Category Archives: Christmas

SPENDING HOLIDAYS AWAY FROM HOME

My name is Jo Ann Dumlao, and I have been a Migrant Domestic Worker (MDW) from August 2007 up to the present.  Being far away from home in this festive season pinches my heart.  I long ache to be with my children, with my mom and my siblings. Working thousands of miles away from home is hard; and it is even lonelier when the festive season comes every year. I am a Filipina and a Christian; Christmas is a very important part of my year.  However, being a MDW, most of us committed to spending the festive season working – unless we are one of the lucky ones whose employer lets us go home to spend this festive season with our own loved ones; our family.

Wanting to understand what my fellow MDW’s are experiencing during this festive season, I set out to gather some of my fellow MDW’s and hear their stories about Christmas away from home. When was the last time they spent Christmas holidays with their family? How do they spend their holidays?

Hearing some of their responses went straight to my heart and made me speechless.  I am away from my own beloved family for the festive season, but I am still one of the lucky ones.  The following are their stories:

Aida Leste Ocampo

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Aida Ocampo

My first chat was with Aida Leste Ocampo, 36 years old and single from Cagayan Valley, Philippines. Aida has been working in Singapore for 16 long years as an MDW and in all that time, not once has she been home for Christmas. Unbelievable but true.

For 16 years, she always dreamed of being home for Christmas, but it has never happened. I felt her pain when she said: “it really breaks my heart every time it crosses my mind that my Mother passed away in 2010 and then my Brother passed away in 2013 without me spending Christmas with them.” She is teary eyed and I am too. Does she have a choice? Sorry, but, “No she doesn’t.”

I asked her why she is not able to spend Christmas with her loved ones. Yes, she has tried asking her boss’s if she can go home on Christmas holidays, but her employers are businesspeople and during the holidays is their busiest time. If Aida goes home, there is no one to look after the children and to take charge of the household. So a big “NO” answer is what she always gets.

Now that it’s Christmas time again, it’s still a wish for her to be home and be with her loved ones for one more Christmas holiday. Aida is wishing good health for her family and she wants them to know that she misses them so much. And to her employers: may their business grow more abundantly.

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Diwata

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Diwata and her children

Diwata started our conversation by saying, “I am very blessed having this family I am working with. I think they are the coolest employer.” Let’s find out why she is so happy!

Diwata Prepose Jaravata, is a 42 years old mother of 2 from Baler, Quezon Philippines:. She has a 23 year old son, (Mechanical graduate and has a good job) and a 20 year old daughter (Bachelor in Secondary Education;  student).

Diwata has been working as MDW in Singapore for 17+ years and hasn’t spent Christmas back home in all of those years. Diwata’s first employers were Chinese and she worked for them for 4 years. After her 2nd employment contract with them, she decided to find a new family to work with. Diwata is blessed in finding her current employers: a Eurasian family (Chinese Ma’am and Portuguese Sir) with a Lawyer daughter and 2 sons still in University and studying abroad.  Diwata has now been with this family for 13 years and counting.

Diwata goes home every 4 years but not during the Christmas holidays. Her employers are in the party mode in this season especially as they are Catholic in religion. Diwata spends her Christmas working long hours. Diwata’s schedule gets busy from the 1st week of December – putting up Christmas decorations, checking food warmers and crockeries, menu planning for the Christmas party. For the 2nd and 3rd week, she is busy baking; everything from cookies to fruit cakes and pineapple tarts. Here comes December 24! A whole day cooking for Christmas Eve.  Noche Buena for the family and guests. Christmas day itself, more guests are coming,.  The cooking continues with more food to prepare. Diwata only get the chance to rest on the 2 days after Christmas.

“Did you ever complain?”, I asked. I was expecting a yes answer, but “NO” is the answer I get. Diwata is happy and contented with this Eurasian family. Every year without fail, she gets 13th month pay and jewellery. In 2012, Diwata needed to undergo surgery for her Thyroid and her employers were there for her: they supported her all the way. Just recently, they got her a pair of eyeglasses. And her lady boss is a gift-giver with or without occasion. In her 13+ years with them, Diwata has never been scolded.  She said that if her boss gets upset or didn’t like something that Diwata did: she simply gets an emoji on her phone of upset or angry look. How cool is that?  Diwata is one heck of a lucky MDW, she doesn’t even do car washing as her Sir does it.  Every time they have a party, her Sir helps her in the dishwashing and her Ma’am in cleaning and vacuuming. On top of this, Diwata’s employers help her in her children’s schooling and tuition fees. They know that Diwata alone can’t sufficiently support the University expenses.

In your opinion, my fellow MDW’s, if you were in Diwata’s shoes, would there still be room for complaints? But wait, let’s see how far Diwatas patience is…In her 12 years working with the family, guess how much her salary is: $550’  Yes, it’s true! Only in January this year did she finally get the salary increase she has been waiting for (and may I say: “Long overdue”). Patience is a virtue, indeed.

I asked Diwata how did she manage her salary in that long years. “I am receiving other ways of blessings from them and I am treated very well and with respect. Sometimes we need to see how good and kind our employers are: its not just about money. With their help in the University tuition fees, I won’t ask for more, but I still received more. That’s why I am trying my best to reciprocate all I have received by working hard; working with dedication especially when there’s occasion that they need my help.

Don’t ask for more if you are blessed with more than what you asked for.

Myself, I am a single mother far away from home working hard and not being able to spend Christmas holidays with my children, mother or family.  I feel in my heart what these fellow MDW’s has gone through: I am teary eyed .

But come on guys, let’s not lose hope that someday, somehow we’ll be able to spend Christmas holidays with our family and our love ones. Let the spirit of Christmas be with us.

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Jane Andote and her children

For my third story, meet Jane!

Jane Andote has been working hard in Singapore for 20 years.  Because of her hard life dedicated to supporting her 2 children, she has experienced the pain of not going home for 20 years. She said, she has had to hold on to prayers and thoughts of giving her children a good future.

Her husband passed away when her children were still very young (her daughter, the youngest, was just a baby at the time). One month after her husband died, she decided to work overseas and chose Singapore. Many were against in her plan.  The people around her told her that the pain of losing her husband was still very fresh, her children were still very young. But she was determined and came to Singapore to start working as an MDW.  Jane told me that she doesn’t regret her decision at all.

Jane says she has been very lucky with her employer because she is still with the same family she started working with 20 years ago. Needless to say, they love and care and treat Jane as part of the family. “Needless to say”?  Unfortunately, this is not the reality for so many of our MDW friends.

All Janes sacrifices for her children have paid-off.  Her son is a Marine Engineer already and is working on a ship.  Her daughter is a BS Hotel and Restaurant Management graduate and is also working already.

In Jane’s own words, said with a mix of sadness and happiness: “I have experienced all kinds of hardships. I get drowned in debts that till now am still paying.  Being a single mother away from her children is not easy.  There are nights that I am not able to  get to sleep thinking about them especially if they are sick or unwell. I know that they are well being taken care-off but the mother feelings of me most of the time make me feel guilty. But on the other hand, I’ll feel more guilty if I won’t do anything for their future.”

No one can be happier than a mother seeing her children become successful in their lives.

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Jojie Maravilla

One of the hardworking HOME volunteers, the friendly and jolly Jojie Maravilla is here to share her story as well. Jojie is Single, 41 years old and the youngest of the 13 siblings, from Calapan City, Oriental Mindoro Philippines.

She is the youngest but the toughest of the 13. She sacrifices herself to work abroad in Singapore to support her family. She is the guardian angel of her parents and her siblings, nephews and nieces. Jojie said, she loves her family so much that she will do anything for them to make life a little bit easier. Name all kinds of sacrifices for the family, Jojie has gone through them already.  She is single but she is working like she has her own family to support already. I consider one heroic act in what Jojie has done to her siblings—paying their debts so not just to put them in trouble. Bunso (youngest) to the rescue!  Salute for you Jojie!

Working here in Singapore, it’s known that struggles are there on the way and for Jojie’s struggle has been in finding the right employer. She has had more employers than she has spent years in Singapore.  13 employers in 11 years! It’s either that the employer goes back home for good or else the employer is not a good match for Jojie.  Just recently, Jojie joined her latest employer and she is crossing her fingers, hopes and pray that finally she found the right one.

Like any other MDW, she wished to go home on Christmas holidays too. With a deep sigh and sad look, Jojie said: “I am looking forward that my wish to be home on Christmas holidays will eventually happen in God’s perfect timing. For now, it’s like a puzzle that some pieces are missing.”

It’s been 11 long years away from home.  No Christmas at home: no visits back home at all. Overflowing love for the family.  This year Christmas holiday for Jojie is much better or let’s say she feel the spirit of Christmas within her. She wishes her love one’s and her employees “A Joyful Christmas and a Bountiful New Year!”

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Inhale, exhale for few minutes. And here we go writing the next story.

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Evangeline Pulpulaan

Introducing Evangeline Canognog Pulpulaan, 42 years old from Bala Makabunsod Magsaysay, Davao del Sur . A single mom of a son, 18 years of age this coming January 2020. She was 26 years old when she started working in Singapore

To count, 17 years working in Singapore and never been home for Christmas. Her reason: it’s better to send ticket money to her family so they can buy  what they need for Christmas. “Yes, it’s true, it is sad not being together with them but knowing that they are happy with the Christmas gift I give is all that matters.”

But this year it’s  different: a difficult and heart-breaking period, all she can do is pray and tells herself and her family: “anytime soon in God’s good hands. everything will be back to normal.”   Earthquakes devastated her home town and Vangie’s house didn’t escaped undamaged. Her house has cracks in the walls making the house unsafe. Not to take risks, her family moved-out and now live in a tent. “The house is still standing but with the cracks and the unpredictable earthquakes that may strike again, they better to be safe than sorry” Vangie said.  She is really worried for her family safety.

In spite of this, Vangie never loses hope and she is thankful she works with very understanding and supportive bosses.

Vangie will be going to church with her friends for Christmas Eve Mass and after that, they will be strolling around Orchard to Marina Bay to enjoy the night.

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Jona Baranit

Next we meet Jona Baranit from Sigma, Capiz.  38 years old, “still single and available”. After 16 years of working as an MDW in Singapore, Jona still hasn’t been home for Christmas.

The colourful ambience of Christmas holiday is all around and it’s the time that we all wait for, to be with our families back home. But for Jona, nothing has changed: the same as the past years, Jona is not going home.

She has mixed emotions for this season, happy and sad. Happy that her family will enjoy the Christmas season with the presents she gives them. Her family will experience the things that they never could if she had’t made her sacrifice. All she thinks about is her family that depends on her to make life a bit easier for them. There’s a pain in her heart too that she’s not home for Christmas but work doesn’t give her the chance to. The family she’s working for needs her services during the holidays. All she can do is to video call her family on Christmas Day and that makes her happy.

I was curious if this year she asked her boss if she can go home for Christmas. “For a change, I did.  I had hoped that maybe I can and will give a big surprise to my family so I asked my boss but a shake of the head for NO is what I got.” Jona said sadly.

So much sacrifices for the sake of family because the love for the family is what makes Jona keep going.

Christmas, it is a time to relax, to spread love, to laugh with our love ones, to forgive and forget, to eat great food and most of all, always remember, God is love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By: Jo Ann Dumlao

 

 

It’s a Merry Christmas after all

By Jo Ann Dumlao

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It’s a Merry Christmas after all

And we’ve got all the feels!
Are you ready?

I just so love all the multicolored or white, twinkling or steady lights that illuminate the streets, buildings, even trees everywhere. They look so beautiful at night!
Christmas trees standing everywhere, decorated gorgeously with wrapped gifts underneath for everyone.

Yes it’s Christmas time again, and I feel a cool breeze of air touching my skin. It is the grandest festival of the year for many people, the most awaited one – especially for the kids. It is when family, loved ones, gather all together. A festive reunion for everyone. Time to spread love and peace, forgive and forget.

Smiling faces, happy looks, lively laughter, everybody is delighted this festive season. The Christmas crazy train – list making, shopping, eating, gift-wrapping and back to list making again, everybody is on this train!

How about you? And me? Me, I am away from my loved ones, from my mom, my siblings most especially my children.  I should be smiling too, but I can’t fight back the tears. It’s not my first time to be away from them in this festive season. But still a part of my heart is aching.

Especially this year, as this December my strength is being tested again. I have to find a new family to work with. After 6 plus long years with my current boss, I have to move and run from one agency to another, signing up biodata and having interviews. It’s very stressful, one day – one interview. Why did this have to happen in this festive season?

In spite of this situation, my faith, my positive thoughts, my strong will and determination always stand by me. The good Lord didn’t leave me alone, He didn’t let me go wandering in this time of the year. I finally found one family (after 17 days of searching) and I will be joining them next January. I hope and pray that everything will go well with them.

Let the spirit of Christmas reign in our hearts. It is true that Christmas is never the same for us, without our loved ones but as Migrant Domestic Workers, we can’t do it any other way. We have no choice, we don’t own our time.

This Christmas I will for sure miss my siblings, my mom, and most especially my children, but I am determined to enjoy this festive season with friends and relatives here in Singapore. Christmas parties and picnics are everywhere – it’s unending. We will exchange gifts, share foods that delights our hearts.

Always thankful for how good God is, my Christmas will still be a Merry one. Having found a new work place is already a precious gift to me. As an migrant domestic worker, I have had a lot of struggles but more beautiful things have covered those.

For me, the most important thing in celebrating Christmas is not missing the midnight Christmas mass. Let’s simply enjoy this festive season,may our hearts be filled with love and gratitude.

Have a great and blessed Holiday season to one and all!

Merry Christmas 🎄

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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

CHRISTMAS IN OUR HEARTS

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By: Jho Ann Dumlao

“People making lists, buying special gifts, taking time to be kind to one and all. Everywhere there’s an air of Christmas joy…”

This song I heard playing in the shop reminds me always of the time of festivity in my place in the Philippines. Yes, it’s Christmas time, the most awaited and most festive celebration every year. And we can call it “stress season” for some as well, I think. 
The Christmas spirit makes people selfless, more friendly, more kind and nicer, and more forgiving (reconciliation). It’s about spreading love and peace. Us, Foreign Domestic Workers, how do we cope up in celebrating this season?

Lucky are those who are going home in this season to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones. While others will just fill up a “balik bayan” box with goodies and send back home; a way for some to make their loved ones happy despite their absence. 
Christmas away from home is not that easy. We miss attending the early morning masses (simbang gabi) that starts every 16th of December and ends at Christmas Eve. Some people especially Catholics believe that if someone has completed the whole phase of “simbang gabi”, whatever they wished and prayed for will come true. The so-called caroling or singing Christmas songs from house to house and in return the household will give something like money or in any kind. And of course, the Noche Buena in which the family members get together over dinner full of chats and celebration. This is after the Misa de Gallo or Midnight Mass.
Christmas is also a good time for reunions.

We are doing so many sacrifices abroad that we missed a lot of grand celebrations or happenings back home. We can’t do otherwise; we don’t own our time either. 
Some of us just stay in the four corners of our employer’s house during Christmas. However, let’s just think that we are doing this not for ourselves but for our loved ones, for their better living situation.

Far away from home, we can still make our Christmas a merry one together with our friends, our family away from home. And may the spirit of Christmas reign in our hearts.

Memories of Christmas

This sad festive poem was written by Rea Maac, who has worked as a domestic worker  in Singapore for 7 years, and was a finalist of the recent Singapore Migrant Poetry competition.

 

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Memories of Christmas

 

Christmas is coming
Long wait is over soon
But the sadness in my heart
Can’t measure even up to the moon

Still in my mind
How it used to be
Way back with my family
Celebration of festivity

Going to the church to attend the mass
Feeding our soul with God’s love
While waiting for the stroke of 12 o’clock
Sign that Dear Jesus born alive.

After church, heading back home
Across the street we can hear the music
With all the shining Christmas light
We really can feel the yuletide spirit

With a simple meal on the table
Everybody seems excited and happy
What’s more important
Loving each other wholeheartedly.

Remembering those old memories
It has been 7 years I’m away
My whole family, I truly miss
To be with them, is all I wish.

CHRISTMAS AWAY FROM HOME

By: Juliet Ugay

The yuletide season is around the corner. The sound of Christmas songs plays on the radio and establishments, sparkling decorations are all over the place, people rushing here and there for their Christmas shopping.  Most importantly, Christmas is the season of sharing.

While we are preparing for Christmas season, have we ever thought about how people feel who are going to spend this holiday away from their home, away from their loved ones?

Domestic workers – the majority of them are spending Christmas away from home, and most will be working during this festive time. Happy are those who are fortunate to go back to their countries or go on a holiday somewhere they want. Some employers send their Domestic Workers home while they are away and some are kind enough to let their workers go home and be with their families at Christmas.

For Filipino Domestic Workers, Christmas is one of the most celebrated events of the year, as the majority of them are Catholics. It is when families get together. For other Domestic Workers, like those from  Indonesia, Myanmar, India or other countries, Christmas isn’t always celebrated as per religion. Some get bonuses, some don’t, some just work, and some will have parties with their friends.

I’ve asked some ladies what are their thoughts about celebrating Christmas away from home.

Pina Lorenzo, 39 and a mother of three has been working here for five years. She said that it is sad being away from her family at Christmas. She misses the warm celebration, the food and the get together. On the other hand, she said that going home during Christmas is costly and even though she wants to go back, she’d would choose to stay because she can save more. She plans to go home another time during the year. Pina said that sometimes being away for long makes a person get used to it, and that Christmas has become just a normal day.

“Celebrating Christmas away form home is really hard, kind of happy but incomplete. I am happy and thankful to have a very good employer and loving friends who will celebrate with me, and incomplete because I can feel deep in my heart that something is missing, and that my family. Nothing really compares to celebrating the season of giving and sharing with my family,” said Rona Javier, a mother of a three years old boy and has been working away for 8 years.

Indonesian Domestic Workers Nani Sunani Nurhalizah, who has worked in Singapore for 15 years, and Sri Niati Ayu Kasimun, celebrate Christmas with their friends, cooking food and sharing it with them. They said that even though majority of Indonesian Domestic Workers are Muslim, they do respect the Christmas tradition.

It can be quite sad to be away from home this Christmas but there are so many things to look forward to and to be thankful for. One of them is that you are healthy and you are  in a better position than some people out there who are experiencing the worst days of their lives.