Balance on a Shoestring is Enrich’s annual fundraising challenge where we ask participants to live on a migrant domestic worker’s budget for five days. Participants get an unique insight to the everyday lives of migrant domestic workers and raise funds to support Enrich Financial and Empowerment Education Programmes. Toby is a banker at BNP Paribas, he shares his reflections from the challenge:
Over the course of the ‘Balance on a Shoestring Challenge,’ any time someone asked me how it was going, my reaction was always the same: I raised my eyebrows, shook my head and muttered, “Woah man, it’s really tough.”
This was my default answer, but only when the challenge was over did I fully realise how tough it was. At first it was tough as a kind of “it’s a good excuse to go on a crash diet” type of tough that my waistline had hoped for. It was tough too for awhile in the “swapping my Pret Sandwich lunches for Dai Pai Dong soups” kind of way too. But ultimately, I only realised how tough it was when the over-whelming brutal smash of realism hit me post-challenge on Friday night.
When the challenge was all done and over, and as I was feeling very pleased with my philanthropy, it struck me that I’d actually failed the challenge. Yes, I’d survived a week of hell, but the game wasn’t to survive it was to balance. For five days, I’d salvaged, begged and scraped my way through each day looking for handout dinners and charity biscuits. When I should have taken stock each day and tried to understand how it would be to live a life on this budget every day. I didn’t take part in the daily budget predicaments. By my calculations, I just couldn’t put aside money to “save for an emergency fund” or “pay for a phone card.” It was my breakfast money, and without it I’d be wiped out.
Yet, domestic workers face these exact money dilemmas constantly. For them, it’s their lives, and families and futures at stake. For me, it was a bit of fun to raise awareness for a necessary cause. My domestic worker alter-ego, had no need for long term goals, nor future plans either for myself or my family. All I was focused on was getting to the end of Friday intact. It was literally all I could stomach.
So, as I contemplated my failure, the whole thing suddenly seemed completely unfair to me. These extraordinary women shape our lives, and our children’s lives. They look after our homes and after us, making our lives that much easier so that we can live them for ourselves. All the while, they have had to leave their children, husbands, and loved ones behind. They travelled hundreds of miles to a foreign land. And all for what? For a better life for their families? How can that ever be achieved when they arrive here crippled with recruitment debt and left with no support to manage their finances?
The BOS challenge showed me just how near impossible those dreams are to materialise. I’ve now experienced trying to get by on their salary for just a few days, and I wouldn’t blame any of these women for a single second, if they decided like me, to just do what they need to do, to get by. And yet – these women selflessly sacrifice so much of their own lives in hopes for the lives of their loved ones and their future.
By definition, a ‘sacrifice’ is not a ‘sacrifice’ unless it brings some reward. But to get to that reward, we, as employers and friends, need to step in. These women have helped us live our lives the way we want and it is not too much to ask to help them remember the reward that they are working towards – a brighter and more financially stable future with their families. When the pennies are shy, the instinctive and easiest option is to push saving plans to the bottom of the priority pile. But we can support them on this journey, equipping them with the tools they need and help them realise the rewards of their sacrifice.
By Toby Rolfe, Enrich supporter
Learn more about the Balance on a Shoestring Challenge: here. Get involved – empower a migrant woman with skills to save, budget, and plan for a future with greater financial security.
2017 is Enrich’s 10 Anniversary year. For 10 years we have been educating and empowering migrant domestic workers to change the ways they and their families manage money to achieve a more financially stable future. Join us as we reach our next 10,000: here.
– This post has been updated in February 2017