All for my son

I find happiness in seeing my son happy.

I am 32 years old and I come from India. I grew up in a small city named Amritsar and I graduated from high school. My parents are still living there and I have 2 older siblings, a brother and a sister who are both married and have children. I am married too and I have a beautiful son who is 4 years old now.

I left my country to offer my son better chances for his future. After 3 months of marriage, my husband went to Singapore for work. He left me pregnant at my in-laws but his parents did want to support me financially as my parents had not been able to pay the dowry. But, I still have a good relationship with my husband. I went back to live with my parents. When my son was one year old, I found a job in inventory stock but the salary wasn’t enough for the two of us. 2 years later, it was time to send him to school and  I realized I couldn’t support him with my low salary, so I decided to work abroad as a domestic worker. It was a very hard decision to take, to leave my child but I did it for him.

So, I came to Singapore about 2 years ago. My first employer and my current one both shout at me when I make mistakes. They make me feel stupid. For them, it seems I am nothing more than a robot. Thankfully my current employer gives me my salary on time, proper food and doesn’t ask me to work on my days off. I wish all employers could be respectful, patient, show kindness to their helper and treat her like family…

I am a positive person. I always try to see the best in every situation. I would say I have a kind of “never give up” attitude. However, life as a domestic worker is very tough, especially because of the lack of privacy and time off. You live in front of somebody’s eyes 24 hours a day. It’s a continuous work and the only thing I like is that I have a better salary here as a domestic worker compared to what I can get in my home country. I managed to find my first employer online and I just had to spend money on my ticket and no agency fees to pay. Now, I have about $4000 SGD of savings (about $2960 USD). I support financially my parents and pay for my son’s education, and I am also trying to buy a land.

I am very proud that I have a cute son and that I can build my life without any help from a man. My husband cannot support us financially but as he is also working in Singapore, I can spend time with him during my two days off each month. I also enjoy attending caregiver or English classes.

My dreams:  1) make my son a successful educated person, 2) settle in Canada and 3) open a girl hostel and start a business

Interviewed in May 2018 and edited by Chloe Bothorel.

The light in the dark

I am a 37-years-old Filipina woman. I love cooking, taking pictures and writing poems (especially when I’m depressed). I am currently working in Singapore for a very good employer who treats me like family and who is concerned about my feelings. Plus, when there is an emergency, she always responds to my needs. I wish all employers could treat their domestic worker as a family member, meaning they try to understand their weaknesses, teach them what they don’t know for the work requested and are friendly and caring. Also, even if I don’t like talking about my personal life, I feel confident to share my concerns with my employer.

About my family, my parents are divorced and they both found a family of their own. My mother married another man and my father had 3 children with his new wife. I have 2 brothers from the marriage of my parents but one passed away about 2 years ago. I got married a few years ago and we have 3 daughters (12, 10 and 8 years old).

To me, happiness starts from a positive mindset and seeing little  joys in our daily lives. I’ve always been a positive person, even if my story doesn’t have a very good start. I grew up in a broken family because my father left us when we were very young. My mother brought us to her relatives who could give her some help. We went to our father’s family side too but we were a little bit mistreated: I was young and they made me work for them.

When I was in University, I was a victim of sexual harassment by my husband’s father. I never told anyone until I decided to step out of their house.I was telling myself, “don’t make it a problem, as long as nothing happens you just have to be quiet…” but one day I couldn’t stay when he crossed the red line. I decided to tell everything first to my best friend. Telling my husband was realising it had really happened. But I finally told him as I didn’t want it to happen to my kids as well. I always tell them to speak up, hoping they won’t too shy be like me.

My life as a domestic worker is tough and has its ups and downs because I’m away from my family.  But I am strong because I do it for my daughters. I want to give them a better future and I have to  pay the medicine for my second daughter who is asthmatic. I had to borrow money to come to Singapore: it took me 6 months to pay back the agency and then 7 months to pay back all my debts. Now, I can send money to my family: my 3 kids, my husband and my mother but I try to save about SG$ 150 (about $110 USD) per month.

I am so proud of having my kids and standing for what I think is right. I have 2 days off per month so sometimes I help the others domestic workers and bring them to the HOME office (NGO supporting domestic workers in Singapore) or to different nice places in Singapore. Also, I think about launching a business of my own when I return home for good. I want to open a glass business but I have to think about it because there are so many things to consider. I hope too that my kids will finish their studies and have a good job someday!

Interviewed and edited by Chloe Bothorel in May 2018

A dreaming barbarian girl

Who am I? A dreaming barbarian girl. I belong to one of the ethnic groups from the Mountain Province in the Philippines. Since childhood, I have been a dreamer but also felt hopeless because we were a poor and big family. I have 10 siblings and I am number 9.

I grew up in a small shanty house on top of the mountain surrounded with smelly animals. Sometimes we would have the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For example, beans in the morning, beans again at lunch and at dinner more beans. Sometimes we had beans for one week if it was the cheapest food at the market at that time.

Since I am a girl, I took care of household chores, serving my parents and elder brothers as well as tending to my younger siblings. Every day, I dreamed that one day I would get out from that place and enjoy life. Thus, I studied really hard and completed a Bachelor’s Degree in education. Luckily, I got a job after graduation as a teacher but as a dreamer, I was not yet satisfied. I wanted to go abroad and seek greener pastures overseas.

When I waved goodbye to my family, it was at Christmas because I took leave from the school where I was employed, thinking that in case I was not lucky abroad, I could just go back to teach. I took with me my motto in life, “DREAM…. And only you can make your dreams comes true” and also the words of my mother, “You will go into the battlefield and either you will die, or you will live, so be prepared and keep the faith to the Lord our God.”

Happy as can be, I landed in a foreign country excited to apply all my skills and knowledge. Finally, I was greeted by my first employer and instructed to go immediately to my room in the rooftop attic. Sadly, it was very dusty (never cleaned) so my first job was cleaning my room. It was their storage room but it was fine for me as long as there was a bed and toilet available. I lasted one year, saying “Dollars! Dollars! Dollars!” while mopping the floors.

As the days and months passed, I would see the house-helper of my neighbours going out for her days off and I too would have liked to have gone out at least once a month so I decided to talk to my employer. They immediately said NO because they said it would be their responsibility if something ever happened to me outside… Because I didn’t get what I wanted, I didn’t work the next day so then my ticket to go back home to the Philippines was given to me. That was February 2007. I was just exactly one year working abroad.

I went back to the farm helping my brothers in the garden and doing anything I could. Despite my bad experience abroad, before I slept each night I would tell myself I will go back abroad again, I have no future here. One day my friend called me saying, “Julie, I have an employer for you. Go ahead and fix your papers.” So I did, and I went to Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and lasted 6 years with one employer, and no visits home.

My sister asked me, “Why don’t you come home? Do you want to become an old maid?” These two questions made me dream again. To cut the story short, I went home to apply to work here in Hong Kong as my stepping stone to Canada.

I have been here in Hong Kong for 5 years already. I had a fear of termination because I heard about it from others, but nevertheless, I I took courage because of my dream to go to Canada. I said to myself, I have no hope for a foreigner to marry me because I am so fat and short, so I have no other choice but to become “kunyang”. My first employer said in my contract that I was going to care for a five-year-old girl, but after I had been here for a week, they brought me to Homecare to take good care of a 72 year old bedridden woman. It really was a challenge for me because I didn’t have any idea about caring for sick, old people. I am a teacher not a nurse or adult caregiver but I didn’t complain. Rather, I searched on Google about caring for bedridden patients and started to talk to other Filipinas who were also working there. I learned the techniques, but my problem was that the best qualification for becoming a nanny in Canada is caring for children, so I decided to change employers after I finished my two-year contract. I found an employer where I lasted 3 years. I couldn’t finish my second contract with them because finally I will fly to CANADA!

Note: I was denied once to Canada but I didn’t give up so I applied again and, God is good, it was approved. Thanks God!

Tip: As I worked and before sleeping, I visualized what I wanted. Although there are struggles along the way, if you believe and go step-by-step through how to attain your dream, then you’ll get there.

Interviewed by Marie Kretz Di Meglio in January 2018

Edited by Rachel Voce

Time Rewind!

How I wish I could rewind time to 16th December 2004. It was my son’s 7th birthday, and I was in the Domestic Worker Training Centre, Bekasi, Indonesia. On this special day, I had planned to make it big for him but unfortunately it didn’t turn out to be so. It gets difficult over the phone to talk to him. I could not hear his voice. Oh! How I wish I could tell him that I miss him so much. Instead of being happy for him, I ended up crying! I could not eat or follow any lessons in the training center.

My husband and I don’t have a good marriage. My son is separated from me. His father took him away in May 2003 and from then I could not speak to him.

I just wish I was there on his birthday to make it special for him, to give him a tight bear-hug! I was not able to give him a hug until January 2007. Now I can give him all the love. He is only mine. He is my big boy now.

I’m a domestic helper not by choice, but it was a necessity for me as I was a single mother of three children. I dreamt of a better future for my kids, so I sacrificed mine for them.

At first, my children didn’t understand why I chose to be away. Slowly they learnt to stay with their grandparents and accept the truth that their mother had to work hard to make their future better.

All my children have graduated from High School. They are quite independent. I have a grandson from my first daughter.

Laughter, tears and happiness are part of our lives. I know each mother who works as a domestic worker goes through the pain of missing their loved ones. But be strong and you will find a way through!

Interviewed  by Marie Kretz Di Meglio
Edited by Ranita Gupta

Dreams come true

I had 3 goals when I first came to Singapore, 3 dreams that I wanted to fulfill, and it took me 6 years of savings to achieve them.

I came to Singapore 10 years ago as I needed to support my family and pay back our loans. For the first few years, I didn’t have any savings, I didn’t have any plan for how I should keep my money or where I should invest it. Every month I was sending all my money to my family. But then in 2010, my husband sold my house and my motorcycle and without telling me, he got married to another woman.

So I realized that I had to make plans and start saving if I wanted to have my life back to normal once I got back. In 2011, I started to save my salary from Singapore. Every month, I am now sending $100 to my daughter and my mom and the rest I save. In 2011, I managed to save $3000 for my investments. My husband divorced me in 2012 to live with his new wife but then I received a salary increase, so again I managed to save $3000. In 2013, I went back home. I bought a rubber farm to start with. At that time, 1 hectare for rubber farm cost $5000. I couldn’t afford a house so I stayed with my mom and my daughter.

In 2013, I again saved $3000 and in 2014 I managed to save $3500.

In 2015, I went back home and I invested my money in a rice farm. I also bought cows for my family for emergencies.

Then between 2015 and 2017, I kept on saving money as I wanted to buy a house. I am lucky I managed to buy a house last year.

At last, I have managed to fulfill my dreams.

Now, in 2018, I only have 3 simple plans:
1. I save $100 per month for my daughter’s education.
2. I save $100 per month for my retirement.
3. I save $100 per month to grow my motorcycle workshop business back home.
4. My emergency saving in Singapore is $250 per month.

I now have regular income from my rubber farm and from my investments in the motorcycle workshop. My family get on average $125 monthly so I do not need to send money every month to support them.

I have worked hard these past few years but I fulfilled my dreams. I am proud of what I have achieved because I got it all from my commitment, my hard work and my patience.

Interviewed and edited by Catherine Plagne Ismaël.

Family as a source of happiness

Financial problems are the most common (if not the only) reason for domestic workers to leave their country to find a job. This was the same for me. I come from the Philippines and I have been a domestic worker for about 21 years: the first 13 years I worked in Singapore and I left 8 years ago for Hong Kong.

After all these years, I just want to give one piece of advice to all employers: be consistent, especially with the kids, by following the same rules you ask your domestic worker to follow and always try to get both sides of what happened. I was lucky I had good employers (thank God!) An open communication with the domestic worker and the respect of her privacy help provide a good environment for everyone.

My current employer is kind and understanding, we communicate a lot and she listens to my suggestions. All the family treats me really well. I am so lucky to have them! What is great too with them is that at the beginning of my contract, we both agreed that if I make a mistake, I should tell her straight away no matter how big or small it is (so far nothing serious happened). However, there is still one thing I don’t dare ask them: if I could already receive half of my long service payment (please…).

I have just turned 48 and my source of happiness is still and will always be my family. They are in the Philippines, waiting for me: my dad (who unfortunately has kidney issues), my 3 younger sisters and my younger brother, my husband and my daughter. And I am proud I have been able to support them until this day! I graduated from college and I am proud that my daughter finished her studies too. Now I have my own house and my daughter is working, so I just support my dad for his medical treatment.

I think the biggest challenge I had to face was the cultural differences. When I started as a domestic worker, it took me some time to adjust: food, social behavior and cultural aspects of the city. It is very challenging to deal with all of this because we were not prepared for that…We came from our countries with dreams for a better life especially for our families. But now the Philippines Consulate of Hong Kong organizes Post Arrival Orientation seminars for the new Filipinos domestic workers. I think it is very useful and the new generation is lucky because they can attend this kind of seminar twice: one in the Philippines before leaving and another when they arrive here in Hong Kong. I have been volunteering at the Consulate for 6 years now (by helping to check contracts, for example) and I like attending other seminars like child or elderly care. Many people attend them: for example, last Sunday there were 42 people for the one about the elderly.

I’ve always been a straightforward person, often saying how I feel and what I don’t like in a person – in a nice way of course. For example, I always told my employers how their children had behaved (well or bad) and I would tell them if they had asked me to do something impossible regarding the time and/or my skills. My dream now is to retire soon to be with my future grandchildren and see my Dad get better!

Interviewed by Chloe Bothorel in May 2018
Edited by Rachel Voce

Kid’s best friend!

I come from India and I’ve been working in Singapore for almost 10 years. I am 29 years old now, single and have no children. But many people would describe me as kid’s best friend! I have 3 brothers and 3 sisters; my dad is a teacher and my mom a farmer. I studied until high school but I had to stop in order to financially support my brothers in their own studies. Besides, my parents also borrowed money and now I had to help to repay it. So sad, my family has always been struggling with debts.
I like my current employers because they give me proper food, they are not nagging, they listen to me and consider my opinion. I had some bad experiences with employers who didn’t give me enough rest time and who asked me to follow rules they didn’t apply when they were with the children! They didn’t enforce these rules so the kids thought I was the “bad guy”. I didn’t dare ask my employers to implement the same rules. Moreover, I had a very poor daily routine then, working long hours. It was also very scary for me when I broke something: my previous boss always scolded me a lot. But it’s better with my new boss because they say that it’s ok, they just ask me to pay more attention in the future.
There are so many positive aspects of being a domestic worker. I come from a remote place and I could not have had so many fulfilling life experiences there. I learned so much here. Taking care of kids has helped me think about my own future. I have learned to cook international recipes. I also learned social behaviors from my boss and it boosted my confidence so much. Moreover, they always encourage me to eat healthy food and stay physically active. Now, I have every Sunday and public holiday off: I haven’t done anything yet but I am planning on joining a volleyball team!
I am proud that I can help my siblings (especially my 3 brothers) for their education through my small earnings but I now want to make money for myself… I would like to settle down with someone who can financially support my family because although I lack in resources, I feel that I have the potential to be a good mom!
Up to now, I have worked for 3 families (including my current one) and if my boss is happy with my work, I am happy too. Treat your helper right and she will work well for your family! That’s a piece of advice I want to give to all employers!

Interviewed by Chloe Bothorel in May 2018

Edited by Rachel Voce

From caged in Malaysia to freedom and financial independence

I come from Indonesia and I am 39 years old. I started working right after high school. My parents are farmers and I have 4 brothers and 2 sisters who all relied financially on me when I started working. I always wanted to learn English so that I could communicate with people around the world. I worked for 13 years in Singapore, 2 years in Malaysia, 8 months in Hong Kong, 1 year in Indonesia and I have been working in Canada for half a year now.

Being a domestic worker is a very tough job but I didn’t have a choice, I wanted a better life for my family. I am happy I can help them build a nice house and pay for my brothers’ education. But for more than 15 years, my life has been like hell. Some of my employers were as kind as… the Devil! I don’t have a happy story but I want to share it so that people living through bad experiences won’t give up.

When I was in Malaysia, the staff at the agency and my employer locked me in a cage when I refused to do “massages” in my employer’s salon. They gave me a slice of bread and a cup of water every 24 hours. One day I didn’t touch it, thinking I rather die in that cage than doing that kind of work. I was lucky in the sense that I understood their language so when they talked in front of me, I had an idea of what was going on in that salon… I managed to write down my name and my passport number on a note and threw it to the neighbor’s house. I wanted to make sure that if something happened to me, there would be evidence against my employers and the agency. I never knew what happened to that note. Finally, my employer and the agency’s manager were arrested, and I am pretty sure I saved other lives. However, maybe that cage is still there with new girls… It is very common for criminals in Malaysia to pay the police officers to remain free.

In Singapore, I worked for 7 years without a single day off, sometimes 24 hours a day with no break. It was for a rich employer and I had to be up from 5.30 am to 2 am daily. My second Singaporean employer asked me to work for his sisters and in his parents’ house too. However, I had good third employer for 3.5 years. I looked after their new born but I left them after Sir told me he fell in love with me… I didn’t want to ruin their family.

But I never gave up. I am a strong woman and I know my family needs me. I have a better life now that I am in Canada. A good friend of mine lives there and she knew my story, so she helped me with the administrative process and finding an employer. I had to pay CAD 10,000 (USD 7,750) to come and work here and for that I borrowed CAD 8,000 (USD 6,200) from 2 friends. My first Canadian employer made me work 13 hours a day without paying me for the over-time, so I left them and found a new job. Now I take care of an elderly person. I work only 5 days a week, 8 hours a day and I earn CAD 2,560 (about USD 1,990) per month, much more than my salary in Singapore. After 4 months, I was able to repay my friend CAD 4,000 and send home CAD 3,300. And, after returning another CAD 4,000 to my other friend, I will be able to save all the money I make! Right now, I have just CAD 1,000 in my bank account in case of emergency, but I am happy because my Canadian salary is so high compared to the ones in Asian countries. I have also rented some land for my parents to grow rice and my brothers are working, so now I just help my mother to pay the doctors (she has diabetes). I am happy that my family has a better life!

I used to have a poor life, sometimes without food, without rest… I wanted to study but I didn’t get the chance. Thanks to Aidha in Singapore,  I could study business management and I am planning to open a restaurant when I go home for good. It will serve local food because my employers told me I am good at it! It is simple: I am good at what I love doing.

I had many employers and I loved when they were caring, understanding and kind, but there were some who were nagging, blaming and they never admitted when they made a mistake… It is great that there is nothing I don’t dare say to my actual employers: I always ask them what I want! I always find happiness in my employers’ satisfaction because I always try to do my best. And if I had to give one piece of advice to all employers, it would be that they should treat their domestic workers as family members!

Interviewed by Chloe Bothorel in May 2018


A gift to my mum

This story is for my mother.

Life is a blessing! Live and let live! This valuable lesson was taught to me by my mom. I’m blessed to be born in my family. We don’t depend on each other but always support and help each other.

It was early 2010, I had sent my mom some money through Western Union, as in those days we didn’t have Internet Banking. I sent her money so that she can buy things for herself. My mom deserves pocket money! I asked her to collect it after 3 or 4 days but she refused to do it. After 2 weeks, someone from Western Union called me, asking me to collect the money back.

I called my mom immediately and was a bit rude to her. She replied politely, “I don’t know how you are, what work you are doing, when you are eating, when you go to sleep. How could I spend your money on myself…? I still have some money you sent for your son, my grandson’s expenses. I don’t need money now!” I was dumb, tears were running down my cheeks! I ran to the bathroom.

My mom is amazing! Not because she doesn’t ask me for anything. But that is her character, a selfless lady. She always gives back to the community and friends. A lovely wife, caring mother, amazing grandmother who knows only to give and never want anything back in return.

I come from a small village, Wilayah, Wonosobo City, Central of Java in Indonesia. Both my parents are farmers. I have a sister who is 3 years younger than me. She is married and have a son. I was married very young, I’m divorced now. I have an 11-year-old son.

As I was married very early, I couldn’t finish high school. But luckily, while working as a domestic worker in Singapore, I finished it! I’m planning to go to university now.

I work as a domestic worker because I want a better life for my family. I have been in Singapore for 8 years now.

Life as a domestic worker is not easy! I have a huge role in my employer’s daily routine. I’m responsible for planning their meals, looking after their lovely boys, cleaning the house, in a word, everything! But I enjoy my work and I am happy doing it, so it never feels like a burden! In fact, I love cooking. That’s my favourite! I try find to different recipes in YouTube and Google. When the boys say, “Aunty its yummy!’’ I’m very satisfied. Sometimes I have my gloomy days also. When it rains in the morning, I just wish I could have slept a little bit longer… hahahaha!

About my finances, I never borrowed money from anyone. I still remember the day when I left for Singapore for the first time. It was the 23rd of November My mother hugged me tightly. She gave me IDR 200, equivalent to SGD 20. I had to work six months for free as all the money went to the agency. My salary was SGD 320 in those days. I just had SGD 10 as my pocket money.

Now I only support my son’s expenses. But I still send a bit of money to my parents and nephew as extra pocket money. Initially I couldn’t save much from my salary but now I make it a point to save SGD 300 a month. I think I have saved approximately SGD 8000 after working all these years.

I’m proud of being a single mother. I don’t depend on anyone. I’m a self-made person. I had to work really very hard for what I have right now. I don’t have a big house or business, but just knowing that my family is happy and healthy keeps me contended here!

I’m a dreamer! My first dream is to see my son graduate from school. I have not done anything yet for my parents so my second dream is to rebuild their home. I think it will take another 3 years to make that come true. I hope to retire as a teacher when I return to my hometown.

Lastly, a piece of advice I want to share with employers is to trust your domestic worker completely. This trust factor makes the domestic worker more responsible. Happy domestic worker, happy employer!

Interviewed by Marie Kretz Di Meglio in April 2018

Edited by Ranita Gupta

My long quest for financial stability

I come from Tulungagung, East Java in Indonesia. I have worked as a domestic worker for almost 20 years. I started just after high school as I could not afford university. I was 19 years old then and I am now 38 years old.

I decided to work abroad, so I could earn three times more than if I worked in my own country. I found an agent who sent me to Singapore but unfortunately, I was only able to work there for 7 months and then I was sent back home. I just had the time to pay back my debt to the agency. Afterwards, I went to Taiwan to work in a factory for 2 years and then went back home to get married and open a small grocery store. Unfortunately, my business failed. After that, I went to Hong Kong for 4 years.

Over the years, I have attempted to manage my finances in different ways. At first, I managed my money by separating it into three categories: ⅓ for saving, ⅓ for family and ⅓ for myself. In Singapore and Taiwan, as well as my first two years in Hong Kong, I managed my finances in this manner. However, at the end of my contract in Hong Kong, I joined a multi-level marketing scheme and borrowed $58,000 HKD (about $7400 USD) from three different “banks” (money lenders). This turned very badly, and I had to sell my parents property to cover my loan and I went back home with debts that still made me suffer until very recently.

I then worked at home for three years. I applied to work in factories in Taiwan, Korea and Japan but was always denied a visa. Therefore, I became a domestic helper again in Singapore and have been here for almost four years. My primary reason for working here is to pay my debt that I borrowed in Hong Kong eight years ago.

My first two years in Singapore, 90% of the money I earned went towards my debt and 10% for myself as I did not have enough for saving or my family.  After the second year, sadly my parents passed away and I don’t have children therefore I did not need to send money back home. Then, I created a new way of allocating my finances to 50% saving, 30% to pay my debt and 20% for myself.

I have heard sad stories of how domestic workers blow all of their money once they get back home and need to resume work as a domestic helper after a few months. Therefore, I really wanted to learn more about finance management as my dream now is to have children and open a business. What made me fail before in my business was my lack of knowledge and personal skills

So, I joined Uplifters Dare to Dream online class about financial education and personal development. I liked the challenges we had to do during the class to gain new knowledge and skills – it inspired and motivated me. I feel so energetic when I practice the morning rituals that we learned in the class and I have realized that I was confident as a domestic worker but not confident enough to own a business as I lacked knowledge and experience.

Interviewed by Marie Kretz Di Meglio in December 2017.

Edited by Hannah Weldon