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
This January HOME shelter hosted a workshop by Writing Through, a charity teaching language fluency, conceptual thought and self-esteem through creative writing. Over the course of the week the students took part in brainstorming sessions with images and song lyrics to create their own poems and short stories.
Rhea: True Story
By Realyn, Age 26, (Philippines)
There is a girl name Rhea, she is 26 years old now, she is a happy person now and has a lot of friends. She is still single until now because in her mind she is focussing to achieve her dreams for herself and her family.
Rhea was living in her grandparents’ house near the mountains since she was a 6 months old baby because her mother needed to find a job to raise her and support her needs. But Rhea don’t know that was why her mother left her, and when Rhea grew up and asked her grandparents about her mother and father her grandparents only told her about her mother.
When Rhea started to go to primary school when she was 6 years old she always got bullied by her classmates.
They always said “Ha ha ha ha, Rhea doesn’t have parents because when we have parent’s meetings only your grandparents attend.”
She asked her grandparents again that day, ‘Where is my mother and father?” But her grandfather said, “Your mother has a new family now and your father, we don’t know him since your mother came back from the city where she worked”.
That time Rhea realised and understood that’s why she always bullied not only by her classmates but the other kids too because they know that Rhea doesn’t have a father.
She is always thinking to run and to hide from everyone because of her situation, she feels like she is alone in a desert but Rhea doesn’t give up, she keeps fighting for herself and for her grandparents.
But when she was in a high school her grandfather passed away, she was sad and crying in the rain asking to God why this is happening to her, “I am a good girl, why God? Why?”
After Rhea graduated from high school she always kept fighting to live not only for her, but for her grandmother. But sometimes she thinks about her biological father, she wishes that one day she will find him and know him, hug him and tell him that she loves him, even though he left and didn’t find her and her mother. Until now she is still wishing to find her father because she’s so thankful even though she grew up without her father.
This January HOME shelter hosted a workshop by Writing Through, a charity teaching language fluency, conceptual thought and self-esteem through creative writing. Over the course of the week the students took part in brainstorming sessions with images and song lyrics to create their own poems and short stories, a selection of poetry written by shelter residents is shown below.
A group poem
HOME is a safe place and gives you peace of mind. HOME is comfort
HOME is like a family,
Enjoy friends and share different experiences, Teaching and comforting.
Asking for help and security
Crying, too much thinking…
Freedom and NEW beginnings?
Happy and smiling together while relaxing.
by Jessica, Age 25, (Philippines)
Here in shelter, I feel the comfort.
I refresh my mind and am hoping to recover.
I feel the emotion.
I always keep on praying
I miss my parents and family,
and hoping for a new beginning on my journey.
What is life all about?
by Joy, Age 26, (Philippines)
Life is not about money.
you become happy if you have friends, become united, place to stay with comfortable, silence, prayer
hard work and peaceful place that
make you relax. life is colourful,
is not about religion
it’s about what life take you and how you react on that. life is so magical that like a rainbow
that gave new beginning.
Juliet G. Ugay
I am writing this exactly a week after I left Singapore, to go back home for good.
A big step, a big change. I spent 10 years working as a domestic worker in Singapore. They have been years of hard work, patience and a lot of courage. Being in this job has taught me many things, not only about people but also about myself. I’ve become resilient in many ways. Every family I worked with – a total of five over the span of 10 years – was unique. Families with different attitudes, different foods, different languages, and different characters. I learned to adjust depending on their needs. Some were difficult to work with, some not too bad, and some just right. Most of the 10 years were not good times, but I survived. How I admire those domestic workers who can last for 25 years or more.
I hope that, in those years, I have left something in Singapore for people to remember me.Ten years is a long time, especially for someone like me, who has a son back home. Maybe for those who are single, it’s a bit better, as they have less to worry about, except for their parents or siblings. My son is now 11 and he is the main reason why I made this big change.
He is not young anymore. He is more aware now of the things around him, and he is more sensitive. He is beginning to need more care and attention that I, his mother, can only give. He is entering the stage of adolescence, a time where he needs someone to guide him so he’ll grow up responsible, and thinking like a man.
I spent the first few days of my stay here organising our house. The kids are at school during weekdays, so the house is empty and quiet, just nice for cleaning. Our house is old and small, so it took me only a day.
What I like about being here is the fresh air, and cooler temperature. Our house is surrounded by big trees, so the air is fresh all day and night. The local vegetables are fresh and sweet, most of them can be found in the backyard or at the neighbours, much different to Singapore, where almost everything is imported and by the time you cook it, is tasteless and soggy. Local ﬁshes are also abundant and mango season is around the corner. If you like simple living, you can live here. You just need some extra income to keep it going.
In the ten years since I left, so many things have changed in our town. Roads are getting better, Internet is accessible, houses are popping everywhere and there are more people. Some of them I haven’t seen in a long time, and some were born while I was away. People smile at you, and you wonder who they are, and you realise you’ve not lived in this town for 10 years. It is funny, but nice.
Here, you see kids, as young as 2 years old, holding an Ipad or a cell phone.I remember I got my first cell phone when I was in college, Motorola brand, the size of a land line telephone, and the charger a size of a medium sized rock. Nowadays, technology has changed a lot of things. People have gotten lazier and people complain about a lot of things. Sometimes I think life was better way back then.
Though my son is still shy to ask me things or tell me things, I know that he is happy I am here. I brought back my guitar, which he plays now and then after school. My son is unsociable, he does not like taking photo’s and things like that. He doesn’t like someone telling him what to do, what to wear, or what to eat. But he knows what he wants, that’s for sure. He is now in his final year in primary and will finish in early April. The education system in the Philippines has changed too over the years. They have added a few years to the usual time of school. Indeed, time flies.
I must admit I miss Singapore and the people close to my heart. I miss the conveniences of life there, and the hectic lifestyle. I miss the summery weather and the clean surroundings. I miss the kids I was taking care of. I miss my nice neighbours. I miss my friends and our stories, tears and laughter. It is quite difficult to adjust to life in the village after the working routine I’ve been having for 10 years.
At the moment, I have no deﬁnite plan what to do next, but I am thinking of going to another country, and look for better opportunities there. All I want at the moment is to spend time with my son and family, and see what happens after my son finishes school. Or when I run out of savings, haha.