Off day- the favourite day of a domestic worker?
The off day can be the favourite day for a domestic worker. It is her time to go out, to meet friends and enjoy herself. But many domestic workers experience different problems with their off days as well. Some might have just one a month, some have to do work this day, some might not even have one. Here are some women staying at the shelter sharing their experiences with the off days.
When I stayed at my last employer, I had one off day from work every month. In the mornings I normally woke up at 5.15am and I went to bed at 11pm, so when it was the end of the month, I felt excited. Soon I could have my rest day. I felt tired during the work days, I had no time to rest. I was supposed to have one off day every week, but the employer just gave me one per month.
All us domestic workers are waiting for Sunday, the off day. I woke up Sunday morning, cleaned the house, made breakfast and waited for my employer to wake up. Because before I could leave, my mam always checked my bag, my pants and my jacket. When she let me out of the house, she always told me:
“You must come back before 5.30, and be back on time.”
When I came out of my employer’s house I felt so fresh and like a butterfly. I felt sick of my work, no time to stop, no time to rest, and now I could go out! I was very happy. I could eat what I want, even rice and chili. I was sick of the food I had at my employer’s house. All the time noodles and sausage, noodles and sausage.
The first place I went on my off day, was to Paya Lebar to send money home. It always takes a long time to queue, sometimes from 11 until 1 or 1.30.
After I sent the money I went out to find another place where there is not so much people. Paya Lebar is a place where all Indonesian domestic workers come. I could see many people there, from a lot of different countries. I had only one friend, a girl who worked for a neighbour, near my employer. We bought newspapers, some clothes, sometimes our food. We sat down under a tree and I enjoyed my off day. I felt that I could finally rest.
As I experienced the off day, I was always rushing. Before my off day, I would always plan where I should go and who I should meet. But before I went I had to do some work, I had to take care of the children, to feed them, shower them even if it is my off day.
Then finally at 10 in the morning I was off. I was rushing. I only had 9 hours to enjoy, to meet friends, to take pictures. If I had my salary, I first needed to send money to my home country. Off days for others is a very happy day, but for me I wanted to go by myself sometimes, to rest, to find a quiet place where I could reminiscence.
Sometimes, when I didn’t have enough money, I would stay in the house on my off day to work, although it was very tiring.
Sometimes on my off days I was scared as well. Outside the house, you don’t know who you can trust. I sometimes went to parties, but I didn’t stay long
When I came back from the off day, there was always some work to be done.
I used to feel so happy when I had my off day. Then I could relax and meet my friends. We would go to the East Coast Park to see the sea. I could go to the library to read a book. I could also eat some food that was different from the food I had at home. My mind felt refreshed, because I could see many places that I hadn’t seen before. If I had a problem, I could meet my friends and share my feelings. After that my heart would feel happy.
Then, with my new employer, I never had an off day. I just worked there for 4 months, but she never gave me a day off. I felt tired and bored, every day doing the same thing, just work and work. The mam was always scolding me. In the end I ran away.
The first six months in my employer’s house, I couldn’t take a day off because I had to finish my salary deduction. After six months, they allowed me to take one day off every month. Before I left the house, I had to do some chores, like cleaning the living room.
I left the house at 8 am and I needed to back at 7pm.
In the morning, I went to church to attend mass. After that I went to remittance to send money home. Then I met my cousins and my friends. We had long conversations to share with each other everything that had happened until the day finished, and it was time to go back.
When I reached my employer’s house, it was time to do some house chores again, before going to bed.
The off day is a happy day because I meet new friends, see many beautiful places outside. I feel free and relaxed from all the stress inside the house. I go to church to pray that all my wishes for my family is granted, especially for my loving son.
What lies beneath is unknown.
Nobody can see you, you are on your own.
Worries and fear will surface without realizing it,
No matter how you pretend that you are not beat
Life is hard for some of us here.
Difficulties to others, abuse that is severe.
Forbidden to communicate with the people we love
I feel like a prisoner, photos are all I have.
I start before sunrise, end before midnight
Long hours of work, it does not seems right.
There are times that I wake up in my sleep in pain
Leg cramps that are unbearable are acting up again.
The food they give is not enough for me.
Leftover in a week, they give for free
But if there is nothing, I need to sit and wait
For them to finish dinner, I can have something on my plate.
I tried to reach out to others to let them know,
But their blank stares tell me, just go with the flow.
They listen with their eyes, not with their ears
Words they tell me, they bring me to tears
Life is hard for some of us here
Difficulties to others, some live in fear
We need a heart that listens and empathises
To feel our woes and hear our cries.
By Bhing Navato
Better late than never
Last Sunday, the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) celebrated International Women’s Day. We celebrated on March 12th instead of March 8th, because most of our HOME Family members are domestic workers, who need to work on weekdays.
The celebration started with Christian, Buddhist and Muslim prayers respectively. In the said celebration, members and audience hand in hand sang a song that delivers “If we hold on together, our dreams will never die.”
Then, it was time for dance, and each HOME Family group was represented. The best three Dance Groups were chosen by a jury of volunteers. The HOME shelter group was selected as the winner.
A jury chose 20 women from the audience to join in an on-the-spot cat walk on the stage in a competition for Best Dress. The criteria were the dress should suit with the theme, be carried well, and fashionable as well as elegant. All candidates in the top 10 were asked a question regarding the day’s theme (Empowerment of Women), and from there the judges picked the Top 5. All winners in each categories were given prizes.
HOME Roses group gave a demonstration on HIV/AIDS awareness, a video sharing and a great condom demonstration, a quiz, and prizes were given as well.
International Women’s day is an important day for HOME, for domestic workers, and for all women. We are proud to promote women’s rights!
All the HOME Family leaders (I represented My Voice Family) gave a short message to the audience about International Women’s Day–Empowerment of Women, as this year’s theme.
A Petition from HOME members/foreign domestic workers in the Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar and India was read-out-loud, in which they expressed what they are going through in their employers home. It all summed up into one important point: The rights and dignity of foreign domestic workers should be given the utmost attention by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). To formalise the Petition, foreign doemstic workers and guests present signed the Petition letter to be passed on to MOM.
Respect our rights, respect our dignity as workers.
By Jo Ann Dumlao
By Maria Allen Cellan
I’ve always been scared of making decisions for myself. Sometimes I just want my family to make decisions for me because I am afraid that my decision will be wrong. But I’ve realized that you have to trust yourself and your plans.
It’s been 6 months now since I made a huge decision for myself and left Singapore. Working as a domestic worker for four years was a big challenge for me. From office employee to domestic worker, that seemed like a big shift in my career. From ledger to mop, computer to vacuum, bookkeeping to cleaning windows. But hey, I don’t have any regrets at all. It was a good experience for me. Working away from home has taught me a lot of things, especially how to be independent.
It took me a year before I decided to not renew my contract. I made a long list of pros and cons, talking things out with friends and making choices and sleeping on it. But in many situations, there is no clear “right” answer or even a best one. I kept asking myself: “Who do I want to be?” I lingered on that question for a while. I needed change. I was tired of being discriminated because of the job I was in. And yes it’s important to know and think about all of the practical pros and cons of any given option. I had to consider the benefits of leaving my job as a domestic worker. Asking myself “Who do I want to be” is not easy. But it’s the question that brought me closer to the right decision and to the life that I really want to live.
Six months have now passed and I am perfectly happy with my decision. I admit that I miss my friends in Singapore, the church that I normally go to every Sunday, the kway teow noodles, fried carrot cake, the local coffee shop, and of course the easy transportation. Having a good memory with good friends in Singapore has changed my life.
Now that I am in the next chapter of my life I believe that something exciting is waiting for me as long as I am open to opportunities. As for now I am enjoying my jobless life, discovering myself in paints and canvas while waiting for my next visa from the Australian government.
I would say that if we are not happy where we are, if we want more in life, if we want to pursue our dreams, then it is time to move and make a decision. A decision that can make us happy and satisfy our soul. Let us not be afraid to make a decision for our dreams, let us trust our guts and our heart, and discover who we really want to be. As the saying goes: “The world is a place to explore, and it will embrace you if you embrace it.”
With teary eyes, with a shaking voice about to break down, my friend said,”I know where I stand, I know what kind of work I have, I know who or what I am in the family, I know and do my job, fulfill my obligations for the house and the family; I follow the do’s and don’ts. Why does my madam need to keep on telling me every now and then that I am just her helper, that she is paying me?”
“Yes, she is paying me, but I am working hard for the money she pays me. I even skip lunch meals to meet her expectations, and follow all the commands she is giving me. I have to eat my dinner at 11 pm or 12 mid night, and do not even get enough food, at a time when I know my fellow FDWs are peacefully sleeping already.”
My heart was torn into pieces as I couldn’t do anything to help my friend. I felt so angry at her madam. It was not the first time that I heard this kind of scenario. Even in the MRT or bus, I sometimes hear this from fellow FDWs.
Is being an FDW a crime or a sin? Are there no rights or privileges for FDWs?
You, the high and mighty employers, if there were no FDWs, who would you ask to make your home tidy, neat and clean, who would bring your children to their play dates, to their school–send and pick up, to their tuition outside your home, who would do the laundry, which takes a lot of time and effort before it is done (washing, drying, then folding or ironing, then hanging it or putting it back to the wardrobes)? Yes, you have lots of money so why not just ask your money to do the things for you, and no need to hire an FDW?
The Ministry of Manpower (or MOM) have guidelines for the employer and the FDW to follow, but still it seems a large number of employers are not obliging. Just like in the case of my friend’s cousin, who is still new in Singapore, after 3 months. She is not allowed to use the phone, gets little food, but needs to work from 5am to 12 midnight. She rests only if she goes inside the bathroom. There are CCTV cameras planted in and out of the house, she can’t even go out to buy whatever she wants for herself, and she has NO DAY OFF!
She is the second FDW in the household. The other one has a spare phone that she keeps hidden from their employer. When I had my own day off few weeks back I personally hear from a friend that she was being locked up in their unit at the 17th floor every time her bosses went out. Which meant everyday, as both of her bosses work full-time. Why oh why? This is the worst story that I heard from a FDW. What if there’s an emergency in their block, or a fire, how can she escape? If it’s a matter of life and death, how will she survive? And yeah, there is CCTV all around that house also.
These kind of employers, do they deserved to hire an FDW?
An acquaintance of mine is working presently with an employer that buys her personal necessities and food including rice, but the amount is being deducted from the FDW’s salary. Meaning, the FDW pays back whatever amount is due. I was tongue tied, and didn’t know what to say except: Heartless! If they can’t, or won’t, feed another person that is added to their family, if they can’t trust a stranger that is working inside their house, and for their family, then why should these employers to hire an FDW?
FDWs are human beings too. Why do some employers need to insult, starve, maltreat us? Why do they feel the need to cut communication with our families? Because of this unfair, unjust, inhuman treatment, some FDWs run away and seek help from MOM or HOME.
I hope MOM will be more strict with employers who are heartless. May they listen to the voices of FDWs who are crying out loud for a fair and just treatment.
by Jo Ann Dumlao
Every week between 60 and 80 women stay at the HOME shelter. Here they receive what they need in terms of food, clothing and hygiene kits. HOME also assists them with their cases, and listens to their sometimes heartbreaking stories. Every week the women can take part in a wide range of activities and classes. In the writing class last week, the participants wrote about some of their experiences at the shelter.
I am Lea, I have been here for 3 days. During my experience, here, I am learning a lot every day. I do my things and I also join all the activities here. The volunteers are very nice and very good. They teach and explain many things.
At the shelter, I feel comfortable. Here there is no stress, I have a lot of sisters; we share and talk every day. I am so blessed and lucky to be here because the people here are very helpful to each other’s. I am very happy to be here.
I arrived here last Sunday at night, I decided to come here for help because I can’t trust my agent and my employer. When I am here, I feel safe and comfortable. I experience a lot of things like attending yoga, cooking and baking class, English. It is so much fun and interesting! I love it because I can relax and also challenge myself.
They treat me like a sister. We stay here like in our home. We have freedom. They help us to improve ourselves, they teach us to respect each other and to help each other.
Here at HOME organization, I experience being treated as a real human. The people here have a heart and have patience to listen to your story. And they provide good food so that we can eat properly and not pass the meals. They bring us to activities that we can enjoy; it helps us with forgetting our worries and laugh with friends.
The volunteers here are very nice and have also good hearts. They provide all the needs and make sure we are happy and feel safe. That is why I am so blessed to be here right now.
I am from the Philippines, I am 35 years old. I ran away because my boss doesn’t want to give me off day and was scolding me all the time. Since I arrived at HOME I feel much safer. I feel peaceful in my mind. I can go out of my problems because I can talk with people, not like before when I was at my employer’s house. Here I sleep well, I learn more English. I am happy here. And I meet some friends from Myanmar, Indonesia, and of course, from the Philippines.
The first day at the shelter I was so worried because I didn’t have anything. I only brought a t-shirt and a pair of shorts. I worried about how long I was going to stay here. Suddenly the leader of the shelter found out that I had no clothes, and she gave me a plastic bag full of nice clothes and everything I needed, such as toothpaste, toothbrush, soap and towel. I felt so happy.
The next day I made some friends and we talked about our experiences and why we had run away. It was a relief to talk to them. We always talk, laugh and joke and we do activities together like yoga class, baking, cooking and English. The most unforgettable moment was in the English writing class, where I wrote a poem and a short story about my life. This was the first time I told anyone about my life from I was young until now, I never shared this with anyone.
I feel happy about my everyday life here. I wake up at 5 am to prepare breakfast, but I am never tired because all of us have a different story and we must help each other. I know what it feels like when no one takes care of you. I am going to miss my friends here after my case is finished.
I feel so comfortable when I stay here and I think of this place as my second home. Sometimes we who live here don’t understand each other because we come from different countries and speak different languages, we have different cultures and so many other things, but we can still relate to each other’s feelings. We all want a better life. I am so happy when I see a friend go home or to another employer, because then I know that they can start again on a new journey of life. Sadness can happen in a life, but we need to continue our lives for our families.
I felt very scared when I first came to the shelter, but HOME made me feel like I was not alone anymore. For almost two months they have taken care of me and helped me to process my case. I feel they are like family, I feel cared for, I feel comfortable. I met a lot of friends from other countries and they made me wake up from the bad dream that was my employer’s house.
HOME helped me to become stronger than I was before, I can eat properly, I sleep well and no one can beat me or make me unhappy anymore. I know how to laugh again and I wake up every morning with a smile.
I want to thank the volunteers also to keep on helping HOME. If they were not there, we couldn’t stay here for so long and they understand our situation.
I thank God now that I can soon go HOME to my family, and I thank HOME for the comfort and care. I will never forget what you have done for me!
The beautiful drawings shown were made during one of HOME writing classes by artist Carla Talopp.
© 2017 Carla Tallopp