By Jofel Dosano Villaruel
I came to Singapore because of my mother. Why ? Because my mother told me I was a useless daughter. So I said to myself that I would prove to my mother that I am not. At a very young age, I started to be an independent person, I supported myself in finishing my studies. And thanks to GOD, I graduated after two years in a course in computer secretarial.
I arrived in Singapore in 2006 at the age of 26. I suffered a lot for my first employer, my salary was very low and I had to pay seven months of salary deductions. I had no off-day for two years, I was not allowed also to use a phone and not allowed to talk with my neighbor helpers. It was not easy for me at first but being always positive helped me to finish my two-year contract. After a few months I received bad news from my family- my brother had passed away. He was a diabetic. I wanted to go back home to see my brother for the last time, but my employer never allowed me to back home and that hurt me a lot.
Being far away from family in not easy, especially when our employers treat us badly, some talk so much if they are not satisfied with you, they just throw hurting words at you like you are stupid, very slow, no brain and useless. Sometimes they do not give us not enough food. Once I had to take food from the dustbin because I was so hungry.
How can we do our job if our stomach is empty? I always hoped employers would realise that they need to give enough food to their helper, until I realized that I need to communicate to my employer myself, I need to make her understand my situation as a helper and my needs.
Why do a lot of helpers suffer? I always asked myself, why? Some employers treat their dog like a human but their helper like an animal. They feed the dog nice food like salmon fish, fresh milk and sometimes sausage, and they feed helper left over food only, sometimes just the bones of a fish. As a helper we don’t have a choice, we just need to accept this, even if it is not acceptable. Its very unfair. Why Because we are just a helper?
Being a domestic helper you need to be very brave and strong. You need to be deaf for those hurting words coming from the employer’s mouth. You need to be patient and not give up during those trials: you need to find a way to communicate with your employer. In my own experience, since I wanted to continue working with employer, I tried my best and did not give up easily. And then one day my employer’s heart melted for me after I tried to cook nice food for them everyday. Every time I saw them in the morning I always greeted them, good morning sir and ma’am, and I asked them if they wanted me to make coffee with a happy face. After that I receive a gift from them, not an expensive gift but it’s very valuable to me. They wrote me an appreciation letter and gave me a mug that has my photo on it. And that is how my good relationship with them started.
Good communication with an employer can help to let them understand our situation but some of them still treat us badly. In their mind they pay us just to do our duties. Every time I hear of a helper being abused by employer my heart cries for them. Sometimes I ask myself why Singapore government is blind and deaf for this issue.
My 12 years in Singapore as a domestic helper were not easy. I needed to adjust myself. I made a sacrifice because I love my family and I became very brave because of them. I give everything just to make sure that they are happy and I don’t want them to think that I am useless person. Being alone, far away from family and friends is not easy. I hope employers can also see that what we are sacrificing. We are human beings and have feelings. My life for the past 38 years has been like a wheel: sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down. I experienced a lot of trials in my life that made me very brave and strong. God has a reason why we are in difficult situation sometimes.
After a year I proved to myself and my mother that I am not a useless daughter. The first time I heard her say “That is my daughter who supported us for our needs” I felt happy and knew our mother and daughter relationship had turned into a good relationship. I am very proud of myself being a domestic helper. If you too are one of the domestic helpers, be proud!!!!
But after 10 years of working for one employer, I got accused……
Jofel has been staying at HOME shelter for some time whilst her case is being investigated by the police. She likes to write to clear her mind. Jofel won a special award in the writing competition HOME hosted together with the National Museum of Singapore last June.
By Jo Ann Dumlao
I am one of the many standing passengers on the MRT from Paya Lebar heading towards the city -Orchard Road in particular. As always, I choose to stand at the adjoining point of the MRT where I can lean back. Undeniably, the noise of chatting of my fellow migrant domestic workers from different races is catching the attention of the other passengers.
I always carry a book with me that I can read while traveling – be it in the bus or the MRT. As I start to read, I notice a conversation close to me.
“I am new here in Singapore, it’s my third month to be exact and my first time to take my day off. I want to go to Orchard – Lucky Plaza, could you please lead me the way, sister? Are you going there too?” I hear a girl ask the girl standing next to her in a Bisaya accent. Then the other girl replies, ‘Oooh I am just like you but you are luckier. You are fresh here and you are already in this MRT looking for your way to the city!’
A “why” comes out of the first girl. As their conversation progresses I can’t stop eavesdropping – out of curiosity. The second girl has been working with a family for a year and it’s her first time to get a day off. Her boss doesn’t allow her to go out because she worries she might get into trouble or will get lost. Both of which are lame reasons in my opinion. When she told her boss that she wanted to study at a certain short course, they finally gave her two days off every month. The first girl says they are both the same, having their two days off now and they happily exchange mobile phone numbers.
From the corner of my eyes, I notice another girl staring and probably – just like me – eavesdropping on the conversation. Her eyes seem cloudy. I make few steps to get near to her and ask if she is okay.
“Ate (elder sister),” she replies, “I have been working here for 6 months, and my boss allow me to have some Sundays off. But $20 is to be deducted from my monthly salary whenever I take a day off.’ I was like, whaaat?!
Then, she added she she always has to buy her own toiletries, while we both know those should be provided by her boss.
I really don’t understand why so many employers are very hesitant to give a day off to their domestic workers. It is not even 24 hours in a week!
“Have you eaten your breakfast,” I then ask her.
“Not yet ate, I intended to have brunch for me to save my money on breakfast,” she replies.
Knowing that I have enough money in my pocket, I invite her to join me for brunch. At first she is hesitant, shy, but when I insist she agrees.
We go to Lucky Plaza and straight ahead to one of the stalls and order bulalo- meaty beef knuckles with soup and vegetables plus rice. We enjoy our food together.
While we are eating, she tells me that alternately of the months, she takes her day off. So in October she has two days off, in November one day and December in celebration of Christmas she’ll have 2 days off again. On her day off, she leaves from work at 10 am after cleaning the house and washing the car. She must be back by 9:00 pm to tidy up the house again before retiring to bed.
To us migrant workers, our day off is what we are always looking forward at the end of the week. Some of us are privileged to have Public Holidays off as well. Our days off are when we rest recharge, meet our friends and can improve ourselves with classes.
My point here is, that domestic workers are not robots, they are not commodities— we are Human Beings too, just like employers are. They need to relax and unwind too and they can do that during their day off. Grant them a day off but please, don’t deduct any amount from their salary- that’s too unfair!
I am sure, your bosses at work or the company you are working for, don’t do that to you. Please at least be kind to her, you are depending on her with all kinds of house chores including taking care of your love ones.
Jo Anne Dumlao is a HOME volunteer and one of the contributors to the anthology ‘Our Homes, Our Stories’, a book featuring real-life stories of domestic workers in Singapore.
By Miriam Empil Escander
Showing APPRECIATION to loved ones, friends or a mentor is an important gesture of gratitude, especially to those who impacted our life or helped us in times of need. Who doesn’t want to get appreciated?
Most of the time appreciation might not given to us, but getting it once in a while makes us more motivated to do our work and run everything smoothly. It also encourages us to do things better, even in the midst of challenging times.
As human beings we all want to be valued and recognized for our effort. I once read a quote from Sam Walton, founder of Walmart: “Appreciate everything your associates do. Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise.”
We might not all be working in a big multi-million company but of all employees we migrant workers also need some appreciation as much, perhaps more than anybody. Due to entrenched poverty in our country, working overseas is the only alternative to escape from debt and hopelessness. We travel to foreign nations, legally or not, just to get out of the dark cloud of poverty. Often we do this without considering the possibility of suffering abuse or getting maltreated by inhumane employers.
Leaving our kids for a very long period of time is the worst sacrifice we’ve ever had to make as a mother. No one can argue that a young child will fully understand why mama wont be reading bed time stories at night, why mama can’t prepare breakfast in the morning before they go to school, why they can’t get a cuddle from their mama when they are sick and why mama is absent on special occasions in their lives. Often the kids who are left behind are the ones who suffer most. No matter how hard we try to believe that Skype, Messenger and Facetime offer some type of communication with them, it still doesn’t fully work to maintain a strong bond. In my case, I can’t count how many times I recieve a “Mama,kailan ka uuwi” [mama, when are you coming home] or “mama,uwi ka na” [mama, please come home].
After all these sacrifices, leaving our family back home to work abroad for their future, we only want one thing; that our employers treat us well and appreciate what we do for them, either big or small. To us that means our sacrifices have paid off well.
We work six or seven days a days a week – sometimes 24/7. I guess it’s just fair enough to at least once in a while hear we are appreciated. It helps us to wipe away our weariness and longing to our family back home.
Last September 8th 2018 , as a HOME volunteer, I was given a chance to attend an event HELPER’S APPRECIATION DAY held at Australian International School with over 300 people including helpers, employers and the kids they look after. It was such a tremendous event to witness. There was so much fun going on, activities for kids and helpers, yummylicious foods, a magic show, balloon sculpting and face painting, traditional Filipina and Indonesian dance, free painted portraits for helpers, amazing goodie bags and so on…..
As a migrant worker who got a chance to be there and participate in this event, I was so deeply moved, and we have the SASSY MAMA SINGAPORE TEAM to thank for making such a big effort to put up HELPERS APPRECIATION DAY, as well as of course all the sponsors.
By Jo Ann Dumlao
A mother without a doubt loves her children very much. A mother’s love supposes a willingness to struggle, to work, to suffer and to rejoice. It is a love that brings her satisfaction and ultimate fulfillment even if it means reaching beyond herself. Because giving is more important to her than receiving.
Sometimes this kind of love that a mother has for her children pushes her to leave her family to serve somebody else to be able to provide some, if not all, of their wants and especially all their needs. A mother has to sacrifice herself and suffer in order to provide for the children, be it a necessity or a luxury, their whims or caprice.
The only consolation for such a mother is the thought that she can provide a better life for her children. And this can become an inspiration that gives her the strength to carry on; the thought that you are giving your children financial security, an education and material things.
The decision to go away from my children was the hardest decision I have ever made. I did it because of some unfavourable situations that have significantly affected my family especially my children.
I have 3 children who need my guidance and supervision all the time in their studies and in their difficult growing up years. Most of all, they need my love.
Janwin Kirby, my only son, was 9 years old – a 3rd grader – when I left him together with his 2 sisters. Shaine was 14 (now 25) and Jilliane was only 7 (now 18). I was aware that at that age, he really needed maternal guidance growing up.
And now, Janwin Kirby is 20 years old and a fresh graduate from University with a Bachelor in Secondary Education. He was a Latin Honouree-Cum Laude! Yes, I can say that I am the proudest migrant mother of my son’s accomplishment in his studies.
It was not an easy journey for us. There were times that I asked myself “Can I still make it? Will I be able to support his studies all throughout his course until he graduates?”
I know that he has always been diligent in his studies: the moment he started his first subject in his first year in college, he set himself a goal. He became a College Scholar but his goals were higher still. To be on the stage, receiving medals during his graduation was his ultimate dream. And believe it or not, in his last semester in College, he computed his grades from 1st year to 4th year to see if he could make it or not. And he was confident enough with the computation he made.
How did I receive the good news? How did I react? I can still remember! It was April 12th, 2018 not so early in the morning. I answered one of my son’s calls (I ignored the first 4 calls actually). So I answered and said: “hmmm what’s up?” And he replied; “Mommy I have something to tell you and please let me talk first.” My heart beat fast waiting for what he was going to say and then he blurted out; “Mommy, I made it, I am a Cum Laude!”
Did I hear it right? I didn’t believe him and I even said: “That’s a big time joke, don’t do that to me!” “Mommy, mommy listen to me, I have fulfilled my promise, my goal I am a Cum Laude! I hope I am making you happy and proud of me!”
Tears were abundantly flowing, from a silent cry to a sob. I was speechless and when I found my tongue “Thank you son, I am so proud of you and I love you” were the words that I said.
The night before his graduation April 28, I came home. I was so excited, so overwhelmed, overjoyed. I needed to give him my tightest hug and kiss him all over his face.
On his graduation day, it was as if I was floating in the air. Standing side by side together with his fellow Honouree graduates and their parents in front of the rest of the graduates as we marched down.
When I heard his name being called up in the stage to receive his medals as a Cum Laude, I was teary-eyed. I still watch the video of it and I think I haven’t absorbed it fully yet.
Being an OFW mom is not easy at all. It never will be. I am just so blessed with my 3 children who are so loving, respectful, God fearing and responsible especially in their studies. Even when we are miles away from each other, they never take for granted my pieces of advice because they understand that it’s for their own good, not mine. Thanks to for the modern technology of video calling, which offers a great way of easing homesickness.
My fellow OFW mom’s (single mom like me or not), it is very important for us to stay positive in every situation we are in because we are away from our love ones. Let us be optimistic, don’t let problems drag us down, let’s keep our faith, pray, for God is our greatest refuge.
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.
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.
During a creative writing workshop residents of the HOME shelter, all migrant domestic workers, were asked to reminisce about their first moments in Singapore.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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