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

Stealing

STEALING

What is stealing? For me, the word stealing has a lot of definitions. Of course, I understand the most common is, when you take something, an item, that does not belong to you. That is simply stealing.

But what should we call it when people take away someone else’s rights?

Being a domestic helper, we have the right to know what our rights are. The employer should be responsible to let their helper know for instance, that if you are not allowed to take a day off, they must pay you in lieu. Also, they should let them know how much the minimum salary of a domestic helper is, or that the employer is not allowed to ask the domestic helper to clean another house, office, condo – or ask them to do a job that is not part of your everyday task. For me that is stealing too. It is stealing to deny people their rights.

Why do many employers so easily accuse a domestic helper of doing wrong? Is it because to them, we are poor only, and  cannot afford to buy anything? Do these employers try to ask themselves if they are not  stealing too?

Not allowing a domestic worker to know the truth about her rights and not following the government rules that is STEALING.

YOU ARE STEALING WHAT IS RIGHTFULLY THAT OF YOUR DOMESTIC HELPER!

 

By Jofel 

Jofel was accused of stealing by her former employer and has been staying in the HOME shelter for a year and eight months now, whilst her case is being investigated by the authorities. Jofel denies the accusations against her. She has not been convicted, yet she has not been free to leave the country, nor hold a job – and thus has had no means of income for the past  years. Jofel volunteers at the shelter by helping her peers, and developing her skills in crafts and writing. Read her life story here.

English at HOME

HOME shelter volunteer Puja shares her experience of teaching English at our shelter for domestic workers. We have a team of volunteers running these lessons at different levels,  managed by long time volunteer Stefania.

I started volunteering with HOME six months back, joining a few other motivated ladies in teaching English language to HOME residents (all migrant domestic workers in Singapore). When I started, I had no idea how challenging the classes could be. After a few classes I realized that my well thought out lesson plan had no place here, I had to think on my feet every single class! Our lessons have to be as dynamic and fast evolving as the students of the class – some days we have over 30 enthusiastic students, other days just a handful. Some residents attend lessons for weeks and need structured teaching while others leave after one class. Some residents are confident English speakers and write prose and poetry, while others cannot communicate in English beyond their name.

Despite the challenges, what keeps me and my fellow teachers going is the fact that we are empowering women in the true spirit of the word – little by little, utilizing the limited time they have with us to upgrade their skills and hone their confidence. Our classes are also an opportunity for residents to share stories of struggle, joy and hope. Some classes have emotionally charged moments, like on International Women’s Day when we asked residents to write about a woman in their life who has inspired them; one resident broke down as she described her beautiful relationship with her stepmother, who was in her eyes a “wonder woman.”

Finally, at the end of the day, I hope and pray that we have in some way kindled the joy of learning through our classes, even in those who don’t stay with us for long. For as they say, “A teacher affects eternity; she can never know where her influence stops.”

HOME is grateful to all our amazing volunteers, and we want to extend a big thank you to all in our team of tireless English teachers. Learning the language is very important when living in a foreign country, not only to improve communication with employers, but also express their feelings and ensure these women know their rights and how to ask for assistance when needed.

Are you inspired by Puja’s story and interested to volunteer at HOME? Look here for more information. 

Domestic Worker Writers at SWF 2018

Sunday at its best!

 

We, the contributors of the Our Homes,Our Stories book have been waiting for this day to come: November 11th, 2018. Who could have thought that ordinary Migrant Domestic Worker (MDW) writers would be featured at Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) 2018?

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First, we shared our stories of struggles, failures, victories, learnings, love and heartaches compiled into book. The book was launched, and since then we have been invited to numerous reading events then unexpectedly, Singapore Writers Festival invited the Our Homes,Our Stories writers to read at their prestigious festival.

Singapore Writers Festival is one of Asia’s Premier Literary events which was founded in 1986 and was called Singapore Writers Week by then.

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Thank you Singapore Writers Festival for inviting us. It is such an accomplishment for us and so humbling. It is beyond our dreams that we were a part of SWF 2018as presenters and not just in the audience.

The General theme of the 2019 SWF is “The world(s) we live in, which is a perfect fit with that of our book: “Domestic Worker Writers reflecting on their two homes: Singapore and their “home countries.”

Our Homes, Our Stories is a book that give a voice to Migrant Domestic Workers in Singapore. A book that every household with MDW should have and read. It is a must-read for employers.

 

On November 11th Seven MDW writers read part of their stories in the following themes:

 

1) Homesickness- Jo Ann Dumlao

2) Making a home:support network- Novia Arluma

3) Home countries:missing family- Miriam Escander

4) Role model- Nina Rotelo (Cute)

5) Love- Rea Maac

6) Self-confidence- Kina Hidayah Kastari

7) Pride in your job- Robina Navato (Bhing)

 

With pride, they read their stories. The audience showed interest as they listened  and asked  questions afterwards. These MDW writers has been working in Singapore for many years and have considered Singapore their 2nd home.

Migrant Domestic Workers spend a big  part of their lives making sacrifices working away from their love ones, from their families. Employers should treat them fair and just and respect them as Human Beings – just like anyone else. They are people, not commodities. And, be mindful that these MDW’s play a big role in your lives – taking care of your loved ones.

Again, thank you Singapore Writers Festival for this enjoyable experience!

By Jo Ann Dumlao

 

Halloween Filipino Style!

By Miriam Escander

If ever there was a holiday that deserves to be commercialized, it’s Halloween. It comes second only to Christmas and kids and adults can both enjoy it. I am especially attentive to Halloween, because it happens that I was born on Halloween. So for me it has always been a special occasion.

In many countries, Halloween is celebrated on October 31st, but in the Philippines, due to a strong Catholic tradition, we celebrate it on the first two days of November. November 1st is All Saints Day (Araw ng mga Santo) and November 2nd is All Souls Day (Araw ng mga Patay). We spend these two days remembering our dead loved ones and you will find most of us at the cemetery or a memorial park. We don’t celebrate these days with tricks and treats. When we visit the cemetery we bring candles with different designs, different colours and amazing smells, as well as nice and beautifully arranged flowers.

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When you go and live in a foreign country, you might feel amazed at how a favourite holiday is celebrated there, how different. That is what I have experienced here in Singapore. Halloween as is celebrated here started in Britain and other parts of Northern Europe as part of the ancient Celtic Religion. I’ve been working here for 12 years yet only last year experienced my first Halloween celebration with my friends. It was a lot of fun and vey exciting, though I did have some difficulty in saying NO to dressing up and putting on Halloween make-up. That’s the thrill and highlight of having a Halloween party.

 

Here in Singapore, a few weeks before, you can already sense that Halloween is just around the corner. Shopping malls display Halloween stuff. Adults, teens and especially kids are getting more excited every single day. Take for example the 4 year old boy I look after. The whole family was invited by a friend to attend their Halloween party. They started planning their costumes and he was excitedly counting the remaining days left before the big day. Every morning he would tell me “Miriam, 5 more days more to go before Halloween!”

He said that every day until the big event. That morning, when I was making coffee for myself, I asked him, “How many days left  before he Halloween?”

He showed me his clenched fist and said “ZERO”

I could not stop myself from laughing. The excitement on his face made him look even more adorable. When we arrived at the venue, we saw hanging balloons with Halloween designs, amazing food, residents with their kids wearing scary costumes, and a corner for the games they prepared. At the end of the event, everybody was looking tired and exhausted, especially the kids, but I could see the happiness and satisfaction on their faces.

 

When we got home and I was already on bed, I looked at the pictures I took, and suddenly reminisced about the Halloween we used to celebrate when I was a kid.

In the Philippines, a week before, we start to clean up the cemeteries and the graves of our love ones; the graves get a layer of fresh paint and everything is made ready for the visits on November 1st and 2nd. People from other places start going back to their hometowns to visit their dead loved ones. Airports are packed, as are ships and buses.

 

You might think we have a very boring Halloween, I mean cemeteries, graves, prayers and all, make it seem like a serious affair. Not so. Spending Halloween in the cemeteries is a fun event. It is like a mini-reunion for families and friends alike, a chance to be with those people that we see only once a year. Tents, shelters, chairs and tables are set up in front of the gravesites to provide a place for families and their visitors to stay and talk. Best of all, food and drinks are overflowing during this time, with families bringing basket of foods and drinks to share with others. Food we prepare is not the same as food here, we make native delicacies called “kakanin” some of which are only prepared during Halloween. I remember when I was a kid, my grandmother used to tell us not to eat the food that they cooked until it had been offered to the dead loved ones. We do this by taking a small portion of each food and put in a corner with candles.

 

If I am to compare the way Halloween is celebrated today and before, I’ll still choose to celebrate the “BEFORE”, it was so much more fun than these days.

There you have it. Halloween Filipino style. It is definitely different but equally as interesting as the Halloween celebration in other parts of the world…

 

My sunset

By Rara

 

My Sunset

 

When the sun is rising

When the morning comes

When the air is cold

At that moment, I remember you

 

You, you are my sunset

The sunset that I always miss

The sunset that is always in my mind

The sunset that always makes me warm

But …

I have lost you

 

If I had a second chance

I always want to be with you

Spend every second in my life

Laughing with you

Crying in your arms

And fall asleep in your hug

 

Dear my sunset

In another life

I will never let you go

 

 

Rara is a pseudonym. Rara is a domestic worker from Indonesia and has been staying at HOME shelter and writing helps her to cope with the problems in her life. The English version of her poem Matahari is her own.

Can I have a day off please?

By Jo Ann Dumlao

I am one of the many standing passengers on the MRT from Paya Lebar heading towards the city -Orchard Road in particular. As always, I choose to stand at the adjoining point of the MRT where I can lean back. Undeniably, the noise of chatting of my fellow migrant domestic workers from different races is catching the attention of the other passengers.

I always carry a book with me that I can read while traveling – be it in the bus or the MRT. As I start to read, I notice a conversation close to me.

“I am new here in Singapore, it’s my third month to be exact and my first time to take my day off. I want to go to Orchard – Lucky Plaza, could you please lead me the way, sister? Are you going there too?” I hear a girl ask the girl standing next to her in a Bisaya accent. Then the other girl replies, ‘Oooh I am just like you but you are luckier. You are fresh here and you are already in this MRT looking for your way to the city!’

A “why” comes out of the first girl. As their conversation progresses I can’t stop eavesdropping – out of curiosity. The second girl has been working with a family for a year and it’s her first time to get a day off. Her boss doesn’t allow her to go out because she worries she might get into trouble or will get lost. Both of which are lame reasons in my opinion. When she told her boss that she wanted to study at a certain short course, they finally gave her two days off every month. The first girl says they are both the same, having their two days off now and they happily exchange mobile phone numbers.

From the corner of my eyes, I notice another girl staring and probably – just like me – eavesdropping on the conversation. Her eyes seem cloudy. I make few steps to get near to her and ask if she is okay.

Ate (elder sister),” she replies, “I have been working here for 6 months, and my boss allow me to have some Sundays off. But $20 is to be deducted from my monthly salary whenever I take a day off.’ I was like, whaaat?!

Then, she added she she always has to buy her own toiletries, while we both know those should be provided by her boss.

I really don’t understand why so many employers are very hesitant to give a day off to their domestic workers. It is not even 24 hours in a week!

“Have you eaten your breakfast,” I then ask her.

“Not yet ate, I intended to have brunch for me to save my money on breakfast,” she replies.

Knowing that I have enough money in my pocket, I invite her to join me for brunch. At first she is hesitant, shy, but when I insist she agrees.

We go to Lucky Plaza and straight ahead to one of the stalls and order bulalo- meaty beef knuckles with soup and vegetables plus rice. We enjoy our food together.

While we are eating, she tells me that alternately of the months, she takes her day off. So in October she has two days off, in November one day and December in celebration of Christmas she’ll have 2 days off again. On her day off, she leaves from work at 10 am after cleaning the house and washing the car. She must be back by 9:00 pm to tidy up the house again before retiring to bed.

To us migrant workers, our day off is what we are always looking forward at the end of the week. Some of us are privileged to have Public Holidays off as well. Our days off are when we rest recharge, meet our friends and can improve ourselves with classes.

My point here is, that domestic workers are not robots, they are not commodities— we are Human Beings too, just like employers are. They need to relax and unwind too and they can do that during their day off. Grant them a day off but please, don’t deduct any amount from their salary- that’s too unfair!

I am sure, your bosses at work or the company you are working for, don’t do that to you. Please at least be kind to her, you are depending on her with all kinds of house chores including taking care of your love ones.

Jo Anne Dumlao is a HOME volunteer and one of the contributors to the anthology ‘Our Homes, Our Stories’, a book featuring real-life stories of domestic workers in Singapore. 

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Helper Appreciation

 

By Miriam Empil Escander

Showing APPRECIATION to loved ones, friends or a mentor is an important gesture of gratitude, especially to those who impacted our life or helped us in times of need. Who doesn’t want to get appreciated?

Most of the time appreciation might not given to us, but getting it once in a while makes us more motivated to do our work and run everything smoothly. It also encourages us to do things better, even in the midst of challenging times.

As human beings we all want to be valued and recognized for our effort. I once read a quote from Sam Walton, founder of Walmart: “Appreciate everything your associates do. Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise.”

 

We might not all be working in a big multi-million company but of all employees we migrant workers also need some appreciation as much, perhaps more than anybody. Due to entrenched poverty in our country, working overseas is the only alternative to escape from debt and hopelessness. We travel to foreign nations, legally or not, just to get out of the dark cloud of poverty. Often we do this without considering the possibility of suffering abuse or getting maltreated by inhumane employers.
Leaving our kids for a very long period of time is the worst sacrifice we’ve ever had to make as a mother. No one can argue that a young child will fully understand why mama wont be reading bed time stories at night, why mama can’t prepare breakfast in the morning before they go to school, why they can’t get a cuddle from their mama when they are sick and why mama is absent on special occasions in their lives. Often the kids who are left behind are the ones who suffer most. No matter how hard we try to believe that Skype, Messenger and Facetime offer some type of communication with them, it still doesn’t fully work to maintain a strong bond. In my case, I can’t count how many times I recieve a “Mama,kailan ka uuwi” [mama, when are you coming home] or “mama,uwi ka na” [mama, please come home].

After all these sacrifices, leaving our family back home to work abroad for their future, we only want one thing; that our employers treat us well and appreciate what we do for them, either big or small. To us that means our sacrifices have paid off well.

We work six or seven days a days a week – sometimes 24/7. I guess it’s just fair enough to at least once in a while hear we are appreciated. It helps us to wipe away our weariness and longing to our family back home.

 


Last September 8th 2018 , as a HOME volunteer, I was given a chance to attend an event HELPER’S APPRECIATION DAY held at Australian International School with over 300 people including helpers, employers and the kids they look after. It was such a tremendous event to witness. There was so much fun going on, activities for kids and helpers, yummylicious foods, a magic show, balloon sculpting and face painting, traditional Filipina and Indonesian dance, free painted portraits for helpers, amazing goodie bags and so on…..
As a migrant worker who got a chance to be there and participate in this event, I was so deeply moved, and we have the SASSY MAMA SINGAPORE TEAM to thank for making such a big effort to put up HELPERS APPRECIATION DAY, as well as of course all the sponsors.

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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