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

 

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