After many years of ongoing leadership in the domestic workers movement, Ai-jen Poo ’92 returned to Andover to accept the Claude Moore Fuess Award, Andover’s highest distinction.
The Fuess Award commemorates Claude Fuess, who served Andover for more than 40 years as an instructor and as the tenth Head of School. Established in 1964, the Fuess Award is given to graduates who embody Non Sibi by making distinguished contributions to public service.
Students had the opportunity to hear Poo speak at All-School Meeting (ASM) about her personal motivations for embodying Non Sibi ideals and her contributions to the domestic workers movement. Currently serving as the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, an organization that empowers domestic workers to serve as their own advocates, Poo is also the co-director of Caring Across Generations, an organization campaigning for public policies that will benefit both the elderly and their caretakers. From early on in her childhood, Poo’s close relationship with her grandparents was a source of constant moral support and guidance.
“I come from an immigrant family and had the great gift of growing up with my grandparents. From my grandmother, I learned how to appreciate and cultivate laughter. From my grandfather, I learned hard work and discipline,” said Poo during her presentation.
Poo was motivated to fight for the rights of domestic workers after experiencing firsthand the importance of a strong system of support for both domestic workers and the families and individuals they care for.
“After my grandfather turned 90, his vision and other functions deteriorated. My father was unable to find appropriate home care support for him and had to place him in a nearby nursing home against his wishes… My grandfather’s bed was in a dark room with half a dozen other people. It smelled of mold and illness. Though he was alive enough to tell me he was afraid, I knew he was dying inside,” said Poo.
“On the other hand, my maternal grandmother is still alive, and she just turned 90. She’s living life on her terms. Mrs. Sun is the home care worker who looks after my grandmother. My uncles and my mom do a lot for my grandmother, but none of us can imagine our lives without Mrs. Sun’s support,” she continued.
Poo recognized the impact her grandmother’s caregiver had on her family’s life, yet finds that domestic work is still the most underappreciated work in the economy today.
“What could be more important than caring for the people who cared for us? And yet it’s among some of the most undervalued work in our economy today. There are no standards, no guidelines, nothing mediating the relationship. It’s the kind of job that’s not even seen as a real job,” said Poo.
Poo related her struggle for representation for caregivers and domestic workers to the Non Sibi ideals instilled in her during her time at Andover.
“Working with caregivers has reinforced for me the spirit of Non Sibi that I learned here at Andover. Domestic workers and caregivers embody in their work the spirit of not for self. They go to work every day and support the dignity and well-being of others. There is something uniquely human about caring and doing for others. It is what makes us human,” said Poo.
Poo described how her time at Andover further impacted her mindset towards community engagement.
“In doing Non Sibi we become the people we were always meant to be… I was always afforded so many opportunities here to connect, to do community service, to get involved on campus, [and] to do things that expressed the different ways that I cared about the world around me and other people, and I think those opportunities completely shaped how I see the world and what I chose to do,” said Poo in an exclusive interview with The Phillipian.
Poo’s optimism and drive come from her experiences in her nonprofit work as well.
“I have watched over and over again, how a group of people who care about the same things, and care about each other, come together with a plan and a vision,” said Poo. “It’s been at the heart and soul of every major social movement that has brought progress to this country. And we can start today.”