Swimming in dark waters

“It was almost 21 years ago when I made one of the most difficult decisions in my life; to leave my 9-month old daughter and go to Hong Kong to work and look after children which were not even mine.

I was 20 years old when I started working as a domestic worker. I was a single mother and decided to leave my daughter in my mother’s care. It was so difficult to do.

Coming here in Hong Kong meant having to miss seeing my daughter grow and I was not able to see a lot of “firsts” in her early life. But I didn’t have a lot of choices back then to choose from. I didn’t finish college and my daughter’s father left me for another woman three weeks before I gave birth. So, leaving home for Hong Kong meant I could provide for my daughter and give her a better life.

It was June 1997 when I arrived here and started working for my employer, who is also a single mother, along with her three children. It was hard, especially with the thought that I just left my baby who was only 9 months old to come here and to look after other children. It broke my heart, but I did it for my daughter. I did it to give her a better future. Working as a domestic helper and as a mother is never easy. But it also became my source of strength to endure the pain and loneliness. Even though I was away from my daughter, I did my best to be a good mother to her. I try to still be in my daughter’s life through telephone calls, snail mails and now video chats.

Last year, for her graduation, my employer gave an important gift not only for my daughter but for me as well, she booked a flight for my daughter to come visit me in Hong Kong and even booked us a hotel room for three nights for us to bond! After three nights staying at the hotel, she let my daughter stay in the house. During my daughter’s stay in my employer’s house, I showed her my daily life as a domestic worker, so she could understand more about my work and why I had to leave her when she was young. I showed her the things I have to do to provide a better life and future for her. Little did I know, while my daughter was with us here in Hong Kong, she and my employer talked about me and my future too. Both of them decided that it is time for me to go home, to be a mother to my daughter and to live a “normal” life.

I am now finishing the remaining eleven months of my contract and have another surprise awaiting for me. I was informed by my employer and her children that they are booking me and my daughter a flight to Singapore as a thank you gift and a way to mark my new journey; a journey away from the life of being a domestic worker and a journey towards being with my daughter.

Life as a domestic worker is like swimming in dark waters. When we decide to leave our home and family back home to look for a greener pasture, we don’t know what awaits us and what situations we will be facing. However, if we set a goal and work hard to achieve it, little by little we will reach that goal. Based on my experience, that goal, which is to give a better life to my daughter, serves as a light guiding me while I swim in dark waters.”

Interviewed by Leeh Ann in 2018. Photo: ©Leeh Ann.

Edited by Marie Kretz Di Meglio

Escaped sexual harassment

“Back in 2010 I felt like I was living in a jail, I couldn’t go out except to wash the car and take the groceries out of the car. I was only allowed to sleep after all the clothes had been washed, and all had to be washed by hand. For breakfast, I had 3 biscuits and a cup of coffee. I would get my salary every 2 months, although for 8 months I had salary deductions to pay back the employment agency, so I only got $10. I couldn’t communicate with my family for 6 months. When I told them that I wanted to call home, they said they didn’t know how to do international calls to my country.
Actually, I wasn’t working for my real employer. He was the one giving me my salary, but I was working for his brother. They arranged that I would live with him and take care of their elderly mother. The couple that I was living with was an old Singaporean man and his wife, an Indonesian lady. She would act like a high class Singaporean Malay lady when she was speaking to me, although she was from the same country and even province of Central Java as me. In front of his wife the old man was very quiet and he didn’t talk much. But when she wasn’t around, he was so rude to me.
After 7 months working there, I got red pocket money for Chinese New Year and I received about $200. I managed to buy a phone after asking one of my friends to help me buy the cheapest phone. I called my family and I told them I am fine, everything is good, I am strong enough, “Commander must be strong”. My father used to call me “Commander” because of my behavior as a leader when we were helping our parents. Madam didn’t know that I had a phone until one night she caught me while I was on the line. She scolded me, she said that she had told me before ‘no phone allowed’ but I answered that it was not written in my contract, so I was allowed to buy a phone. I told her the reason why I bought the phone was because she did not allow me to call my family and she even rejected an incoming call from my family. She didn’t reply, and everything went back to normal for a while.
They went twice on holiday and they used to send me and Ahma (the grandmother) to another relative’s house until they came back. It was fine until the third time, Madam went back to Indonesia without Sir. Ahma and I were sent to the relative’s house but after a few days, Sir decided that we should come back. Without telling his wife, he asked his brother to send me and Ahma back. From that day, I was living in fear.
He tried to touch me many times and seduce me with sweet words. It made me feel disgusted. He asked me if I wanted to go and eat outside and to massage him. I refused everything. I always managed to block him away. Then one day he used a gold necklace with a capital letter N to seduce me. I asked him, “Are you trying to buy me with this necklace?… You will not be able to buy me with your money. I am not interested in your necklace or your money. I am working as a maid. I have money and if I want I can buy my own necklace. I am not like your wife who is easily influenced with money. I am just a teenage girl! You think I am easy, but you met the wrong person, I won’t give into you. You say if I want to marry you, I can go anywhere, I can eat good food, I can have a good life with old man… Well, I am not interested.”
He told me that with the money, I can get everything, and it is better than getting married for love. So, I answered: “Money can’t buy happiness and blessings. Don’t you feel ashamed at 72 years old, trying to seduce a 19 years old girl? I won’t marry such an old man like you and I will fight against this until the end!”
The necklace actually belonged to his wife. Both our names start with N. I told him to give it to his wife. I was very cautious after that, and always prepared in case he tries to do anything before his wife came back. I used to keep newspaper rolls with me as a weapon. He told me not to tell his wife because his wife wouldn’t believe me. When he was out, he used to call on the house number to talk to me and calling me ‘wife’ but I always hung up the phone once I could hear his voice. He used to buy snacks for me, but I refused to eat them, and I gave them all to Ahma.
One day I needed some money to send home, so I asked him to tell his brother that I needed my salary. He didn’t even call his brother, instead he gave me $10. I refused to take it and I told him that I wanted my salary not his money.
However, that was a difficult time and I struggled to get my salary, but I really needed it as my mother was very sick in the hospital.
I worked with them for 13 months. Then one morning, November 2011, I went to my room to look at my phone. I don’t know what Madam was thinking, but she came into my room and she asked me to pack up my belongings. And she told me they were going to send me back home. She then stayed there watching me. While I was packing my stuff, I thanked her for everything, but her answer was that I was trying to be clever, that I was an impolite person, and that I liked to answer back. I was upset at her answer, so I told her, “You taught me how to be clever, and you taught me how to talk back to you. Look at everything you have done to me. It has made me who I am now. You have no respect for other people.”
When she heard that, she got so angry she wanted to slap me on the face. So, I carried on,: “You can slap me if you think that I have done something wrong to you. But I have never done anything wrong to you, so don’t you dare even touch me!” She left the room and slammed the door very loudly. I received many SMS then from my real employer, and they asked me what is going on. Madam had told them that I didn’t do my work, so the employer was asking me why I didn’t work properly. I replied that I work well, and I work hard, and if really, I wasn’t working properly, they wouldn’t have kept me for more than a year. I was fasting on that day as the next day was Hari Haji. She asked me to eat before leaving, but my answer was “I am fasting”. She laughed at me asking, what are you fasting for? I told her, “I am a Muslim and you are a Muslim too, and you are asking me why I am fasting? You really don’t know what I am fasting for? Well I will tell you, I am fasting for myself because I am a Muslim and tomorrow is a big day for me and for all the Muslims around the world. You pray 5 times a day, but you don’t know what fasting means for us Muslim.” She was very angry after I said that.
When I left the house, I felt relieved because I thought that old man would not harass me anymore. But at the same time, I felt sad for Ahma, Especially because I saw how my lady boss had treated Ahma so badly, and how she had left her alone when she fell down. I thought they were going to send me to the airport, but instead Sir sent me to my real employer’s shop and the whole family was there. After he dropped me off, they started to investigate the whole story. I thought, are they going to believe me or not? But never mind, it’s up to them and I decided to tell them the real story. I couldn’t believe it, but I actually got a positive response from them. The rest of the family didn’t want to send me back home. They agreed for me to finish my contract, but I had to move to another family member’s house. They trusted me to take care of Ahma again, so they decided to take Ahma out from Sir’s house and she moved with me.
I have always had a good relationship with Ahma, we shared love, smiles and laughs, I loved her so much. Sadly, she passed away last year. She came into my dreams and she asked me to wake up and bring her back to China.
My experience as a domestic helper in Singapore has been such a great lesson. There is no perfect employer, they have good and bad sides but it all depends on how we are going to handle it.
From my previous employer I was able to buy a motorbike for my father. Since then, I have been working for 6 years with this family. I have bought land, I have sent my brother to study and he will graduate as a doctor soon. My sister is also following in my brother’s footsteps and she is studying hard. Here in Singapore, I joined Aidha and studied business management in 2015-2016. Now, with my family I can run my farm and my business. Next year I think I will start studying again. I want to take a new course as I have too many dreams to achieve. So, I must work hard and believe I can make it step by step.”

Interviewed by Catherine Plagne Ismail  in December 2017

 

Learn as much as you can

“I’m 27 years old and have been in Hong Kong for 7 years. To work therethere for such a long time, I was forced to get stronger. I learned that in order to survive, knowing my rights as a domestic worker is really helpful. I was abused several times.

But, I also have my fair share of happy memories in this city. My happiest memories take place in TCK Learning Centre. I wanted to do something productive on my days off and a friend of mine told me about this Ccentre. Since I was interested to learn more about sewing, I signed up and ended up taking other classes that they offer too. I’ve been going there for more than a year now.

Aside from learning new things in the Ccentre, I also gained good friends. I have good times with them during the lessons and during outdoors activities. As for my personal goals, I want to have my own house and restaurant in my placehometown in Indonesia. I can’t picture myself going back home for good before then.”

Interviewed by Leeh Ann
Photo: ©Leeh Ann

A simple woman

Who are you?

I am Filipina, 43 years old. I describe myself as a simple woman. I can tell funny jokes sometimes. I love cooking. After my high school graduation, I met a special guy in my life and got married. My hubby and I had 3 sweet children who are now 17, 21 and 22 years old. Life doesn’t go as we wish all the time. My husband passed away last April. Luckily, I have my mother and 4 siblings, they are my rock.

Why did you decide to become a migrant domestic worker?

I have been working in Singapore for ten years. I decided to go abroad because I wanted to support my family and pay my children’s education fees. I wish to have my own business in the future.

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

 I am so blessed with all my previous and present employers. They are kind and understanding. It motivates me to do my best at work.

How did your financial situation evolve over time?

I am lucky. Since my relatives hired me, I did not have to pay any agency fees for coming to Singapore. Before they moved to the US, my employers recommended me to another family, so I did not have to pay an agency as well.

My remittance is usually spent on my children’s education, daily expenses and insurance. I save SGD $300 each month.

Can you give some advice to all employers? What do you like/not like about your employers? Is there something you secretly think but don’t dare ask or say to your employer?

I am blessed I can work for nice employers. They treated and treat me like their family. They respect my privacy too. So, I do not have problems with my employers. Even if I did, I would be candid and open with them. I would like to say thanks to all employers in the world. Thank you very much for employing us (me and other fellow helpers)! At the same time, I would like to say do treat us like a person and be kind to helpers. We are here to help and build trust.

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

 Handling housework, no one can make zero mistakes. As a domestic helper I think if I make a mistake then I should tell the truth and make an apology, making sure this mistake will not be repeated. It’s easier than hiding it from the employers or giving excuses. This is how we build trust with our employers.

For you, happiness is….

My happiness comes from Jesus. On my off days my favorite activities are to serve my church and volunteer in children ministry.

What are your dreams and hopes for the future?

I know I will not be working as a domestic helper for the rest of my life. One day, I would love to have an agricultural farm and poultry for my retirement job.

Interviewed in October 2017 by  Marie Kretz Di Meglio

Edited by Caroline Nan

Dream big

Dream Big picture of domestic worker

“I am 46 years old and not yet married. I have been working in Hong Kong for more than 14 years. The main reason why I came here is to help my family back home in Indonesia and to help myself too. I am saving money to start a business when I will go back to Indonesia.

Being here in Hong Kong for quite a long time now, I can say that one of the problems I encountered is the culture difference (with my employers) which sometimes lead to misunderstandings. But as time passes by, we learn to deal with it.

During my free time I go to TCK Learning Centre. I learn English and Mandarin there. Aside from those classes, they also offer other courses that I enjoy. I decided to study during my days off because I want to learn new things that can help me with my job and in the future once I go home for good.

Being a domestic worker should not be prevent you from dreaming big and  thinking positively. My current job now is a motivation to achieve my goals.”

Interviewed in November 2016 by Leeh AnnPhoto: ©Leeh Ann

Edited by Marie Kretz Di Meglio

A woman with a big heart

Who are you?

I am Filipina, 44 years old. I have 3 brothers and 2 sisters.
I studied until college, but I didn’t finish it. I was only 18 when I got pregnant with my first child. I’ve had 3 children with my partner, but we broke up when our children were still young.

Why did you decide to become a migrant domestic worker?

I am a single mother, it was the only way to support my children. It was not easy to be away from them because they were all toddlers when I came here to work, but I didn’t have a choice at that time. I’ve been working for 22 years in Singapore.

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

In 22 years abroad, I have always been blessed with very good employers, from local families to expats. I like that they always treated me like family. This is so important for us, domestic workers.
What I like the most is to feel that my employers trust me and that we can chitchat and talk about everything under the sun.

How did your financial situation evolve over time?

It took me 8 months to repay my agency loan. My first employer deducted $300 every month from my $320 salary.

I’ve been supporting my three children who were raised by my mother. Now that my children are all grown-ups with their own families, I only send them money in case of emergency. I am happy that my remittance has always been well-spent.

I save each month $100 SGD and at the end of the year I decide what I want to do with my savings like building my house.

Are there some advice you want to give to all employers? What do you like/don’t like about your employers? Is there something you secretly think but don’t dare asking or say to your employer?

1 piece of advice I want to give to all employers: know your domestic worker. Ask her where she comes from, how she copes working abroad and being away from her loved ones. Understanding your domestic worker will build a good relationship and trust between you and her.

3 things I like about my employers: friendly, thoughtful (they care about me), and they show that they appreciate my work.
There is nothing that I don’t like about them.

What I don’t dare asking them: how much do you like me?

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

If I make a mistake at work, I will mention it to my employers. It is my fault, so I must bear the consequences. And I hope they will listen and understand me.

For you, happiness is….

Happiness is working without worrying. And also, being able to do what I love to do.

What is your favourite activity on a day off?

Volunteering is my favourite activity on my day off. I am a Helpdesk volunteer to HOME. I like to help my fellow domestic workers by giving them advice if they encounter problems.

How would you to describe yourself?

I am a friendly, easy going person.

What are your dreams and hopes for the future?

I hope to retire early and spend time with my children and grandchildren. But my heart is also in Singapore. Especially now that I am a HOME volunteer.

Interviewed and edited in October 2017 by Marie Kretz Di Meglio

A hard-working and responsible person

selling tomatoes in the street

Who are you?

A hard-working and responsible person.
I’m 47 years old, Filipina. My father passed away when I was 16 years old. We were 7 siblings, 3 still alive today (the other ones died young) and I was the oldest and only girl.
I have two children, a 27 year-old daughter and a 25 year-old son. My son is married, and I am the happy grandmother of a 3 year-old baby.
I only have vocational education, I was trained as a caregiver in the Philippines.

Why did you decide to become a migrant domestic worker?

It was 10 years ago in 2007. Since 2000, I was a street vendor,  selling vegetables in small plastic bags (tomatoes, garlic, onions) in the street close to the highway. Then the owner of the field behind built a public market and I got my own market stall and I was doing well, I was also selling coconut grind and coconut water. But the government built another bigger public market and then the competition was too strong. I borrowed money, but I realized I could not make it, so I took care-giving classes in the afternoon and I flew to the Middle East to work as a nanny but I stayed there only 6 months and in 2008 I went to Singapore.

How did your financial situation evolve over time?

The first 6 months in Singapore I had to pay back the agency fees to my employer so I had barely any money left. My employer would give me $20 SGD (15 USD) per month, sometimes $40 SGD (30 USD).
Now, I am supporting my mother including her medication costs and my nephew education. He is taking care of my mother after school in return. I am also building my house and saving $300 SGD (220 USD) per month for my business project (restaurant or vegetable wholesale and retail). My children are financially independent, but I don’t want to depend on them in the future.

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

I did not like it in the Middle East, I could not adapt to the culture, the weather, the food. 
In Singapore, my first employers were Chinese. Very nice family, always kind with me. I worked with them for 4 years and then I changed for an expat family, but I am still friends with my first employers on Facebook.
I stayed with my second employers’ family for 6 years taking care of their two children from birth like if they were my own.
I’ve liked a lot working for them and it has been really hard for me to leave them. I was really attached to their children and I still miss them very much. But I am getting better, my new employers are nice with me and appreciate my work.

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

My previous employers were generous, they helped me to uplift myself and to learn how to manage my money better.
My request to employers would be to give us privacy and respect us as human beings.

What do you when you make a mistake at work? And how would like your employer to react?

I always acknowledge my mistake, apologize and say that I would be extra careful next time. What I would like my employers to do is to keep calm and don’t shout at me.

For you, happiness is….

To be happy to do my work, with some peace of mind.

What is your favourite activity on a day off?

Volunteering, learning new things. Going out with friends.

Interviewed in October 2017 and edited by Marie Kretz Di Meglio

Work hard in silence, let success make the noise

Grass symbolising hard work in silence

Who are you?

I am 32 years old, from the central part of the Philippines.
To describe myself in one sentence I like to use the quote “work hard in silence, let success make the noise”.
I had to leave school early. My father passed away when I was 14 years old and our life became miserable. My mother worked too hard and she got tuberculosis so at the age of 17 I had to take care of my mother and younger sister. Fortunately I met a man who helped me. I married him when I was 19 years old and we have two awesome sons.

Why did you decide to become a migrant domestic worker?

It was almost 8 years ago but I can still remember as if it was yesterday. Life was really tough being a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother…

I saw from a distance my sick mother carrying a bucket of fishes to sell them in the villages around. I looked at my 3 and 1 year-old sons sleeping and I told myself “I need to do something. If you want a brighter future for your children, you need to create it.” I did not want them to have the same life as myself and I was hurt to see my mother working so hard in her situation.

By coincidence, one of my friends asked me if I wanted to come work abroad in Singapore. I immediately grabbed the opportunity.

How did your financial situation evolve over time?

I took me 9 months to pay back all the employment agency fees and our debts back home.
My first investment was to buy a tricycle for my husband and he has now a source of income to help me to 1support financially the family. Then I bought a piece of land (under my name) and finally I’ve been able to rebuild my house.
Now, I am still supporting 5 people back home but as my husband is helping too I manage to save most of my salary ($700 SGD, 515 USD) for my emergency fund and my business project (pig farm). I plan to go back home for good in 18 months.

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

Being a domestic worker changed me a lot. It opened many doors for me, gave me a lot of opportunities.

At first life abroad was really hard. My first employers were a Chinese family with 3 couples and 3 children in a 4-bedroom house. I slept in the study room.  When my employer was working during the night I would be behind him on a mattress on the floor. I really suffered from the lack of privacy. After 3 years I told them that I could not cope working in these conditions anymore and wanted to find new employers. Thankfully they understood and allowed me to do so.

I have been fortunate to work since for an adorable Swiss family. We are respectful of each other and they support me through my ups and downs. What I appreciate the most is that they believe in me more than I believe in myself.

To be honest the work is tiring because they have 3 very active daughters (2, 4 and 6 years old), all food has to be home-cooked and the house of course properly cleaned up. But they are amazing, give me a lot of benefits, help me reach my goals and don’t forget to thank me for my effort and hard work.

I also learned from them the importance of time management, organizational skills and professionalism.

Are there some advice you want to give to all employers?  What do you like/don’t like about your employers? Is there something you secretly think but don’t dare asking or say to your employer?

My advice: respect, trust your helper and be a role model for her. And everything will follow.

 What I like about my employers: their positive attitude, their time management skills and lastly how they acknowledge my work, encourage and trust me.

There is nothing I don’t dare telling them. For me it is necessary to communicate openly to avoid misunderstandings.

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

I will honestly tell them about it, say sorry and assure them that next time I will be more careful.

And I would like them to be honest and say how they feel about what happened BUT in a calm and respectful way.

If you helper does the same mistake several times, then I would recommend to ask her why and if there is anything that you could do to help her to avoid doing this mistake again.

What is your favourite activity on a day off?

Learning and discovering new things to improve myself. And also this is my chance to give back by volunteering.

For you, happiness is….

Having a purpose in life and working towards it.

What are your dreams and hope for the future?

My only dream is that my sons become good men, have stable jobs and incomes.

Interviewed in October 2017 and edited by Marie Kretz Di Meglio

3 children before 20 years old and abandoned by my husband

children smiling

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.

 –

Interviewed in October 2017 and edited by Marie Kretz Di Meglio

A happy person made stronger by all the hardship I had to face in my life

Who are you?

A happy person made stronger by all the hardship I had to face in my life! I am Filipina, 37 years old. I come from a family of 5 children, 4 boys and me, the only girl. I completed my 3rd year in college (sociology). My father has a job and my mother a small grocery store. I have two children; a 14 years old girl and 8 years old boy and I am a single mother. My parents are taking care of my children since I am abroad.

 My husband and I have been separated for 9 years. I am 5 years older than he is. He was only 19 years old when we had our first son. I was the one who had a job and he took care of the children. I don’t know why he did not notice how hard I was working for our family and he started taking drugs and always going out with friends.

I loved him so much that I forgave him at the beginning but at some point, it was too much. We talked and we decided to break up. However, I could not accept that my children had a broken family and quickly I begged my husband to come back. But he was already with another woman at that time and preferred to hang out with his friends rather than staying with us. My parents helped me to cope with the pain and I forced myself to keep going for the sake of my children.

Why did you decide to become a migrant domestic worker?

I wanted to experience the life of a migrant domestic worker, the salary is really big compared with what you can get in my country. As a single mother I am alone to financially support my children.

How did your financial situation evolve over time?

I’ve been working in Hong Kong for more than 4 years. I was really lucky that my father paid for the agency fees, trainings, medical exams…So I was able to quickly send money to my parents and children.
I have very little savings because I am sending them everything, but I realize now that I should also start saving because working abroad will not last forever.

What do you like about your life as a domestic worker?

I became a better person, stronger and ready to face challenges.

What did you like or not like about your employers? Any advice to give to employers in general?

My first employers were so nice! I appreciated their warm welcome a lot when I arrived. I was really touched that they trusted me 100% even though they did not know me yet and it made me want to prove to them that I was indeed worthy of their trust.

They cared that I had enough to eat when they were out of town. Unfortunately, they had to relocate to China after one year.

I am sorry to say I don’t have the same relationship with my present employers.  I feel sad that they don’t seem to see me like a human being. It really breaks my heart that they don’t care about me.

When I finish my work late at night, it seems to me that they always choose this moment to rush to the toilet. Why can’t they go earlier when I am still working? I have to wait for them 30 minutes or more while I am already very tired and just want to go to bed.

I also don’t dare ask them to respect the law and give me a real 24-hour break on Sundays rather than having a curfew and working when I come back in the evening.

I would like employers to think about our working hours and make sure that we have enough rest time. I don’t mind finishing late at night some days but not every day.

What is your favourite activity on a day off?

Going out with friends and having fun at the beach.

Happiness is…

A feeling of contentment, that life is just as it should be.

What are you most proud of?

I am proud to be patient despite the problems and stress I have in my life and to do my job the best I can.

What are your dreams and hopes for the future?

Having my own business and being financially stable.

Interviewed in October 2017 and edited by Marie Kretz Di Meglio