Our Homes, Our Stories

They share our lives and homes, but have you ever wondered what life is like for a migrant domestic worker in Singapore?

Our Homes, Our Stories offers a look through their eyes as they share real-life stories, from childhoods in mountain villages to rogue agents and difficult employers, and that one thing they all suffer from the most: homesickness, and the pain of leaving their families behind – in Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar and India.

The women write frankly about sacrifice, broken trust, exploitation, lack of food, and salary deductions. But there are also tales to lift the heart, of supportive employers, the love they have for the families they take care of, and how they use their time in Singapore to realise their dreams for the future.

The stories explore different facets of the theme ‘home.’ All proceeds of this book go to HOME, to support their important work. All the writers in Our Homes, Our Stories are part of the HOME community, either as volunteers on their one day off, or as residents at
HOME shelter for domestic workers.

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If you want to support this project, you donate to our campaign at http://www.giving.sg to support publication: https://www.giving.sg/humanitarian-organisation-for-migration-economics/our_homes_our_stories . You can choose to pre-order the book, buy a VIP package with access to the launch party, or of course simply donate as much as you like to support this amazing project.

And mark your calendar: on March 11th you can pick up your copy at our launch event, at the Hollandse Club.

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The book will be available at the HOME offices and select bookstores in Singapore. Watch this site for further details on how to order or purchase your copy after Match 11th.  An ebook version will be published in March 2018 as well, available with all major international retailers.

To get regular updates on the book, please ‘like’ our Facebook page: https://web.facebook.com/ourhomesourstories

For more information, order, review copies about the book, please contact Karien at karien@home.org.sg

BEING A DOMESTIC HELPER

By: Jean RAGUAL

 

Being a domestic helper

 

My heart is without pain

If they call us only HELPER

The sadness of my will

Who are the educated people of the world?

 

They still lower the real meaning

And the importance of being a HELPER

 

You are a hero and very helpful person

Your blessings will be rewarded

GOD to create you will be praised

 

You are a hero and very helpful person

Your blessings will be rewarded

GOD to create you will be praised

 

Sweaty day and night

Soaked at work

She will remain stable

Because each drop of it

In life it is symbolic

The Playground

HOME MyVoice proudly presents, the winner of the ‘The More We Get Together’ writing contest in the prose category: Saturnina De Los Santos Rotelo (better known to friends as Cute)

When we hear the word playground, we always think they are for children only. If you look at them closely, you will see they are places with different structures, shapes and colours. A children’s world. But the playground is a joy for everyone, it’s a place to meet people from different walks of life. Employers meet employers, domestic workers meet their friends, make new friends, just as children play with their friends and make new friends too. It is a place where you can look inside the lives of children, where happiness does not need an explanation as it can be seen on their faces. But don’t forget they get hurt and cry there also. But they will learn from that. A playground is like real life.

As a child, I never knew what a playground was as it does not exist in my village. I played in our backyard, outside my house. For me and the children in my village everywhere was a playground. I liked to pretend I was a teacher, and my pretend students would write on banana tree leaves that looked like paper because they had lines on them. For a pencil they would use a small stick. They’d sit on a stone.

Singapore playgrounds are awesome! They have beautiful structures and designs. I like to go to the playground in West Coast Park. I meet my fellow domestic workers there; we bring food and play with our charges the whole day. There are high and long slides. We go up those slides together, we play hide and seek, and we climb in the spider web-like structure. I enjoy playgrounds as much as the kids do. Because when I was small I never played in a playground as beautiful as this.

The playground is my resting place too. I can sit down there and relax my mind and tired body. It is a place where I can talk to my friends about my workday, my life, and even my love life. I can laugh to my heart’s content. We share what food we have, eating together. We dance or exercise. One time, I even celebrated my birthday in the playground.

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You can find nice employers in the playground, who are happy to be friends with domestic workers, they talk and laugh with us, help us when needed and listen to our sentiments. Employers with good hearts, that might even recommended certain domestic workers to her friends to hire, as they like what they see as they play with the children there.

As a domestic worker I have played many roles in playgrounds. I was a children’s playmate, an adviser to fellow domestic workers, or even a second mother to a child I take care of. I have to make sure of their safety. I wipe their sweat when they are sweaty, make sure they drink their water and give them snacks when they are hungry. The happiness and the safety of my employer’s child is my number one priority at the playground.

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I have been to many playgrounds, in different places, each one of them has left memories – of every child that I took care of, and every friend that I made there. Visiting playgrounds in Singapore was a journey that will remain in my mind and in my heart forever. I will cherish those moments, especially the sweet innocent smiles of the children I took care of.

The PLAYGROUND is one of my favourite places.

HOME Indonesian Helpdesk

By Novia Arluma

A group of volunteers from Indonesia, better known as HOME KARTINI, have been active with HOME for a long time already. In August 2015 the HOME INDONESIAN HELPDESK was formed. Several domestic worker volunteers were prepared to be a front line of case worker volunteers to do outreach, and get closer with the community of Indonesian domestic workers in Singapore.

The volunteers were given a basic training and became involved in forum discussions and other workshops in order to support their duty as they prepared to assist their fellow domestic workers in trouble. Then, in December 2015 the new office for the Indonesian Helpdesk was opened at Grandlink Square.

From there our team officially started to run the Indonesian helpdesk. We meet every Sunday on our day off and we are dedicating our day off to run the HELPDESK. We started to spread our contact details via social media. We wanted everyone out there that needed help regarding working issues to know they could contact us. We give consultations and advice, solutions for their problems.

Our important mission is: To give simple sosialitation and to educate our fellow domestic workers to KNOW YOUR RIGHTS as domestic workers. And for that purpose, we are aware that, before we can give answers to any questions, we have to learn more. We have to gain more knowledge  about the rules & regulations for domestic workers in Singapore.

We have noticed that today, more domestic workers are aware about their rights. And they will contact us to tell about the working conditions in their employer’s house. If something is not right, they ask for advice on what to do before they take the next step.

I myself can receive three or four calls or messages every day. And that’s not including my team members! We have become aware that learning by doing is the best way to learn. We have to keep learning and be up-to-date with the regulations for domestic workers. And, as a specialised Indonesian team, we are not only focused on learning about Singapore law, we have to learn about Indonesian laws for migrant domestic workers as well. HOME gives us the freedom to explore our knowledge by joining discussions and become connected with Indonesian NGO’s around the country which are focused on migrant workers issues.

HOME is not only a HOME for migrant workers who needs help.
But ..
HOME is a place to grow our spirit ..
Spirit to learn ..
Spirit to help others ..
Spirit to fight for our rights ..
Spirit to treat everyone as our sisters & brothers ..
We are HOME
We are family …

The INDONESIAN HELPDESK team is a part off HOME KARTINI FAMILY, together with the HOME Academy 3, HOME KARTINI sport, and HOME KARTINI musical and dance. So, aside from our duties as the HOME helpdesk team, our team members also have to work together with HOME KARTINI FAMILY in some programs. And of course we work together with all HOME volunteer as we are HOME FAMILY!

The HOME Indonesian Helpdesk is open every Sunday from 10 to 6pm

It is located at :

Grandlink Square, 511 Guillemard Road #01-06, Singapore 399849

Domestic Worker hotline: +1800-797 7977 / +65 6341 5525

 

My first meals

My first meals

 

Javanese was my first language

Like a first breast milk, fed by mother 

Be my flesh and blood

Indonesian is my national language

School forced me to learn it well 

Then English?

It was horrible 

Because of work, I have to understand it well 

 

I squeeze my brain to remember them 

Javanese, Indonesian, English

Ora, tidak, no

Iyo, iya, yes

It surprised me as well 

When I’ve known, not only my languages around me 

 

As simple words

When I said “aku cinta padamu”

Philippines said “Mahal ko Mahal Kita “

Hindi said “Mee tumsai pyar karti hu”

Bangladesh said” Ami tomake bhalobasi”

Then Telugu slowly answered me ” ninuninu pramestunanu”

Chinese said “wo ai ni “

In my heart then I was mumbling “hallah wong arep muni aku tresno kuwe wae kok kangelan” 

The simple words I want to say

“My ice cream melted

While I was busy eating avocado”

Hi sweetheart

I love you

 

From all of those

I learnt something

Not only Javanese as my first meals

But I have to taste many meals

It makes me feel more amazing

To this beautiful Creator the difference

 

By Artika Honey 

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Forgive me, child

FORGIVE ME CHILD

(by: Jean Ragual)

 

The mother is the light of home

A mother, who has a big role in the family

A mother, who will do everything

As a mother I need to find a job

It is hard to me to leave you

But this is for you

 

My child forgive me, if I am far away from you

Forgive me, if I left you at your young age

Someday you will understand everything

Thank you for all your stories to make me happy

When I talk with you

You give me strength everyday

 

Forgive me, Child

If you wonder why

Our home is not already complete or

Why you never see your father already

 

You are my only strength, my inspiration to continue our dreams

You are my treasure that GOD gave to me

Not all I can give to you

But I do everything I can, to make you happy

My love for you is forever

 

And no one can replace in my heart

My child, you are my flesh and blood

You are the reason I am strong and brave

While I am far away from you

 

Forgive me, my child, I love you forever

 

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Sunday Beauty Queen

Sunday Beauty Queen

 

Heavy make up, curly hair

Red lips on my glossy face

Wearing silver high heels, matched with my long black gown

 

It’s Sunday in Singapore

Look at their faces,

Everyone is happy wearing their crown

They look so beautiful that everyone adores

 

I walk to the stage and take my first walk

All eyes are on me, staring and someone is amazed

 

I notice a lady at the corner of stage

She is eyeing me from head to toe

 

I pose, and smile

Cameras are flashing on my face

I feel like I’m celebrity in Hollywood

 

At centre of the stage it’s time to make a half-turn

My stage time is finished, my show is over

I know she saw me and I know I make her smile too

But I am unsure if this makes me happy or scares me off

 

The special lady follows me backstage

No words come out to mind or from my lips

What should I say

I greet her with a hello ma’am in a whispering sound

 

She smiles and a hug from her makes me comfortable

I know it’s my off-day and today is Sunday

 

She holds my hand and says

I’m so proud of you

You are my beautiful helper

I smile in return, I know in my heart I was the winner that day

to have a supportive employer like her

 

  By Rosita Madrid Sanchez

Meet the writers: Bhing

Robina Navato, or Bhing as her friends call her, is one of 26 writers in the book ‘Our Homes, our Stories’ – an anthology of 28 real-life stories written by domestic workers in Singapore. Her story ‘I love my job’ shows how, with the right employers, being a domestic worker can be a dream job. Still, her experiences of being a domestic worker in Singapore for more than two decades also tell that the life of a domestic worker is never easy. Bhing has been an active volunteer with HOME for years and is part of our Sunday helpdesk, where she helps fellow migrant workers with advice. Apart from that she is an eloquent advocate of migrant domestic worker’s rights at many different platforms in Singapore. So we at MyVoice felt it was about time to learn more about this amazing woman, and we asked her some questions about her experiences writing for the book and as a HOME volunteer.

What was it like for you to be a writer featured in the ‘Our Homes, Our Stories’ book?

For me, it was a dream come true. The project has inspired me to do even more to spread awareness on domestic workers rights. Having been a domestic worker in Singapore myself for over 2 decades, I have gained a lot of experience with different employers. I like sharing my experiences with my fellow domestic workers, and giving them ideas on how to deal with their own problems at work. Being a domestic worker is not as easy as some people think. But I have managed to last for 22 years, and I am still working here. Mainly because I love what I do. I love my job. I picked this phrase as the title of my story.

Your story is great as it shows the different sides of domestic worker life, the good and the bad. It is well-written and balanced. What was it like to write so openly about your life?

I love to write, and to compose poems too. I like to share how I feel. Usually I can only do it when I’m not happy or I hear a sad story. Writing about my own life was different. I was very excited when I was doing it, but it was never easy. I kept thinking of my previous employers, with whom I had very good relationships and happy experiences. I started to miss them. And then I recalled my bad experiences with other employers. As a domestic worker, we never know what kind of employer we will get next. When I focused on those parts, I felt stressed. And when I thought back to my first year here, I got a nostalgic feeling. I did not know anything then. I said “yes” to everything my employer asked me to do. Because at the time, I did not know where to get help and who to talk to.

So that was two decades ago, and I believe you now know quite well what to do to get help?

I volunteer with the HOME Helpdesk every Sunday. Sometimes I receive calls too during the week. At the helpdesk I advise other domestic workers that have problems with their employers. Being part of this Helpdesk taught me about humility. Listening to other people’s problems made me realise how blessed I am. That is why I do this. I love my volunteer work like I love my day job. I have gained many friends there too.

Bhing

Do you do any other volunteering?

I have had so many amazing experiences volunteering with HOME. When I just started, they sent me to Thailand for a United Nations conference about undocumented migrant domestic workers. I gave a presentation there.

I have also been a ‘human book’ in the Human Library SG. As a human book, readers ‘read me’ by asking me questions. That way I could introduce HOME to my readers and spread awareness on how to treat domestic workers right. I often represent HOME at panel discussions too, for instance last month at a ‘Difficult Woman’ panel discussion. Sometimes I do interviews with students, or give school talks. I have also been part of a video on the poem I wrote.

 

That is a very impressive list! What is your motivation to make time do all this?

With all these things that I do, my purpose is helping my fellow domestic workers. Every platform is important for me. It can take time to prepare for presentations but it’s all fine. This is not about me, this is about the things that I can do to help others. Because I know that I have the will and courage to do this.

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So let’s talk about the book. What does it mean to you?

I learned a lot being part of the ‘Our Homes, Our Stories’ project, both writing the book and selling and promoting it. It has made me realise that we can help others if we have the courage to talk, to narrate our stories. My dreams should not stop the moment I became a domestic worker. There is hope! There are so many things us domestic workers can do to have a meaningful life here. Many people think that we are simply unskilled, un-driven, have no ambition, but we can prove them wrong with projects like this one. We are motivated by the people who believe in us, who treat us fairly and who value our worth.

Who did you write it for, who do you hope will read it?

I hope that both domestic workers and employers will read this book. Because our stories are raw and real. Each one of us has a different story to tell that other domestic workers can relate to. They can learn from our experiences.

And really all employers need to read this book. Reading our stories will make them understand us more. This book will be an eye opener for them.

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Did you tell your own employer about the book? What did they say?

My employer and I were having conversation one day, when I mentioned the book to her. I told her that I am one of the writers, and that my story is about all my experiences in Singapore. She was very happy and excited, and told me that she is very proud of me. She bought the book and attended our launch party too.

Is there an important message you wanted to bring across with your story?

The most important message of my story is to love what you do. I love my job and I am proud being a domestic worker. If we love what we are doing, there will be good relationship between our employer and us. If we love our job, we will have a very good understanding of it. We will not allow anyone to take it away from us. Because it is our bread and butter. But we also need to know our basic rights, and what we need to do when an employer is abusing us. We need to have the courage to speak up. And remember that there’s always hope.

Why do you think an organisation like HOME is important?

HOME helps so many domestic workers. HOME gives them a reason to fight because this organization understands and supports them. As a volunteer at HOME, I have experienced how many domestic workers rely on this organization. I can feel how satisfied they are after we give them advice. HOME is where the help is!

 

If you like to read Bhing’s full story, please purchase a copy of our book. More information on where to get a copy can be found here.

Photos by: Mita Kelder photography

The Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) is an anti-human trafficking organisation advocating empowerment and justice for all migrant workers in Singapore