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


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