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City Weekend

Custom-made workouts for Hong Kong domestic workers focus on fun and friends ... for free

Personal trainer ensures Sunday mornings mean fun workouts for women at Tung Chung

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 October, 2016, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 October, 2016, 4:02pm

Fitness guru Ash Joshi received a message on Facebook last year from a woman asking if he would be willing to train her and a group of friends for a discounted rate.

In his response, the owner of AJ Fitness, based in Tung Chung, agreed to help but asked what the women did for a living.

When he found out they were domestic helpers, he decided to offer the fitness classes for free.

The class is one of a number of initiatives supporting domestic workers to emerge over the years, amid growing calls for better pay and working conditions.

As previously reported, under another scheme, Splash, helpers receive free swimming lessons.

Charity Enrich offers a free drop-in “Lunch and Learn” ­session at its Queen’s Road offices for those seeking help in their financial affairs.

The Fair Employment Agency offers free recruitment services to helpers, as well as employers, in an attempt to protect workers from exploitative agency fees.

Holly Allan, manager of ­charity Helpers for Domestic Helpers, welcomes the “proliferation” of classes.

“This is also a good way [for workers] to spend their rest days as they not only learn new skills but also meet new friends,” she said.

“They can boost their confidence and self-esteem.”

Joshi’s wife and business ­partner, Hina, has been running classes for about 20 women every Sunday morning at their Tung Chung studio since late 2015.

The 38-year-old personal trainer, originally from the UK, emphasises developing a high ­intensity, aerobic workout, ­accompanied with music and a small number of props.

“These women spend all their time looking after our children, and letting us go out, so it is good to do something for their well-being,” she said.

Hina, who moved to the city with her husband and son from the Philippines in 2014, said she found the treatment of some of the 300,000 domestic workers “shocking” when she first arrived.

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She said she noticed an “appetite for fitness” among helpers when she walked around Central, and saw many of them dancing or staging their own Zumba classes.

This inspired her when she ­began developing her own classes. She said she prefers to make the workouts fun and light-hearted, rather than too focused on exercise and losing weight.

“People in these situations cannot afford gyms, so this is about promoting healthy ­lifestyles and showing you don’t need a lot of equipment to get fit,” she said.

“I feel a great sense of achievement after a lesson. Some of the women I have taught since the beginning have noticeably changed in body shape.”

Kenneth Gonzalez, 28, is a class regular. Before moving to Hong Kong five years ago, she said, she did not go out of her way to find time to exercise, except for the occasional hike. But now she enjoys running every other day.

“[This class] makes me excited to wake up in the morning,” she said. “I am full of energy. It helps me with my work, both physically and mentally.

“Most helpers just like to have a relaxing time on their day off, but for me, exercise is similar to ­relaxation. We need more classes like this.”

Joshi, who supports calls for better pay for workers and fairer working hours, hopes to expand the classes with larger sessions in Central – but needs a company to donate a venue. He also wants to hold hiking sessions for helpers.

“I can see a bigger picture and I want this to grow,” he said.