HONG KONG (Reuters) – Filipino women are paddling for gold in this year’s dragon boat races in Hong Kong, with one thing separating them from the competition – they are all maids, often taken for granted in the rich Chinese-ruled city, who no longer want to feel left out.
To the beat of a drum, the 29 members of the Filipino Dynamos train or compete every Sunday – their only day off each week – in the paddling ritual that has roots dating back more than 2,000 years.
The tradition brings together people from all walks of life to compete each year in colorful, long, narrow boats across the Asian financial hub’s busy waterways.
“I want to integrate the Filipino helper community and represent the domestic helper as part of Hong Kong, part of the community, and we don’t want to feel excluded,” said Liza Avelino, who founded the team last year.
“When we’re racing, there’s no employer, there’s no helper. Everyone is equal.”
Hong Kong’s more than 300,000 domestic workers come mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia and many are the main breadwinners for their families back home.
Dynamos teammate Geraldine Inabiohan, who moved to Hong Kong in 2012 to pay for her siblings’ education in the Philippines, said the group wanted to encourage women to push the boundaries.
“The objective of our team is to empower women. We want to push women like us, helpers, that we do something more,” she said.
“I think, as the season goes, we see ourselves as champions.”
This year, the Dynamos are doubling the number of races they’re competing in to six, thanks in part to funding from two sponsors.
Inabiohan credits her employer for encouraging her to try different sports two years ago. Now her room is adorned with photos of the team – and a trophy from their race last year.
“We are proud and happy that we’re representing the whole Philippines as we’re here in Hong Kong,” said Inabiohan. “We’re still giving back and proud of our country.”
Reporting By Michelle Hennessy; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie