitely learned a bit of work ethic from them.

JC: The mentees face personal time constraints yet they still show up early in the morning on a Sunday, sometimes at eight or nine am for the mentorship programme. How much they’re willing to commit just speaks volumes about their passion to learning and their dedication towards serving their communities.

BC: People at JWB are also always so committed, and so driven. It’s really refreshing because in my other professional world, it’s not always like that.

Their mentees’ improved confidence

SB: I think they gathered a lot more confidence in themselves. They just needed to be reassured that they had it within them. 

BC: I have a group of mentees with different degrees of experience in terms of advising workers and what I detected was there is a spirit of camaraderie developed over time. They really helped each other out and there was one who was distinctly less experienced, and I really got to see how she gained confidence over time. 

JC:  The level of skill really varies amongst the group, but a common development is their improved confidence, to feel that: “I am able to talk to someone systematically, if someone comes to me with a problem.” Confidence is so important to community work because it’s about people engagement. 

What else the mentees learned

JC: A sense of community, and how they can be agents of change in a marginalised segment of society. For them to be able to voice out and fight for their rights and believe that they are leaders with the ability to facilitate the entire community to think about these issues. I think their access to professionals and locals who could assist would really help build solidarity and for them to feel supported as part of Hong Kong.

SB: It is so important to ensure that migrant domestic workers  know their rights, because without that knowledge, you don’t know how to go about asking for the right things from your employer, or even how to feel about something that’s happened to you. Because you might think ‘Oh well, actually, maybe that’s just what’s done here and I’m just going to get on with it,’ But if you know according to the law, that’s not right, your mindset has changed. The mentees are in a very lucky position where they have found out more information than most and now they’re able to act on it. That’s not the same for everyone.

What the mentors took away from the programme

JC:  The issues faced by foreign domestic workers were not ones I am personally familiar with prior to working with JWB. The alienation of the group is very much institutionalised and normalised in society. Working with JWB has given me a renewed perspective of the realities of the city, and I hope to continue to learning with and serving the group. On a personal level, having the opportunity to work with JWB at the start of my legal career and engage with these social justice issues is immensely meaningful.

BC: Better understanding the world in which our mentees live is almost invaluable. I am perhaps like a journalist. I’m also interested in their way of seeing the world. I think it was just through our conversations here and there while we were in session, I think I have gained some personal insight into the world from which they came before. The experience for me as a mentor is rich and very wholesome. That’s how I have a fuller picture of the group .

SB: Hong Kong doesn’t function without its migrant domestic workers, who are really like the backbone of society here because they’re supporting so many families, but it’s not always necessarily the case that they are afforded the respect they deserve for that work. There’s a disconnect there. That is very obvious as soon as you arrive. That’s something that I was happy to help with. Because I just think that every single person in Hong Kong should be respected wherever they’re from or what they’re doing.

Some responses have been condensed for clarity.

By Jonathan White, PR Volunteer @JWB

The PowerUp Campaign features how JWB scales up its impact through building capacity with our allies. Our partners, including mentors, mentees, funders and frontline organization leaders, came together to share their experiences in our capacity building programs. We also look ahead to how we continue to scale up our impact to ensure that access to justice is as mobile as migrant workers.