All posts by myvoiceathome

Meet the writers: Thala

This week we interview Thala, who is from Myanmar. In the book Our Homes, Our Stories she describes how she had to take care of elderly people suffering from dementia. One of them behaved aggressively towards her, and threatened her with a knife. As Thala is a teacher, not a professional caregiver, she felt unsafe and eventually ran away. For the book Thala worked with a Burmese speaking volunteer to write down her story. The interview below was conducted in English, via messenger, as Thala is currently back in Myanmar.

The first time I came to Singapore I was worried because I was in a strange country, with strange people; I did not know my employers and I only spoke a little English. I have had four employers in Singapore now, and two of them I loved. They have two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. Just like my family.

My first employer was good, but I did not feel safe working there, as the old grandfather I took care of touched me inappropriately. The problem was, when I first came to Singapore they cut my salary for seven months. And every time I wanted to change employers, I had to pay two more months of salary. But I did not have much of a choice. At the time I had no handphone, no day off. And my family is very poor, so I needed to take any job my agent offered me. But I was very scared every time I started a new job.

My second employer, where I also took care of an old man, gave me an Ang Bao envelope at Chinese New Year. I was so happy as I had not had any money yet in the nine months I worked in Singapore. But my employer’s father was jealous, and threatened me. This is the story I wrote down while I was in HOME shelter. They put my story in the book, so other people can learn what it was like for me. The old man was ill, he had dementia, so he did not know what he did. But he was dangerous. He hit me with a bamboo stick and tried to hurt me with a knife. I felt unsafe; I did not know how to deal with someone like that. In Myanmar, I used to work as a teacher. So I called the police.

After that I stayed in the HOME shelter. HOME is a good organization. They also have classes at their shelter, cooking, English, yoga, and the writing class. I like to write. I wrote several poems when I was there. When I was writing, and when the volunteers interviewed me, sometime tears would come down my face. They were so nice to me, handed me tissues and hugged my body. The people at HOME make you feel safe.

I found another employer after I left the shelter, but they have now left Singapore. I am back in Myanmar. I have not worked for the last three months, and because I am the sole financial supporter of my family, I really need a job. But it is difficult to apply from Myanmar. I don’t have an agent. If I would get an agent, they will charge me so much money again.

A poem by Thala

So many women want to forget about their life

Because life is rarely easy

I try to make my life lovely by thinking

I don’t want to be poor

So every day

I think, and think about a good life

This is my system

This is how I cope

 

Everybody has so many problems.

You cry, or you try

Don’t cry forever

 

 

 

 

Home organisation is very good.so many maid run away home is supports them.

 

Home have so many ladies they go acativy. they learn cooking class. breaking class.Yoga & body message.

yes sister

 

i’m writing sister.

now i’m cooking

 

 

 

i’ve 4 employer.i love 2 family. because they have two eyes & two ear.one mouth.

my first employer is good.but not safely.

 

i come singapore is first time.i’m worry.because is not my family.not my country.then i can speak a little big english.

 

 

i come singapore first time agancy cut my salary. 7 months

first employer no good

i try another employer my agancy find for my job

i’ve second employer.they cut next 2 months my salary.

total 9 months. can’t choice my dear.because i’m not have hand ph. no off day. so sadness this time. my family very poor.i want high salary. so i come singapore. but this agancy cuts my salary 9 months.must be so scare my agancy.

l decided my self. i work second employer.i take care old man.

this house have 3 people.

he is 93 years old.he is crazy man. my duty is take care him.

i work this house 26.5.2016.around 9 months finished chinese new year

His family give chines new year envelope.

He say to me this envelope has some money.

he want this money. his son say is this for yours.(me).

oh.i’m happy. i work nine months. i don’t have money.

i see first time this is my money.

old man jelous to me. this money he want.

next day he say to me again. u go back ur country. he don’t want to see me

later he bring knife.he say to me.he want to die. u kill me.i kill u. die is good.

 

i say old man.l talk very softy old man. please give me this knife.u want this money i give u. he not agree.he want to kill me.so i make careful this hand have kinfe i bring away.

he more than angry. he go kitchen have another knife bring again.he has knife throw my body.

must be so scare & very worry. i call his son phone.

old man very angry & shouting to me.he bring bamboo stick .he beat my back side.

i’m hiding the chair. he shout & shout to me.

he beat my back side. too pain i say him. i call police. i call faster police. later 30 minutes police come this house.

police say to me.not safely this house. they bring police station to me. i say i wait his son. police say to me.ok we wait together. later his son come this house. i say this case. police keep my passport & work permit.

police say to me.u go back myanmar or go back agancy

i’m not have money. i don’t want to go back myanmar.

no good agancy i ‘m not come back.

february last week i’ve police case. so sadness my heart.my tear come out every day. i don’t want problem. i want money but i’ve police case.

police bring to me CDE shalter.no good very bad this shalter.

 

this time my heart too pain. this shalter have so many myanmar ladies.i asked her.they live this shalter in 10 months plus.i’m afraid.i don’t want to live in this shalter.

i want to see this shalter leader. not have.they live other house.

so i’m shouting & crying. how to supports my daddy. money months i work maid life agancy cut all. i’m not have money. my heart too pain. who help to me ples

who contact shalter leader.i don’t know. later 50 minutes Mr mi

Mikle come this shalter.

i don’t want to live in this shalter. he say why?

this shalter have leader not warmly.she say to me first time my smelling have presion.

u know Mr.Mikle. my heart to pain. i don’t want problem. but i’ve police case .who help to me. is this not dream. R

he say to me. where want to live u? l want to live in home. he say again.home is where? i hear city hall have home.

how to konw u? i use fb. i see ever home page.

 

he promise to me.next 3 day he bring home. un belive Mr Mikle.i told him.he say again. i’m gentle man. not lie.he request again.please patient lady. i help u.i say again may be 3 days u not come i make this shalter is fire burning. his eye brightness.(O my Godness).

one day 3 times they give food.morning water & bread.lunch hot dog.dinner rice & meat.

 

around 3 days he bring to me home office.city hall

 

l live in home around 5 months. they contact MOM for my special pass.home have runner.translate.so many volounteer.

Home have leader very good heart.ever smile & warmly. one week one time come to doctor.cooking class breaking class.Eng speaking & care givers.painting & drawing class. sometimes hand make.

important is a good lawer. very patient staff. they asked my interview time my tear come out they give tissue & wave my body.so kindness

Your story will be part of the book coming out. Do you remember writing it with the volunteer?

Do you like writing?

 

sometimes go to acativy.

yes. i’m very like writing.

You like writing your own story?

Who do you hope will read it?

i want to new job. in singapore.but not easy.

Do you have agent?

 

not have sister

i’m not have job 3 months

please help me sister. i want to work in singapore. because my supports my daddy alone.

Let me ask around

 

yes sister.

i go china.CHENG DU

not safely.

i can’t speak chinesse

 

i come back myanmar

If I could turn back the clock

By Rosita Madrid Sanchez

I would like to share with you the true story of my friend Cecil. Cecil and I met in the HOME Academy where we were both studying in a cooking class.
Cecil is a typical Pinay lady; not so tall, curly hair, and a loud voice as if she is always angry with someone. It sounds like she is shouting even when she is just talking naturally. I found this strange, so I talked to her, saying: ‘Ssssh lower your voice, we are in the classroom, not at the market.’ Cecil just gave me a smile in return.
Days past, and when we were in final grading, the teacher put us in the same group. We were in charge of making Thai food. They asked me to be the leader of the group, and Cecil was assigned vice-president. While I was giving tasks to everyone and we discussed all the dishes, Cecil was very interested. After that, we became friends.  True friends; we talked, we laughed, and finally graduation came but even after we finished the course our friendship kept rolling until now.

One day my phone rang at 9:30 am, it was an unregistered number. I hesitated to answer because if the number was not in my contacts. But that day I had the courage to answer the unfamiliar number.

‘Hello? Hello?’ I heard.
‘Rose?’  It was a voice from a lady, and she was crying
‘Cecil?’ I answered. I knew her instantly even though she was whispering.
‘What’s wrong? What’s going on?’
‘I’m going home,’ she answered finally.
I was in shock, what had happened? I needed an explanation.
That morning, Cecil and her employer went to the doctor for a check up because she had some rashes on her skin, and had not been able to sleep well. The doctor told her employer: ‘Please send her home now.’
I did not get any more answers that day, but I suggested my friend to runaway and ask for help. The next morning she called me again.

‘Rose, I am at the airport. My employer is with me, and I have some money to use for medication.’
What could I say? I only said: ‘Please keep in touch. I love you.’

Cecil answered: ‘I will miss you.’

Two days later I noticed she was online, so I sent her a message:
‘Hey Cecil, how are you?’ This is the answer I got.
‘Rose, my eyesight is getting dark, I can’t see properly anymore. My body has started shaking, and I am not able to stand or to walk without any help from others. Both my kidneys have failed to function, the only answer is a transplant and dialysis, so my life can be extended for a year, for a month, for a week, nobody knows. You know what, my own silence killed me. Until I started crying, and I did not even care anymore whether my employer was around. I just felt as if one part of my body was totally gone, it was so painful. Why is this happening so fast, why?

Rose, if I could turn back the time, to when I first started to get headaches, and could not sleep well. To when I first noticed my stomach bloating, even tough my appetite had disappeared. This was the time that I should have told my employer I needed to see a doctor. But I ignored my body. It is all my own fault, I was only thinking about the need to earn money, I was only thinking of others, I never thought about myself. I had never thought I was already so sick. Now I am already at the last chapter of my life. Thank you Rose, for being my friend. And till we meet again!’

I think it is important at this point to emphasize to my fellow domestic workers that we only have one body, and one life. I know we always like to think that we are strong, and that we can’t afford to feel anything when we are working. But what about our future? We need to be sensitive and pay attention to our health and our body. Because we can never turn back the clock.

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To my friend Cecil, I have no words to express how sad I am that I cannot be on your side right now, the moment that you really need me. But I am happy that you are with your family and loved ones. From the moment I met you until forever, I won’t forget you. I love you.

 

Meet the writers: Miriam

We like to introduce you to another one of the writers for the Our Homes, Our Stories book. This week is Miriam Escander’s turn. She shares why she joined this project, and gives us a glimpse about what her story relates: the troubles she encountered when she left her husband behind in the Philippines. 

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Writing in the park

I joined this project because writing is my one passion, and I wanted to enhance my writing skills and see how far I can go from here. God doesn’t give us our talents for keeping, they are for us to share, inspire and encourage other people. I want to show people, especially my fellow OFW, that we can be more than domestic helpers only. We can explore things beyond our job, all we need to do is set our goals in life and concentrate on them. The thought that my work – for the first time ever – will be published in a book excites me.

I like the story I wrote for this project because I am the hero of this story. My own story, the one that is featured in Our Homes, Our Stories is a very personal one. I write about how my husband cheated on me thrice after I left to work in Singapore, and how I managed to cope with it. It was difficult to even start to process this, especially since I was far away from him, across an ocean.

My life asks for so much multitasking; I need to make a living, figure out how to fix my problems, secure my children’s emotional well-being, and on top of that face my own emotional issues. I always concentrate on my work and my children first. They are my strength and the reason why I keep fighting.

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Miriam with her daughters and niece

 

One thing I have learned since starting this project is how important it is to share your story with others, knowing that what you write will be read by others, and hoping that by sharing it publicly, someone might be inspired by it.

I’m hoping that my fellow domestic workers and our employers will read this book. For my fellow domestic workers – the stories will inspire you to aim high and reach for your dreams, to be strong for every trial that you will face. And for the employers – I hope that reading it will help them understand our struggles, the pain of leaving our kids behind, becoming a stranger to them, not being able to be on their side for years when they need a mother to care for them, especially when they are sick. The book shows all the things we need to go through in order to come here, escaping the poverty in our country for our kid’s future. We can always earn money but we can never earn back the time we have lost.

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Miriam with her brother and his family
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Miriam’s family

Words can touch people, so I hope it will make a difference when employers read this in how they treat their domestic workers. It will all depend on how they let the words instill in their minds. My own employers are aware of the project, and they can’t wait to have a copy of it. They are happy for me. They are very supportive and I’m so blessed to have found them.

The most important message that I want to share with others in my story, especially for those in difficult circumstances is: don’t walk away from God, have faith in him. As a Christian, my religion has helped me a lot in overcoming my problems in my personal life. No woman would want to experience what I did, but my journey was worth it in the end, as I came out stronger. There was a purpose behind the pain.

 

Our Homes, Our Stories will be launched by HOME on March 11th 2018. You can find more information on the book, and how to obtain a copy here: https://myvoiceathome.org/our-homes-our-stories/

First Moments

During a creative writing workshop residents of the HOME shelter, all migrant domestic workers, were asked to reminisce about their first moments in Singapore.

Roselyn

When I arrived in Singapore, I thought it was very different from my country, the Philippines. I arrived on June 23rd at 10.30pm. I did not understand how Changi Airport worked, and I prayed to God; I was confident that he would guide me. I asked a lot of people where the exit was, and what I should I do, but nobody had the answer. Finally somebody came to fetch me at 2 am. He took me to an accommodation, but I did not understand where I was in Singapore until they took me to my first employer. I experienced a very difficult situation there. I became tired, depressed and very homesick. I had to do a lot of work, and lacked rest. Until I got sick and could not continue. Fortunately, I managed to change employers.

Mimi

When I first came in Singapore, I felt dizzy and hungry while waiting at the airport for someone to fetch me. I was so nervous. Then, unexpectedly, I saw two celebrities from the Philippines, Kean Ciprianno of Collalily Band and his wife Chynna Ortaleza. I was so ecstatic!! I took a photo with them. After that, I bought a coffee, and I was in shock; it was so small but it costed so much.

During my stay at my employer’s house, I had mixed emotions. I did not have enough rest and food. They kept my phone, and there was no way for me to communicate with my family. When I ate, the daughter of my family told me I ate too much while I was only eating bread and worked very hard.

Aires*

When I arrived in Singapore, I was so excited but I also felt nervous. It was the first time that I was traveling abroad to work. I thought that Singapore was a nice place because my friend talked a lot about Singapore. But with my first employer I was very upset because she did not understand me. We were always arguing about the proper way to speak English. My ma’am did not know how to speak English, which is why we had so many misunderstandings. She was always screaming and angry and really did not appreciate me. I was so disappointed.

Giraflor

When I arrived in Singapore, I was very timid and I needed to control my emotions to prevent homesickness. It was all very overwhelming;  I thought my dreams in life would finally come true, after 5 years.

But when I stepped into my first employer’s house, I was surprised and disappointed. Inside the house lives seven adults and three kids. It was a 4-storey private house with a swimming pool. There was no MRT station nearby. I needed to wake up at 4 am and always went to bed very late. I could not eat when I was very hungry, I needed to wait for them to finish eating first. And they always had their dinner very late.

The most difficult thing was that I needed to adjust to each and every one of them. Many times, when they knew that they were wrong,  they wanted me to say sorry to them; even if I did not do anything wrong.

Jessa*

When I first saw Singapore, I told myself; it is so beautiful. All you see is buildings. I could not see any tricycles; only cars and motorcycles, unlike in my country. And all the people here have different languages and religions.

When I went to my employer’s house I was amazed at how big the house was, and how  many things there were inside. Then my Indonesian friend told me  how to clean the house. I was shocked because when I thought the house was already very clean (compared to what I was used to in my country), we still had to clean it more! Working here in Singapore is not easy, because we must clean all the time. And the children are so spoiled. We must do what they want. Sometimes, they shout, they kick our legs, slap our face, but we cannot say anything because they are the children of our employers.

Emmy

My first days in Singapore were unforgettable and amazing. For the first time, I could see the places that I had dreamed of when I saw them on television and paintings. When I arrived at Singapore Changi airport, I felt nervous and happy at the same time. Nervous, because I did not know anything about the place where I would work and live for 2 years. Happy, because I would see my sister again, who I had not seen for the past seven years. She hugged me and said “Welcome to Singapore; be strong and be a fighter”. I never forgot those words. They were so true.

Jenifer*

Before arriving in Singapore, I imagined that I would be able to go to places that I really wanted to go to like Sentosa, Gardens by the Bay, etc… That I would eat different kinds of food from different countries and take pictures of all the places I would go to. But this was only a dream.

My beginning in Singapore was very difficult. I had to adjust to so many things. I had to learn so much. The day I arrived at my employer’s house, I was very excited but also nervous. Very soon, I got disappointed. In the one year and two months that I worked there, I did not get a single day off. I could not visit a single place.

Lisa*

My experience here in Singapore has been very special. At my employer, there were a lot of tasks inside the house; we were working non-stop. The only moment we could rest was  sleeping time. If I made mistakes, my employer always asked the questions and gave the answers himself, not letting me defend myself. I was physically tired but just as much mentally. The kids were sometimes fine but sometimes, they kicked me or punched me. I felt miserable. After a full day of work but I would have additional physical pain due to what the kids were doing to me.

But one day I decided to leave my employer. I will now go outside and see how beautiful Singapore is. Hopefully I can visit the Singapore zoo, the Gardens by the Bay, the Merlion and the Marina Bay Sands towers. I really feel happy now in Singapore.

*name changed for privacy purposes

Meet the writers: Jo Ann

To whet your appetite for the ‘Our Homes, Our Stories’ book we take you behind the scenes of the publication. Whilst the editors and proofreaders are working hard to get the manuscript ready for the printer, we interview domestic worker and HOME MyVoice writer Jo Ann Dumlao about her experiences whilst writing her story for the book.

The moment I heard about the HOME book project, I didn’t give it a second thought: I knew I wanted to join. I am not a professional writer but I can push my pen. I love writing and I knew that with this book one of my ultimate dreams would come true. Seeing my name in a book as a contributor, to me, it’s such and achievement. This is not the first time that I wrote my story. I also joined the HOME MyVoice Writing Workshop with OFW Pinoy Star Founding Editor Clement Mesenas in 2015, and my story was featured in the HOME section of the OFW Pinoy Star magazine.

Writing a personal story like this is somehow both hard and easy. It was especially hard when I remembered the difficult times, and I would pity myself and ended up crying. I’d have to put myself back together, not let my emotions overtake, to be able to put words together smoothly. How did I do this? I reminded myself of the positive outcome of my struggles; that through these struggles I have been able to prove to myself that I am strong. In spite of being alone in this foreign land, I was able to survive and conquer my fears. The complex part of story telling is that it tests how sharp your memory is. Remembering the sad, fun, easy and adventurous sides of the story, I was surprised by my still sharp memory!

Do you know the feeling of having a burden on your chest? Writing helps to release it. I felt unburdened when I finished my story. My family – far away in the Philippines- did not know about my struggles. They never knew that I was once on the edge of giving up, of losing hope.

Jo Ann, Novia, Gilda
My Voice book writing workshop (Jo Ann, Karien, Gilda, Novia)

We domestic worker writers all have different stories to tell and yet, we understand each other. We have different dreams to share, but we comprehend what each one of us wants to convey to the readers. We enjoyed the group sessions we had, as if we were just sharing chitchat over a cup of coffee.

I am hoping that many people will grab a copy of our book, especially employers in Singapore and their families, the officers from government agencies like MOM (Ministry of Manpower) and also that they will take their time to read it. From our book, they can learn what ‘our world’ – that of a domestic worker – is like in reality. Maybe it will make them reflect; think about whether they are a reasonable employer to their own domestic worker. Do they treat her fair and just?

We are working hard to earn a living for our families, just like our employers do themselves, in their offices. An employer and a domestic worker are the same like that. After reading the book, I hope the employer’s hearts will soften, as they gain a better understanding of a domestic workers’ situation, knowing that they are away in a strange country, far from their own family.

The relationship between an employer and a domestic worker should be on a give and take basis. If the employer is kind to her domestic worker, she will be more diligent in her work, and happy in doing her chores. They will have a harmonious relationship and live peacefully and happily under one roof.

My employers know that I am an active member of HOME, and that I wrote my story for this book – also that they are a part of my story. They were happy to hear about it, and their two children even shared some thoughts about me that they wanted included in my story.

Writing this story made me realise that I have learned many life-lessons that had a great impact on me. They made me the person I am today. In my journey I have faced lots of ups and downs, it was a rocky road. I have cried buckets of tears, questioned myself and even God, asking why I needed to suffer and carry such burdens.

An organization like HOME is very important to migrant workers who have no one to turn to for help. They offer a shelter to stay safe, and medical, legal or financial assistance to those in need. I am happy to be a member of HOME – the voice of the voiceless, the helper of the helpless, the home for the homeless.

‘Our Homes, Our Stories’ is an anthology of real-life stories written by migrant domestic workers in Singapore. It will be launched on March 8th, International Women’s Day, by HOME.

Did you pre-order your copy yet? You can do so here: https://www.giving.sg/humanitarian-organisation-for-migration-economics/our_homes_our_stories

 

 

 

The long wait is over. The cool breeze of air is making us feel that Christmas is here. The shining, shimmering lights and decorations accros every corner of the roads, in shopping malls or buildings, Santa Claus and his reindeers all along. Christmas trees were put-up with the star symbol on top of it and lots of wrapped gifts underneath.
As FDW’s are away from home, how do we celebrate Christmas? Everyone of us wishes to be back home in this festive, grandest season of the year but we don’t own our own time. We can’t just decide that at anytime we wish to go home, we can. We surely miss the traditional Christmas Dinner, the Noche Buena.
Lucky are those fellow FDW’s who are going home and are celebrating Christmas with their loved ones.
But away from home doesn’t mean we can’t make our Christmas a merry one,of course we can! Attending Christmas parties or gatherings with our friends or relatives is one way of celebrating. We prepare Filipino dishes to share, there are some games to play and prizes to be won and gift giving makes a happy and most awaited part of the party. Aside from this, we like to go walking at night and enjoy the beautiful decorations that symbolize Christmas or hop to the nearest island is what others do. And yes, do your favorite things to do, sleep as long as you want and eat delicious food and of course, buying yourself a few presents, wrap them and look surprised when you open them! Don’t forget to attend mass to feel the real essence of Christmas.
The joy that you feel may not be as heartfelt as when you are at home with your loved ones. But, wherever we are,we should have a great Christmas. Let’s feel the spirit of Christmas within us!

 

by Jo Ann Dhumlao

Our Homes, Our Stories

We are excited to announce the making of a new HOME MyVoice publication! As we speak we are working hard writing, editing and designing the book, which HOME plans to publish and  launch in March 2018: Our Homes, Our Stories.

Domestic workers can be seen everywhere in Singapore’s streetscape, in our parks, our shopping centres, and most importantly, inside our houses. But who are they really? Although these women form an integral part of our society, their voices are not often heard in Singapore literature. This book is an anthology of non-fiction stories written by migrant domestic workers in Singapore, and gives them a voice and a face. The book aims to create awareness of the issues domestic workers face, both in Singapore and in their home countries.

The stories explore different facets of the theme ‘home.’ All writers are either part of HOME’s network of domestic worker volunteers, or residents of HOME shelter for run away domestic workers. They come from different backgrounds and countries, and cover a variety of subjects relating to the lives of migrant domestic workers; positive as well as negative experiences. Their stories are compelling, insightful, and at times horrifying. They are important and need to be read.

In order to get this book published and printed, we need funds, please 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. An ebook version will be published in March 2018 as well.

We will update you here on the MyVoice blog on the progress of the book, get you special behind the scenes reports, and interviews with the writers, so watch this space! To get regular updates on the book, please also ‘like’ our Facebook page: https://web.facebook.com/ourhomesourstories

For more information about the book, please contact Karien at karien@home.org.sg