A hard shell but soft inside

Who are you?

I am Filipina. I come from Baguio City, in the north. I went to university and graduated with a degree in tourism. I am 32 years old and I am currently working in Singapore.  I have one son and I am a single mother. My parents are still alive and retired. I have 2 older brothers, one has 3 kids (1 boy and 2 girls) and the other has 6 (4 boys and 2 girls), and an older sister who is single. We are a big family, but we are not very close because of the long distance and the lack of communication.

1 sentence to describe yourself?

I have a tough shell but I am surely soft inside.

Why did you decide to become a migrant domestic worker?

In my country some people say it’s the easiest way to get a job. But I was so young and the first time, I was the victim of a scam. I was supposed to go to Dubai, but I never got the visa. After that, I was able to go to Hong Kong. I have worked for the same family for 7 years; 6 years in Hong Kong and now one in Singapore as my employers moved there.

Can you tell us more about the scam?

Yes, we knew an agent through a cousin, but this was not a legal agent. This woman was sending people to work abroad with a tourist visa! On top of that, she used the money I gave her for my visa for someone else and I never managed to get my money back.

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

It has been difficult but I need to keep going on and keep fighting. I miss my son and my family. As a domestic worker, you encounter many difficulties: your relationship with your partner that is strained, problems at work, discrimination from the community… However, I find this experience exciting, it gave me new opportunities and I found myself a passion in cooking! It makes me feel happy and gives me ideas for what to do when I will go back to my country for good.

How did your financial situation evolve over time?

Honestly, I haven’t finished paying back my debts. I financially support my parents, my son and sometimes my nephew for his school fees. Every month, I send money to them and I pay the social security system. I try to save half of my salary every month for my little business.

Are there some advice you want to give to all employers? What do you like/don’t like about your employers?

Advice to all employers: just be kind. What I like about my employers is that they are very kind and they surprise me on my birthday. Moreover, I often go with them on holiday, so I’ve been to places I would have never been able to go by myself!

Is there something you secretly think but don’t dare asking or say to your employer?

Sometimes they forget to give me my salary and it is embarrassing to ask them (laugh).

What do you when you make a mistake at work (e.g. breaking something)? And how would like your employer to react when you make a mistake?

I just tell them and apologize, hoping that they won’t be angry.

What is your favourite activity on a day off?

I have one day off a week, but I can also go out in the evening if I want… I enjoy walking in the streets and taking pictures. I started with my smartphone and now I have a real camera. I take pictures all the time. I am thinking about doing it professionally, commercial or fashion photography, but I need to upgrade my skills first. The only downside is that my phone drives me crazy as I have more than 9000 pictures on there now! I also enjoy learning new things. I took photography classes but what we learned was so easy and basic that you could learn it by watching YouTube videos… However, this was a good way to meet people. I also attended baking decoration classes at ACMI Tao Payoh. I want to learn as many things as I can.

Here are some pictures I took.

For you, happiness is….

a choice.

What are your dreams and hope for the future?

Within 3 to 5 years I would like to have my own café or restaurant in the Philippines and be there to educate my son myself.  He is getting bigger and I need to be there for him. In order to make my dream come true, I just enrolled in a micro-entrepreneurship class at Aidha with some friends. I love it!

Did you do other financial education programs before?

Yes, I started in Hong Kong and it really opened my mind that I need to start saving and prepare for my future. I also joined an online class at Uplifters, Dare to Dream that further motivated me to invest in my education. Since I am in Singapore, I also attended seminars and explored opportunities to invest in cooperatives in the Philippines. But I am still eager to learn and challenge myself.

Interviewed by Marie Kretz Di Meglio and Chloé Bothorel – April 18

Edited by Hannah Weldon

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