HONG KONG - A Filipino physician and researcher at the University of Hong Kong was among those recently recognized at the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong's Women of Influence Awards 2019.
Dr. Michael Manio, founder and program director of EmpowerU, was recognized as a Champion for the Advancement of Women, sharing the spotlight with seven women awardees noted in their respective fields in education, entrepreneurship, health, and STEM, among others.
EmpowerU, formerly known as Domestic Worker Empowerment Project, is a nonprofit educational and empowerment platform that offers free courses to domestic workers in CPR and AED training, law, business and finance, entrepreneurship and leadership, science and environmental studies, and public speaking, to name a few.
The course costs HK$1000, but domestic workers pay only HK$500 (P3,000) for six months of training thanks to a HK$500 subsidy from EmpowerU. Some employers also offer to pay for the courses for their helpers.
The Women of Influence Awards, which is in its 16th year, was part of the Chamber's day-long conference with the theme "Insights from the Edge, Pushing Boundaries and Unconventional Thinking".
One of the domestic worker enrollees who came to show support for Manio at the awards was Susan Lorio, an OFW who has been in Hong Kong for 26 years. Lorio said EmpowerU has helped boost her confidence because of its multi-cultural setting.
"I met a lot of people dito sa programa na to 'di lang kagaya kong OFW, so iba-iba mga stado ng tao o nationality nakakasalamuha ko as a volunteer and mentor of EmpowerU. Sa Ngayon nag e-enjoy pa ako sa EmpowerU. By after one year, mag g-graduate na kami. Hindi natin alam mas bukas makalawa mag foforgood na amo ko at least ready ako," said Lorio.
For Gegerma Montero, a domestic worker of 7 years, and who was also present at the event, Dr. Manio's organization helped change her life.
"Nabago yung buhay ko about sa EmpowerU dahil mahiyain talaga ako dati. Ngayon parang wala na akong hiya," she laughed.
"Ang important lessons yung mga mostly is the how to manage the finances. Yes, that is the main thing for me. Marami akong natutunan sa financial, how to manage and make savings. Na-apply ko, especially cost-cutting," said Montero.
Colleen Navarro, an OFW of 16 years, said the platform helped boost her confidence, gave her the opportunity to connect with different mindsets, and taught her how to talk to others with differing opinions.
"And with regard to financials, marami, as in. You learn how to say no to your family kasi every time..'yes..tita...mommy may problema.' But you know, you need to also save for yourself. So it's one of the reasons why natuto ako mag say 'no'," said Navarro.
Navarro said she also enjoyed the sessions on laws and rights for helpers, who after often looked down upon in Hong Kong society.
She encouraged domestic workers OFWs to speak up if they feel their rights are being trampled on.
"(Pag) yung karapatan mo naaano, naaapakan, klangan mo ilaban yon. kailangan mong panindigan na ganito. Hindi yung lagi ka nalang inaapakan komo sabihin nila OFW, katulong ka. Hanggang dyan ka nalang. One of the visions of EmpowerU (is) hindi ka lang katulong, hindi ka lang hanggang diyan," Navarro told ABS-CBN News.
During his acceptance speech, Manio was applauded by more than 150 participants.
He thanked those who nominated and supported him, and ended his speech by saying he was there as a representative of the over 300,000 foreign domestic workers in the city.
"All I wanted when I came to HK was to study for my PhD in vascular medicine so I could use this knowledge, that I could go back to our country and reach out to more people," Manio told ABS-CBN News.
But he said he found a higher purpose in helping uplift the lives of Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong.
Also honored during the event were Puja Kapai, Associate Professor of Law and Convenor of the University of Hong Kong's Women Studies Research Center; Irene Lee, executive chairman at Hysan Development Company Limited; Geetanjali Dhar, founder and director, Sanskriti Global; Katie de Tilly, founder and director at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery; Dr. Judith Longstaff Mackay, senior policy advisor, WHO and senior advisor, vital strategies at Bloomberg Initiative; Dr. Cathy Lui, CEO, OPER Technology Limited, and an alumna of Hong Kong Baptist University; Professor Nancy Ip, vice president for research and development at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.