3 children before 20 years old and abandoned by my husband

Who are you?

I am 38 years old and I come from Yogyakarta in Java, Indonesia. My father used to work as a technician and my mother was a housewife but when my father passed away she became a farmer. I am the second of six children and I have myself three children who are 24, 21 and 19 years old. I got married in 1992. We had our first child one year later, I was only 14 years old at that time and my husband 20.
My husband left me for a younger woman that he had gotten pregnant at the same time as my father passed away. Our oldest child was only 10 years old and the youngest 5 years old.

Why did you decide to become a migrant domestic worker?

I tried so many jobs in Indonesia to feed my children and give them a good education, but the salary was just not enough for me to support them. One year after my husband left me, I was offered to come working in Singapore. I was happy to accept even though I had to pay for my transportation fees, medical checkup and training in Jakarta.
I arrived in Singapore in 2004.

How did your financial situation evolve over time?

For my first contract I had to pay 6.5 months’ salary to the employment agency, but as I was transferred to another family after 9 days I had to pay for one extra month.
The second time, the same issue occurred, and I had to pay a total of 8.5 months of salary in employment agency fees (6.5 months + 2 months for transfer).
After that, I paid only $600 SGD (about 440 USD) for contracting with my 5th and 6th employers.
I support financially my mother and my 3 children. My remittances are used for their daily lives and my children education.
I managed to save $7000 SGD (5100 USD) but I used it to build my house and I have nothing left now. I haven’t yet finished building up the house as the costs keep increasing.

Can you please tell us about your life as a domestic worker? How difficult was it to adjust to your new life?

It was really difficult at first because I missed a lot my children and my mother. I was also surprised by the differences of lifestyle and shocked by the way I was treated by my first employers.

I could not manage to stay for more than 9 days with my first employers because they were really mean with me, always shouting at me.

My second employers (Chinese) were good. I looked after their 3 children (2 boys  and 1 girl) and completed my 2 year contract with them. However, I had no day off and was not allowed to have a phone. They also forbade me to speak to anyone outside of the family. What was really hard is that one day I heard that my ex-husband had kidnapped our youngest son and I could not do anything about it.

One my friends working nearby had heard the news from our village. As I was not allowed to speak to anyone she hid a secret note outside and made some noise to indicate it to me. I didn’t dare telling my employers. They wanted to renew my contract, but could not give me a leave so, I decided to go back home to take care of my children. I went to see my ex-husband and it broke my heart when my son told me that he was not going to school, but was asked instead to do house chores like cooking, sweeping the floor, washing the clothes…He was not allowed to eat with the others, but only from their leftovers. My ex-husband would not let me leave with him, but I managed to take him and leave with him in the middle of the night. After 4 months in Indonesia I had no more money, so I had to go back working in Singapore. I made sure my son was well protected from my ex-husband. Only my mother was allowed to pick him up from school and I explained the situation to our neighbours, the school principal and my son’s teacher.

I only stayed 6 months with my next employer. So many things were not right. My employer (the wife) would lock me inside each time she stepped out.

She was asking me to do all the week’s laundry in one hour only including folding and putting back the clothes in the cabinets. I was allowed to take one shower daily but she would stand in front of the door with an alarm clock and after 7 minutes she would scream and bang at the door. She was a housewife and she was behaving very differently with me when her husband and children were home. I asked her husband to send me back to the agency as I was scared of her and worried she may be aggressive towards me.

After that I stayed with my 4th employers for 6 years. I still had no day off, but they would me bring me with them when they were going on holiday to look after the younger children. They were there to help if I had any family issue and gave me 2 weeks leave to go home every 2 years. I did not renew my contract with them though because I wanted to have two Sundays off per month to go to school (www.aidha.org – financial education for domestic workers).
My 5th employers were an expat family. I had all my Sundays and public holidays off and they supported me going to Aidha. After 3 years they moved out of Singapore and I’ve been working for 1.5 year for a couple, looking after their baby while they work.

So many difficult things happened to me in Singapore, but I feel blessed as it gave me more strength and I learnt how to handle people with different personalities.

I am happy to be a domestic worker now as I get to learn a lot of things I would have never known in my country.

What do you like, don’t like about your employers? Any advice to give to employers in general?

I want to ask employers to respect us and not to expect us to do things they cannot even do themselves.

We already take care of the house during the entire week so on Sunday it is not nice when employers ask us to tidy up the house when we come back because they messed up everything especially the kitchen.

I am grateful and really appreciate that my employers let me pray every day, bring me on holiday with them and celebrate my birthday.

What I don’t like is to be on 24-hour standby, over-supervision and curfew on the day off.

There is one thing I secretly think but I would never dare telling my employers is not to throw their dirty undies everywhere and let me pick them up.

What is your favourite activity on a day off?

Volunteer. Help and motivate people in difficulty.

How would you to describe yourself?

I am scared to break people trust. I’m an easy going person and I always try to be positive.

What are your dreams and hopes for the future?

I wish I can finish building my house and have my own business in my country.

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Interviewed in October 2017 and edited by Marie Kretz Di Meglio

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