Every Sunday for the past six months Wedy Yueng has opened up his gym to Hong Kong’s domestic helpers, giving them a chance to train, socialise and shrug off the stresses that have kept many away from their families for more than two years. Come Boxing Day, his new pupils will have the opportunity to test their skills in a one-day amateur tournament that is part festive, part fitness, but mostly about fun and offering much-needed community support to Filipino, Indonesian and Nepalese workers. Sunday’s event will feature around 20 fights, ranging from boxing to Muay Thai to kick-boxing. Amateur rules will apply, meaning most of the fights will be free of knee and elbow strikes. There’s no strict weight classes and participants will be matched up based on skills and experience. “It’s mostly about having fun,” Yeung, director of Muay Thai Station in Wan Chai, said. “We used to close the gym on Sundays and it was a bit of a waste. Since we opened up it’s really taken off, people come in the morning to train and then spend the day here cooking and hanging out. It’s been quite amazing.” The man behind the initiative is beloved trainer Sutaep Sathong, affectionately known around the gym as Thep. Like many of the domestic workers he now teaches, Thep has been unable to return to his home in Surin, Thailand, for almost three years. The money Thep makes from teaching and personal training goes back to his family, and the upkeep of a chicken farm he started while locked down in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong domestic helpers scaling new heights to tackle litter scourge “When we first started doing this we had only about two or three Filipino students, they had one day off and the gym was closed on Sunday so it was really difficult for them to train,” he said. “The first time we opened on Sunday we had three students, right now we have more than 200. Sometimes we don’t have enough training pads for people to use.” Sunday’s have even got so popular, that Thep now employs some of his more experienced students to help out around the gym, holding pads and getting involved in classes. “I now have five people helping me out,” Thep said. “Before they paid me to train, now I pay them to help me.” Both Thep and Yeung said having a space to train and socialise on Sundays has inspired domestic helpers to embrace fitness and promote a more positive and active lifestyle. “If the gym wasn’t open they would be just in the street drinking and hanging around, which is not too good,” Thep said. “It’s easy to get into trouble, especially around Wan Chai. This is something much more healthy. They can come in and train and cook and stay out of trouble” Yeung admits that promoting a healthy lifestyle was not what initially spurred the initiative. “For us, we didn’t think too much about that, initially it was mostly about helping Thep raise some money for his chicken farm and his family back in Thailand,” Yeung said. “But the initiative has really taken off and it’s very exciting to see.” Domestic helpers team SCC Divas win third straight Hong Kong league title For Thep, who has competed in more than 180 professional fights in Thailand, including some 50 fights at the famed Rajadamnern Stadium in Bangkok, Sunday’s have become something special, both personally and professionally. “Before I didn’t think my students could become fighters, in my mind I thought it would just be good to help them exercise every Sunday and it was something to enjoy together,” he said. “I had one student who could not even do a sit up when she first came here, but now she is joining the tournament on Sunday. She’s really fit and strong.” Thep also hopes a successful event will open up opportunities for regular tournaments and help him expand his farm and create opportunities for his family to continue working. “It was tough,” he said. “My brother’s work in Thailand closed because of the virus, and he had nothing to do besides just smoking and drinking, maybe getting into some trouble. So he takes care of the farm now. I never thought I would have a farm. “I’m lucky that my boss Wedy knows I love chicken, he helped me to start the farm and bought me my first female chicken.” Thep said one of the more positive results from the past six months have been the friendships he has made. “My students bring so much food to the gym for after training, we all sit here and eat together. Before they were my students, now they are my friends.” Sunday’s event will run from 2-6pm this Sunday, a small door fee of $50 HKD will go towards raising money to keep the gym open on Sundays and Thep’s chicken farm back in Thailand.