Category Archives: Domestic worker issues

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.

 

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

Freedom

by Saturnina De Los Santos Rotelo “ Cute”

 

Freedom is a controversial word.

I love having the freedom of my own space, my own place. I like doing things on my own terms, and not really having to think about anybody else’s schedule. As a migrant worker, freedom is a word that I’m longing for.

Freedom is word that lots of people want or wish for. Maria is a domestic helper whom I meet in the market, where we talk about what she misses. While we are having tea and prata she tells me about a lot of things that she misses after working in Singapore for many years.

With teary eyes, Maria tells me how she misses eating without having only 15 minutes to finish her food, and eating without someone calling her name to do things before she finishes. She misses the freedom to go sleep after she has finished her work, without having to wait for her boss to finish watching T.V. because she sleeps on the sofa in the living room. The freedom to wake up when she wants to, instead of at 5:00 am every morning as her employer tells her.

Maria misses the freedom of speech, to reason with her employer when there is a misunderstanding, or when she does something not according to her employer’s wishes. She needs to give an explanation, or apology, but ends up verbally abused if she talks back.

Maria misses the freedom to have a whole Sunday off, to go church, unwind with her friends without doing the work first before she leaves the house at 11:00 am and before she goes home at 6:00 pm to work again. She should be happy; some of her friends are not allowed to have a day off.

Freedom for a domestic worker is limited, if she has it at all. Everyone loves freedom, but a lot of people don’t understand the meaning of the word, or refuse to understand it. They let other people suffer, just so they have more freedom themselves.

So my dear migrants what freedoms you are longing for?

             “The secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom is courage”

 

From the heart of a volunteer

I’m a domestic worker.  There’s nothing much that I can do, the nature of my work controls me, and what I want to do. Time is so precious for me, because I can only go out once a week. That day, I must spend my time on things I cannot do on weekdays. One day is not enough for many activities, and I have to plan my days off carefully. Aside from this, my thoughts are also with my fellow domestic workers who cannot speak for themselves, who don’t know what to do with their abusive employers, and who don’t even have a day off. I see them every day. My heart breaks when I see them being scolded in public by their employers. They cannot ask for help because their phone has been confiscated. They give me that “don’t talk to me” look, because they are not allowed to talk to others. There are so many of them here; domestic workers that suffer.

I have been blessed with good employers for so many years. With my great experience, I thought, I can help them, those that have been less fortunate. I can give advice that will help to ease their work problems. That is why I decided to volunteer with HOME. Doing this gives justice to my precious time, spending it in the best way. Being a volunteer to HOME Helpdesk gives me joy, especially when I see smiles on my peers faces. It means hope. It means trust. It is not easy listening to their problems. I must listen carefully to how they narrate their story to me. Sometimes, I get affected. While listening, I will put myself in their shoes. I empathize with them. But I need to show a brave front to assure them that it will be ok. Though it is not always like that. There are times that my peers will not like the solution I can offer, so I must think of a nice way to tell it to them. The most important thing is that they need to understand their situation. Sometimes, I will follow up on them to make sure they are okay. Sunday is not the only day I do my volunteering. I do it almost every day, through phone calls and messenger, day or night. I cannot ignore their calls.  Domestic workers that I spoke to, will share my phone number with their friends who needs advice too. And I appreciate it so much because I know this means they trust me. Some of them became my friends. I thank them for helping their friends. And that is the joy of being a volunteer.

Sometimes others do not understand why I do it, why I volunteer on my one day off? It is simply because I love doing it. I am a domestic worker, I cannot do everything but at least I can do something.

 

#bhingnavato

Domestic workers fight for themselves

Novia Arluma works for HOME’s Indonesian helpdesk in Grandlink Square, where she volunteers on her Sundays off to help and advise other Indonesian Domestic Workers in Singapore. She wrote this story about a woman she saw there yesterday.

These photographs show some real living conditions of an Indonesian Domestic Worker who came to our HOME office yesterday. The woman told me she was overworked, ate only  leftover food ( which always came very late), and her room was improper – a storage room. From what I see at the helpdesk regularly, all of this are common examples of what employers give to their domestic workers. This domestic worker had to get up @ 5 am in the morning, to start doing her house chores until 11 or 12pm late at night.

Even the regulations of MOM (Ministry of Manpower) say that Domestic Workers should be treated fairly, that she needs reasonable working hours, proper food, and the privacy of a room to rest in.

MOM agrees, you should treat us like other workers. Treat us as human beings
But, most of this rules are  merely written on  paper.
As a domestic worker we can not complain too much about these matters.
Yes, we can complain…
Yes, we can report…
Yes, we have the option to transfer to another employer…
But in the end…
The employer still holds the power.
Because even when they are not treating their domestic worker fairly, employers have the full power to decide either to transfer the domestic worker, or to cancel the work permit and send them home.

We domestic workers have to fight for ourselves. We need to negotiate about a day off, our salary, and our release papers in order to transfer to another employer.

HOME ( the Humanitarian Organization of Migrant Economics) provides shelter and assistance to all migrant workers who need help, and that includes consultations from our helpdesk that is run by volunteers from different sending countries, like Indonesia, the Philippines, and Myanmar. Our volunteers are domestic workers themselves, and have been trained to understand their and your rights. Using volunteers that are domestic workers themselves helps HOME reach out better, and ensure easier communication, where needed in your own language.

Our helpdesks are open every Sunday:

Helpdesk for Filipino domestic workers:

  • 304 Orchard Road, Lucky Plaza #06-22, Singapore 23886

Helpdesk for Burmese workers:

  • 111 North Bridge Road, Peninsula Plaza #05-22, Singapore 179098

Helpdesk for Indonesian domestic workers and other migrant workers:

  • 511 Guillemard Road #01-06, Singapore 399849

 

Telephone hotline for domestic workers:

1800-797 7977 / +65 6341 5525

Are OFW’s our new heroes?

Anna Rose stayed in HOME shelter some time after a bad experience with an employer that left her very upset. In this essay she reflects about her experiences as an Overseas Foreign Worker in Singapore and at HOME shelter. She has now returned to the Philippines to be with her family.

Why do people say that OFWs are our new heroes? Do the OFWs (Overseas Foreign Workers) who try their luck overseas make a big contribution to our country, the Philippines? Many Filipinos want to move away from their motherland and work abroad because they want to turn things around for their families.

The majority of us know the risks of working in another country. We have heard a lot of stories of OFWs who suffered abuse from their foreign employers, there are enough to scare us, or at least make us think twice about working across the border. But still a lot of us Filipinos offer our services in other countries, carrying the desire and optimism that we will give our loved ones a better future.

There are a lot of reasons why people should appreciate what foreign workers do, and that is why they are considered one of today’s modern heroes.

Foreign employers like Filipino workers because they are hard working. Why? We have a strong motivation to take our job seriously. We want to make our employers feel that we deserve every penny that we receive. We have a strong work ethic and are professional, and we should be proud of that. Based on my own experience as an OFW I can also say that we are flexible, and can easily adapt to new environments. OFWs do not only take their job seriously, we also put our heart into it. Since we are thousands of miles away from our families, we divert our attention to the ones we are working for.

Unfortunately some of the OFWs experience maltreatment from their employers. There are many stories about OFWs experiencing abuse, ill-treatment, torture, and bullying, and because of this they decide to run away. We are lucky that there is a non-governmental organization that helps OFWs facing these kind of situations. They are the ones to take care of the OFWs, and comfort us when we come to them. They also have a lot of activities in the shelter that help us develop our self-confidence and self-esteem. They give us free food and safety when we live at the shelter, and they give us counselling, encouraging us to express our emotions, and feelings. They help all individuals with their problems, and give them advice on how to move forward, and face our struggles in life.

On my behalf, I was given a chance to write this essay, just to express my thoughts and give thanks to the HUMANITARIAN ORGANISATION OF MIGRANT ECONOMICS (HOME), to salute them, and all the volunteers, and the people who are part of HOME and serve all the OFWs by making a difference in the lives of people in Singapore.

Thank you, and more power to HOME!

What is the mental health of your domestic worker like?

Did you see the video of the girl from Myanmar that jumped from a high building?
What went through your mind after you saw that?

Are you:

Sad?
Angry?
Or just confused, and don’t know what to feel & say?

Dear employers,

As a Domestic worker I just want to say
Please take a look at this case
Which does not stand alone here
There were many more cases like her out there
This is a chance for you to learn about Domestic Worker’s rights
We are workers
We are humans
You hire us to work, and you pay us for that
But,
We have the right to communicate with our family & friends
We have the right to get a day off
We have the right to meet with our community

If we make a mistake
Of course you have the right to admonish us and tell us what we did wrong
But what you have to know
Is that before we came here to work with you
We already struggled to learn
Learn about your culture
Learn how to do the house chores as you order
Or even your language

Because of lack of education of domestic workers, including my own, this work is more difficult than you can imagine
And we are told that, if your employer is angry over a small mistake, even if you did not do it on purpose
The first thing you have to do is
Apologize or say sorry
We do already know how to respect the employer
We have already been told that we can’t demand too much
As a worker

We know this

But at least…
Treat us like a human
We need to be able to communicate with our family and friends
And give us a chance, to talk to you, when we find our work difficult
Please be aware about the risk for mental health issues
Which many domestic workers struggle with, when we don’t have anyone to talk to
If we have a problem,  we need someone to share it with, and help us find the solution

Being able to talk to other people, our friends, our family, will keep us healthy

We all know that we are here to work
And we are paid for that
And if you give us limited time to use phone, only after we finish our job
That is not too bad
We can still accept it
But,
Please treat us as a human being
Respect us,
Just like you would want to be respected

 This piece was written by Novia, one of HOME helpdesk volunteers, who works as a domestic worker in Singapore herself.