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.

Invite launch

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

Courage

I remind myself of my strength often. There were times when I have had to hold on for dear life while working as a domestic worker in Singapore. But honestly, the true test has always been deciding if I should still stay with an employer or leave.

As a domestic worker, I only asked for a clear record. My patience wore thin when I realized that my working situation was against the law. 

I was working in two houses and I was the eighth member of the household. Carrying this heavy workload was tough. The living room was where I laid my tired body each night. During the wee hours, I would hear footsteps to the toilet as they passed by me. Sometimes, they will turn on the television and ask me to turn my body against it. The CCTV in the house never turns off, causing me to feel uneasy during my rest.

I knew for sure from the very first day that I should only be working at the address listed in my Work Permit, but I did not dare to report it. I was bothered by the thought of waiting out a case if I complained, so I remained quiet for almost four years. But there came a time when I could no longer tolerate the situation. I needed to leave. Soon, it was the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. I had to choose between repatriation or renewing my contract. 

But God is amazing. He works in ways we cannot see. I asked a lot of people for advice. They were concerned for me. It was a while ago when I met one of HOME’s help desk volunteers. When I approached her, she told me to stand firm and fight for my rights. I finally found the courage to lodge a complaint, though the process was not easy.

I am very thankful for the sympathy shown to me, and the fair judgement made in my case. For now, I am finally free from my illegal deployment and found a new employer. I feel much better because I am valued as a domestic worker, and a human being. I now have a private space to rest.

It is not easy working as a migrant domestic worker. We face many difficulties but a piece of advice I have for my fellow workers is, be strong and courageous. Remember, you are not alone. There are a lot of people who care, who are willing to listen and offer helpful advice. Never lose hope and above all else, have faith in God for He has promised that He will never leave nor forsake us. 

Lene

Photo is taken from CNA and used for illustration purposes only.

To transfer or not? A difficult question for MDWs

The COVID-19 pandemic has stripped many migrant domestic workers of employment options, forcing them to choose between abusive work environments and the risk of being sent home.  As the pandemic worsened and Singapore’s borders closed, the number of new domestic workers allowed into the country dwindled. Employers began rejecting transfer requests, confining workers to their homes and asking them to work overtime. At the same time, faced with the uncertainty of obtaining a transfer, many workers looking to leave abusive environments decided to extend their contracts or remain with their employers.  In fact, the number of employees requesting to transfer shrank by 80 percent during the pandemic. Many more domestic workers that I spoke to had to take on an increased workload, by working on their rest day with no compensation

I spoke to several domestic workers to learn more about the agonizing decisions they were forced to make during the past two years. 

For many women, the risks of staying in abusive jobs were pit against the uncertainties of transferring. One woman I spoke to had been patiently waiting to leave a difficult employer after her contract was finished, to avoid damaging her employment record. But when her contract finally ended, the pandemic was at its peak and she grew scared of not having her transfer approved or finding a better family to work for. “I have to stay, to renew my contract,”’ she said. Her family depended on her. 

She prayed her employers would treat her better. Instead, the abuse worsened.  One night, six months into her new contract, she decided she had enough and asked to be let go. Her relief after leaving the employers was quickly replaced with anxiety about her future. Luckily, after a week of interviews, she signed with a new employer who she describes as considerate and understanding. She found peace and happiness there. 

Many others described heightened levels of abuse during the pandemic. One worker recounted with tears in her eyes how she lost 8kg and became suicidal after working for an elderly woman whose family became increasingly abusive, forbidding her from eating food in the fridge and monitoring her with CCTV cameras. “I feel so useless and think so little of myself because of the way I’m treated. It’s as if I’m not a human being, like them,” she said. She worried the process of transferring during the pandemic would be too difficult, but ultimately decided to look for another employer. She is now working for a single father who treats her with kindness and respect. There is no more yelling, no more verbal abuse and she gained back the weight she lost, and even a little extra. 

Other women suffered the aftershocks of disruptions in their employers’ lives. One migrant domestic worker I spoke to was given one month to find a new family after her employers found their bank accounts squeezed by the pandemic. “We’re sorry, we have to let you go,” they told her. “Things are not going well for us.”  She scrambled to interview with different families, and get her paperwork to the Ministry of Manpower, but her employment request was denied three times before it was approved. The turbulence caused her tremendous anxiety, but she finally found a great family to work for. 

I hear the despair and agony that these workers went through, but I am also inspired to see their courage in the face of the unknown. In the face of tremendous difficulty, they discovered their voices and sought out better situations for themselves and ultimately, their loved ones. I tell them to keep the faith and to not give up hope.

Jo Ann A. Dumlao
HOME volunteer and MyVoice contributor

Photo is taken from Channel NewsAsia and used for illustration purposes only.

Blurring The Lines Between Us (Verve 2021)

After reading an email I received from the Verve Arts Festival 2021 committee, I was excited and happy! On one hand, I knew that participating in this event would widen my horizons. But on the other hand, I had doubts as I was involved in another project at the time. So I told myself, “Practice good time management.”

After our final discussion for the festival, I was all set to go.

Verve Arts Festival was organised by Ngee Ann Polytechnic students, and it was held online from 11 to 18 December 2021. Bhing, a fellow HOME volunteer, and I, participated in a segment titled, ‘Blurring The Lines Between Us’. This initiative aimed to raise awareness of the discrimination migrant workers face, such as moving freely in the city, through audio trails. We hope they will allow for more interconnection between migrant workers and locals. It’s undeniable that locals have a poor impression of migrant workers, and this programme seeks to change their perspective. May the local viewers come to see that migrant workers can navigate spaces in Singapore with dignity.

We narrated three audio trails set along the lines of Lucky Plaza, Orchard Road, and in one’s own home. Recording these audio trails made me think back to when I first arrived here in Singapore. The first time I entered Lucky Plaza, I was reminded of home as there were numerous Filipino products and food on sale. On my first day off, I remember feeling amazed by the sculptures around the area. There were so many differences compared to where I am from; stunning tall buildings, convenient underground passages that allow you to escape the hot sun or heavy downpour, and rows of shops and food stalls or restaurants. There are shopping malls in every corner, creating a lively and beautiful Orchard Road. As you walk along Orchard Road, you can see us migrant workers as well, and I am sure your thoughts and opinions about us flow.

I wrote a poem titled ‘One Fine Sunday Off’, which I narrated in the audio trail listed as ‘Along These Lines at Orchard Road (Audio File 6)’. You can listen to it below.

If you would like to know more about Bhing’s and my artistic journeys as writers and poets, you can watch this Q&A video below.

There’s a line in the programme that says, “Migrant workers form one-fifth of Singapore’s population, but do we consider them part of our community?” Insightful, isn’t it? It makes me wonder, “Do I feel recognised? Do you recognise us?”

I really appreciate the invitation to participate in this amazing project. I enjoyed the process of filming and recording the audio trails in different locations.

To find out more, visit their website or check out their Instagram page @verveartsfest.

Jo Ann A. Dumlao
HOME volunteer and MyVoice contributor

The pride in writing

One lazy day of August 2019 as I was browsing my Facebook account, a post from Migrant Writers of Singapore (MWS) caught my attention. It said: “Submit your Story themed Life in Singapore by November 1, 2019.” I paused and reread the post. Interesting!


I told myself: I have written stories about myself already, though I know there’s more to tell. This time, let me write the readers a story that I know will catch their attention, something entertaining or intriguing. I had the story plot running in my mind already and was inspired to put the story into words. With all smiles and amazement whenever I see my fellow Migrant Domestic Workers (MDW), watching them in person or when I see their updates in social media accounts. Yes, the story would evolve into an MDW- her escapades on her day offs, her love of the clicks of the camera, wearing different outfits, striking different poses and flaunting her beauty in different expressions. On the dot of the deadline, I submitted my story to Migrant Writers of Singapore. Fingers crossed.


Months went by, and there were no signs that my story was chosen. So I let go of that. But then, in July 2020, I was added to the group chat of Migrant Story Writers team of Call and Response 2. I was so excited and at the same time, surprised! Why so? I had brushed off the thought of my story already and had told myself, better luck next time.


The day I had been waiting for had come! I couldn’t believe it but thanking God was the very first thing I did. I remember I was talking to my son and his best friend at that time who were both very happy for me. Another dream had come true.


In the book Call and Response 2, A Singapore Migrant Anthology, the migrant writers are paired up with Singaporean writers for their – stories and poems. The book was launched digitally ( because of the pandemic situation) last February 21, 2021.


In this book, several of my fellow HOME volunteers are also contributors. Kina Pitono- 28 Days story, Novia Arluma- Am I Wrong poem, Jo Ann Dumlao (yours truly)- Nuri in Her Wonderland story and Bhing Navato- In a Fine Country story. Bhing is also one of the editors for the poetry entries in the book.

I have my pen and paper in my hand, they are like the annexe of my mind. Writing allows me to express myself in words.


Jo Ann A. DumlaoMyVoice contributor

* The book Call and Response 2 is available at Books Actually, City Book Library, Epigram Bookshop, The Public Library *

HOME Sister guide art

The National Gallery Singapore is celebrating its 5 year anniversary. And in connection to this event, the Gallery invited people of all ages and all walks of life to share their interpretation of a chosen artwork from across the gallery, to be added to the artwork as a label.

      These artwork labels could be in form of writing or drawing, discussing what the artwork means to you, how it connects to you. The artwork labels will be printed and be hung on the exhibit walls next to the artwork chosen. And the name of the contributor and some information to know more about him/ her will be included for everyone to see! 

      Of course the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) Sisters Guides didn’t miss this opportunity. A list of artworks was given to them from which they could choose to create an artwork label for it.

Novia Arluma chose the ‘Land and Farmer are Free when United’ artwork by Tanah and Petani Merdeka / Menghidupi Semlia, the artists (Indonesia). She wrote a poem as her artwork label.

Novia is from Indonesia herself and has been a Migrant Domestic Worker (MDW) in Singapore for 14 years. She counsels fellow MDWs who face problems and runs Pena Novia, a blog in Bahasa. Her blog focuses on MDWs issues, rights and protection. As a Gallery Sister Guide, Novia leads fellow domestic workers in Southeast Asian art tours.

“ I feel honoured to be a part of this wonderful project. It’s another experience,” Novia said.

Bhing Navato chose ‘Defend Thy Honor’ an artwork by artist Fernando Amorsolo. (Philippines).  She also wrote a poem as her artwork label.

Bhing is from the Philippines and has been a domestic worker in Singapore for 25 years. She volunteers with HOME and writes prose and poetry. As a Gallery Sister Guide, Bhing leads fellow MDWs in Southeast Asian tours.

And Bhing said, with all smiles, “ It was such an amazing honor for me to be given the opportunity to have my own artwork label to be placed beside one of the most important artists in the Philippine history.”

Jo Ann Dumlao chose ‘Portrait of a Man in Barong Tagalog’, an artwork by artist Severino Flavier Pablo. A sketch of her son wearing Barong Tagalog is her artwork label, together with some descriptions about the Barong Tagalog.

Jo Ann is from the Philippines and has been a domestic worker in Singapore for over 13 years. She contributed to Our Homes, Our Stories, an anthology of personal stories of migrant domestic workers. As a Gallery Sister Guide, Jo Ann leads fellow MDWs in Southeast Asian tours.

“I am in high spirits, feeling great elation! Who would think that an MDW in Singapore be given the chance like this, to create an artwork label for the National Gallery Singapore. I am speechless, really on cloud nine! Thank you, NGS,” Jo Ann enthusiastically said.

We don’t get this chance often, so, when an opportunity knocks, let’s embrace it.

HOME Sister Guides are thankful to NGS in opening a window for them, in experiencing how to be a docent and enjoying the magic of artworks.

Let the magic of Art Embrace You! If you too want to experience the magic of art, do let us know and we’ll bring you to the Gallery. And it’s Free!

*Article written by Jo Ann herself a participant and one of the HOME Sisters Guide *

Portraits of home

The Culture X- Initiative organised the Portraits of HOME project in partnership with HOME Singapore. The project displays a group of women who play dual roles in their lives; they are Domestic Workers who make an impact in other people’s lives through their hearts and with beautiful talents.

     Who’s behind the Culture X- Initiative? Photographer Jasbir John Singh came up with the plan for these photo-shoots that were inspired by the respective stories of the women themselves. Jasbir identifies his work to be artistically driven and humanitarian by nature. He specializes in social documentaries and street photography. He has also produced several award- winning fine art photo series which he calls Visual Poetry. The Culture X- Initiative has also worked with Documentary Photography project with the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The Portraits of HOME show  6 remarkably talented women who have a big influence in their community.  

                                                                                       

1- Istri Yanti, The Photographer.

Yanti is an Indonesian domestic worker in Singapore, 38 years old, a single mother. She wanted to provide a better life for her family. After she completed her contract with her 1st employer she found out that her employers kept a weighty secret from her: Her 8 months old baby under her family care back in Indonesia had passed away. This was kept from her for 2 years! 

I can imagine how hard this must be to Yanti as I am a mother too. Her employers point of view was that losing a child is a foreseeable distraction and not a misery. So they kept it a secret. How cruel the employers are!? What if this happened to them, how would they feel? The beautiful part of Yanti’s recovery is she developed an enormous love for photography. She uses her hobby as a means to give back to her community. She enjoys taking photos of Migrant Domestic Workers (MDM) who are graduating in their HOME Academy classes and that makes her feel good and proud. And, she joins photography competitions  and received awards.                                              

2-Novia Arluma, The Changemaker.

“Even if I cannot change policies, I will still be happy to contribute towards protecting my fellow MDW’s.”

This is Novia’s perspective. Novia is also a Domestic Worker from Indonesia. She volunteers at HOME’s Indonesian Helpdesk and advocates fer domestic worker’s rights in both Singapore and IndonesiaShe is a political blogger who tries to improve policies relating to MDW’s , as well as an MDW herself would come around?  Our biggest take away from Novia’s story is her unbound willingness to commit to a mission. Her story is not only inspiring but also filled with lessons for all of us: That we can do so much more to help each other if we set our minds to it.               

3- Bhing Navato, The Poet.

“I used my past experiences to tell stories and to express myself.” 

Bhing, a domestic worker from the Philippines and volunteer at HOME’s helpdesk, was subjected to mental and verbal abuse in some of her earlier employments. She would always hear herself being called “stupid” and be put through all sorts of vulgarities flipped at her for the smallest mistakes.  Although Bhing is not working for the same employers anymore, the thought that maybe one day she will cross paths with them still scares her till today.  Her coping channel is through her poetry where she can express herself.   

4- Kina Pitono, The Teacher.

“I volunteered to teach English to other MDW’s.”

 The 1st time Kina arrived in Singapore from Indonesia, she could barely speak English. But because of determination and willingness to learn, she sacrificed her day offs and took English courses. Her employers were very supportive. In 2014, Kina graduated with a Specialist Diploma in English Language.  She started teaching English to her fellow MDW’s with HOME SG on her days off. According to Kina, she enjoys teaching, so she is not sacrificing, rather, it’s her hobby.                                                                                                                                 

5- Nina Rotelo- The Kind.

“The work I do may not mean much to others but for my family, it is everything.”

Despite being a teacher in the Philippines, Nina  quit her job as a teacher, packed her bags, came to Singapore and work as a domestic worker. She wanted her siblings to have the best education possible and could provide for them better with the higher salary she could earn as a domestic worker.

 She believes in doing the right thing even if it means making some big sacrifices. Her time in Singapore has been a positive one. Her job as a domestic worker has allowed her to raise a family of graduates who are now living flourishing lives.

6- Jo Ann Dumlao, The Bold.

“I believe in standing up for others and for myself.”

In her 13 years working as an MDW, Jo-Ann has encountered different kinds of employers, experiences and problems and was once on the verge of giving up. She worked only for 3 months in her 1st employer. The moment she entered her employers house, most of her things were confiscated – except for her watch. No day off, $20 a month but the Ahma (grandma) had to keep it, could have her phone on Saturday till Monday morning only ( Ahma kept it). But, Jo Ann fights the good fight. She transferred to another employer.

Many people underestimate how empowering simple a act of kindness can be. Jo Ann worked with a kind and understanding employer who helped her manage herself better even.  Like the other 5 women mentioned above and many more unsung heros, Jo Ann works tirelessly to make the lives of MDWs better with compassion and a good dose of humour.

MDW’s should have the courage to express their opinions to their employers. Communication with the employer is very important and it should be done with respect and openness on both sides. In every story there’s always a good and a bad side but in the end, a lesson is always there that we all can learn from. These are the women who are brave enough to share their stories.  To read their whole story, visit The Culture X Initiative FB page or Instagram the_culture_x_initiative.

Article by Jo-Ann Dumlao

I dream of butterflies

After working in Singapore for 19 years as a domestic worker, Kina Pitono made the difficult decision to move back to Indonesia. She now lives in Jakarta where she works and continues her studies, trying to adjust to live in her home country again. Her husband still works and lives in Singapore. In this article she reminisces on her recent stay in hospital, the COVID pandemic and freedom.

I DREAM OF BUTTERFLIES

It was dark, it was quiet … half of the world was sleeping, but not me. My body ached, I felt itchy all over, and I felt so much pain in my stomach. It hurt, it really hurt, but why? What was going on, what was happening to me? Slowly I opened my eyes, trying so hard to get up from the bed and finally I could sit up and I was surprised to see red rashes. I panicked, scared and so weak because of the pain in my stomach. I reached out to my phone and tried to call my roommate, but only 30 minutes later I managed to get a hold of her because she was charging her phone and had put it on silent mode.

The moment she came to my room my condition was at its worst. The rashes had spread all over my body, my head two times bigger, my eyes and my lips swollen – I looked horrible, like a monster. My roommate was trying hard to keep me calm while she was calling for an ambulance, grab, taxi – I think she was calling everyone in this world to pick up us.

When we reached the hospital, I had to go through a few tests to make sure that I was not positive for Covid-19. I was relieved when the result was negative. Later, the Doctor confirmed that I had  an allergic reaction and also a digestive infection. I felt so much pain, I cried so much. How I wished my mother was beside me. But because of the pandemic, I kept my illness a secret, I did not want her to worry, I did not want to see her tears.  I wanted her to be happy even though I knew she was sad,  because none of her daughters could come back home for the important day which is  our new  year: Hari Raya Idul Fitri.

The hospital room was quiet, the night cold …. slowly I pulled up my blue blanket, I stared at the wall – with a drip on my hand so I could barely move. The nurse came in and gave me some medicine, so I felt better at last. I tried to sleep but I could not. I really missed my family and my husband. This pandemic has so  much impact on all of us and we are forced to face it. We are forced to lose our jobs, we are forced to leave our loved ones behind, we are forced to stop our businesses, we cannot meet our friends and family, we are not allowed to visit medical patients, the world is suffering. Money is no longer the priority, a title is no longer  important, rich and poor are no different -everyone only focuses on their health.

Since the Covid-19 outbreak has begun, each and every morning that we wake up and still have food on the table is a blessing. Some people worry, can they still survive tomorrow or the day after? They might have no income, but their family still needs to eat. The children are no longer going to school, they are forced to stay at home to study. They cannot go outside to meet their friends and play. Their smiles have turned to gloom.

It was 4 pm in the afternoon. I was told to get enough rest after taking my medicines. My phone suddenly rang …  I was too weak to even move my hand to get my phone from the table. It was my friend  who called me, and crying she told me that her mother had passed away. I was so shocked, I cried too. My friend cannot go back home to see her mother for the last time, she cannot say good bye to her beloved mother, she cannot even attend the funeral. I cried as my heart ached, I felt her pain, which must be terrible, hurt, sad, miserable and disappointed…but what we can do? Knowing we cannot travel because of this pandemic saddened me. But I knew my friend has a strong heart, she can hold her pain of losing her loved ones, and for that I salute her.

I stayed in the hospital for 4 days and finally I was discharged. When I got home I had to quarantine  in my room for a week to prevent spreading of the virus to my roommates. I am blessed, I still have people here, friends who treat me like family. They take care of me very well  and help me whenever I need their help.

But still I miss my freedom, I miss going outside to smell the fresh air, I miss listening to sweet voices of the birds singing on the tree, I miss my family back home, I miss spending quality time with my friends, as we talk and we laugh together.

On the other side of me I could see how they wish the same too. I kneel down, I put my hands to pray, dear God please heal our world, Covid -19 has made us realise we have so much to be thankful, to appreciate every blessing , to care and to love our family and friends.  Our health is our priority.  We miss our freedom of life and wish to have back of our normal life.

We dream of butterflies (freedom).

 

Kina Pitono

Jakarta 2020

Discrimination is a killer

By Miriam

Recently I read an opinion piece by Renee Graham, a Globe Columnist that stated “Being a person of color isn’t a risk factor for Corona Virus. Living in a racist country is”.

Racism is a killer. In a pandemic like the one we are in now, it can be a mass murderer. And despite of what we are facing now, discrimination is unstoppable. Don’t get me wrong, by quoting this, I’m not saying that Singapore is a racist country. Instead, I’m referring to some Singaporeans who don’t even think twice before they burst bubbles. It is not only about color, it’s wrong to treat people differently just because of their race, ethnicity, culture or profession; we’re all human beings. What I want to discuss here is discrimination against foreign workers.

Last Friday April 10, 2020, The Straits Times published an article that highlighted a Corona Virus update from dormitories – with 287 cases as the highest cases in a day. Reading the comments under the article I became very upset. There were comments along the line of: “better get all your maids to go for a test too and advice those workers to stop visiting their maid girlfriend” or “those workers should stop patronizing red light district for prostitutes” and “some foreign domestic helpers have Bangladeshi or Indian boyfriends, some sell themselves during their day off too, I see many helper on Skout asking men to pay her services”.

These comments are below the belt. If you have something to say, you can do it with good manners. We as domestic workers have no problem if we have to go and get tested, as this is for our own good. But before you say something harsh about FW’s (Foreign Workers-male) and MDW’s (Migrant Domestic Worker-female), think again.

Aren’t many Singaporeans also patronizing those red light districts? And how would those commenters know if helpers on Skout ask men to pay for their services, unless they were on it themselves, looking? If some of the helpers have Bangladeshi, Indian or whatever race boyfriends, what’s the problem with that? Are we not allowed to like or love them, just because we are helpers? Is that a crime?

As my co-writer Iya said in the anthology Our Homes, Our Stories: “Our hands has five fingers with different lengths, just  the same as every other person in Singapore.” These foreigners you are discriminating are  working hard, even if some employers maltreat them; because they want to give the best for their family back home..

If FW’s and MDW are showing some public display of affection, often people  take photos, upload them on social media and let those netizens criticise it like they’ve done a horrible crime. Of course we understand right now we need to practice social distancing, but even before, this happened. It’s normal to show affection for a couple in a relationship. And if there are some helpers and foreign workers, who do more than they should do still, you can’t  think that all FW’s and MDW’s are the same. You never know what  they are going through – each person you meet has a story to tell, so instead of being judgemental, just listen well! It’s so unfair to judge  MDW and FW’s and exclude us from the things that human beings are free to do, just because we are helpers or construction workers.

I’m wondering if these people have ever imagined their lives without a foreign worker to collect their everyday trash, trim their garden, fix their leaking pipes, renovate the broken things inside their house, re-construct the road so that they can drive conveniently? Have they ever thought to figure out what to do in their everyday lives without a foreign helper to cook their meals, tidy their bed, clean their house, stay up late at night, when their kids are sick and look after them in their absence.

‘Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you’. Remember domestic workers and foreign workers are human beings that work hard. For them, this time of Covid-19 is as bad as for anyone, maybe worse. Don’t judge them without knowing them. They don’t deserve to be discriminated!

Can Foreign Domestic Workers Still Go Out To Parks For Exercise?

Can Foreign Domestic Workers Still Go Out To Parks For Exercise?

By Bhing

I refer to the article published on April 11, stating that foreign domestic workers must stay home on their rest days.

I want to clarify whether domestic workers are allowed to go out for some exercise, such as walks in parks. The article states that “if they need to go out to buy meals or run essential errands, they can do so but should return home immediately after that and should not loiter or gather in any public spaces.” No mention is made about whether we can leave the house for some fresh air.

I understand that the government has clarified that people generally are allowed to go out to parks during this period of circuit breaking, as long as we practice safe social distancing. I want to ask if this advisory by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) also allows domestic helpers to exercise in parks as well, since the article published seems rather ambiguous.

This has contributed to much uncertainty for domestic helpers like myself, since I am unsure of whether I am allowed to go out for walks during this period. My employer is also not sure, and because the law holds my employers accountable for my actions, they are reluctant to give me permission to go out.

I understand why my employers are hesitant, for the advisory is written rather ambiguously. I also understand that MOM is trying to discourage people from congregating in public spaces, and I wholeheartedly support this and understand the public health reasons behind this.

However, I am concerned about domestic helpers who may feel claustrophobic or suffer from cabin fever, after being cooped up in a house and working so hard for so long. We are not asking to go out to meet our friends; we are simply asking to have the chance to leave of place of work once a while and go out for some fresh air. I am also concerned that there is a double standard at work here, where other people are allowed the rights to visit parks as they please, whereas us domestic helpers need to seek permission from our employers.

I hope MOM clarifies this point quickly. Domestic helpers are also human, and have similar needs. The government has previously classified socially distant exercise in parks as “essential” for people’s well-being; I hope domestic helpers’ “essential” needs can be met as well.

 

 

 

More stories behind COVID-19

Look What You Have Done to Us

By Jo Ann Dumlao

We  Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs) are living with the scare of COVID-19 just like everyone else. But at the same time, for us, it is not like for everyone else.

All of us are living in a different reality right now. Work places and offices are closed, shops and roads are empty. We are all asked to stay home. How is that impacting our daily life?

Ironically, domestic workers are protected financially because we are working from home already. We have been living in isolation for years, locked down, some even locked up; all because we want to give our families a better life. But on the other side, we are not at our own home, we are away from our love ones, unable to be with them in a time of need.  Imagine not being allowed to go home to a funeral of a love one?

Does this mean we cope easier in the current situation? I don’t think so. Being used to a pain doesn’t make the pain less, it is still the same pain as for another person. Maybe it does help us to understand it better, and maybe that helps us deal with it better in the long term. But the pain of isolation the Corona virus- COVID-19 is inflicting on us is a pain none of us should  have to deal with.

As an MDW, I chose to inflict this pain on myself as a normal part of my daily life….So yes, MDWs have some prior exposure to being “locked down” but that just puts us in a better position to deal with the stress and emotions the rest of the world is experiencing. I wish we would all have the privilege of being locked down with our loved ones. For us MDWs, we can not. That is stressful but survivable.

I had some conversations with my fellow domestic workers and they shared their feelings, and experiences that this scary COVID-19 has inflected on their lives.

Daisy is a widowed mother, she sacrificed a lot and now has adult children. She has been working for 12 years as an MDW and her 2 children are both professionals already: her son a Police Officer and her daughter a Medical Technologist. Since this pandemic erupted, every week is a nerve wrecking one for her, day by day Daisy prays hard that her daughter is safe while doing her duty. Her daughter as a MedTech is in close contact with patients every day, and there was one patient who just came from an overseas holiday in Italy and didn’t declare it. A concerned citizen informed the Medical Staff of the Rural Health Unit (RHU) about the patient’s travel history. That alarmed the whole RHU as it put many of the staff at risk.  At the time of writing this, the patient is still a Person Under Investigation (PUI). Being a mom, I can comprehend how Daisy is feeling right now: scared to the bone. We are all hoping and praying for the best results, not just for Daisy’s daughter but for everyone in the community.

Ate Lita has been saving every penny she can, so she can bring her son over for a holiday. “My son is so excited, I was in high spirits and set to go home on the 31st of March. I would be attending my son Moving Up Ceremony of Grade 10. And after 3 days I would be flying back to Singapore with him. It was our long awaited journey together to Singapore. We have been looking forward to this holiday for a very long time. But because of COVID-19, the happiness and excitement have turned to disappointment and sadness. Every single plan had to be canceled. What can we do? Being safe and being healthy is what matters most in this health crisis. We pray that all this will end soon, that everything will be back to normal soon”.

I also spoke to beautiful bride to be Rei. “I can hear the church bells ringing, it sounds like music to my ears. My heart skips a beat – I’m nervous and excited! You sure it’s still beating? Am I not dreaming, no, I am wide awake, I am sure of that! These were the scenarios playing in my mind. I have waited for so long and so has my boyfriend, for this wonderful couple moment that is going to happen- from planning to reality. Walking with my boyfriend’s hand in mine, and mine in his. But then everything turned upside down because of COVID-19! Yes, my boyfriend and I planned tying the knot this 15th of April, we both went back home (he is working in Dubai) last year to arrange everything for our big day. I can’t stop the tears flowing abundantly from my eyes, feeling frustrated, devastated, feeling down … It is all I can think now and I told my boyfriend also that, maybe God has other plans for us, maybe it’s not the right time yet (though we’ve been together for 4 years). I know that the rainbow will come out soon, will give colour again to our quarantined life”.  A very emotional Rei , but she is still full of hope.

And it’s Ate Tess story that is the most heartbreaking, I get misty-eyed listening to it. “I am hugging myself, holding my mother’s picture right to my heart while tears are unstoppably running down my cheeks”, Ate Tess said. (Ate is a Tagalong expression that means “like an elder sister”).  Her elderly mother died and there’s no way she can go home and attend the wake and funeral. Every year Ate Tess goes home for her mom’s birthday, but this time she was not able to go home and see her mom for the last time. How painful it must be –  I hug Ate to comfort her. Sometimes a hug is more powerful , and needed despite social distancing. “If only I had lots of money, I would take the risk of going home and not coming back anymore”, an emotional Tess added. COVID-19 has stopped Tess going home in this most painful of moments.

Hearing their stories and trying to put myself in their situations, it crushes me.

How does it affect me? Honestly, it is scares me and still (sometimes when am out for grocery shopping) makes me feel uncomfortable. I have to stop, take a deep breath and take a hard look at my own life as a mom away from her 3 children; as a daughter away from her elderly and sickly mom; as an elder sister away from her brother and sister. As if I am into darkness feeling anxiety, scared, uncomfortable, suspicious and angry. The moment I heard that there’s a case of Person Under Investigation (PUI) in the condo where I am staying, the next block to ours, my first thought was – “I am not ready to die yet, I am away from my children.” Yes, that sounds like overreacting, but I don’t care, I have so many mixed emotions that I can hardly get a decent sleep at night. I know that I am walking with God, He is my yardstick that I and my family are surrounded with His love and protection. I keep all this in my mind every time I open my eyes for a new day and as I close my eyes at night to sleep.

I hope and fervently pray that this pandemic will end soon, no more pains and sorrows.

This Corona virus is affecting us globally. Don’t forget your self-care routines these days. Remember to wash your hands frequently with soap, wear a face mask if you are unwell, practice good hygiene and social distancing.

Let’s help the government, let’s do our part to fight this COVID-19, Stay at Home. Stay Safe. Stay Healthy.

 

JO ANN A. DUMLAO

Writer

Migrant Domestic Worker

The situations described below happened in the last few weeks, and in the meanwhile rules keep changing. Please refer to government websites for up to date information and read this message on our HOME website. If you have any concerns, please contact the HOME helpdesk.

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