Category Archives: Lifestyle

REMEMBER YOUR DREAM

By Maria Allen Cellan

Do we still remember the reasons why we are working in this foreign country? Do we still remember our dreams and our plans before we left home? I hope so. Or do we believe that dreaming is just wishful thinking, and that our fate has already been decided for us? Have we already decided that what we do now is what we want to do for the rest of our lives?

Remember those days when you were still planning to work overseas: what were the reasons that motivated you? Maybe you wanted to buy a house and a lot for your family, or maybe you needed to save up some money for a sick relative. Maybe you are a single mother who dreams about giving her children a good education. As for me, I have lots of reasons why I am working overseas. My dream is to save enough money to start my own business and get my Master’s degree in Business Administration, and maybe after that take a course to be qualified as preschool teacher.

Whatever our dreams are, we should never stop reminding ourselves why we are in a foreign country, working hard. We should always be thinking about what’s possible for us in our lifetime. I am pretty sure that most of us don’t want to spend the rest of our lives working overseas and away from our families. We need to keep our dream alive in our hearts, even as we are pushed to work harder and harder every day, enduring all the pains caused by work, all the sleepless crying nights, the homesickness, the starvation and even the lack of freedom and dignity for ourselves. All this endurance should not be wasted.

I like to think about what is possible and what can I achieve in my life. I don’t want to reach a certain age and regret that I never tried to do something new for myself that I can be proud of. Dreaming about something doesn’t mean it is going to happen right away: it takes time, effort, focus and hard work. But dreaming allows you to imagine how your life could be better than it is at the moment. When we dream, there are no limits.

But sometimes, we get caught up in the reality of daily life and forget why we are here. Some of us just accept our lot for what it is, and even stop trying new things that could help us grow or achieve our dreams. But we should not accept mediocrity as our destiny. I am not saying we can’t have fun during our days off; what I am saying is that we shouldn’t lose our focus, or forget our goals.

We are all better than we know. We must try to achieve our goals, and never settle for anything less. And most of all, we must never stop dreaming.

 

 

My foolish heart

By anonymous

I come from a poor family, that has survived anything that’s been served on its table. I am the eldest among 5 children, of whom 2 are still young. I’ve always wanted to finish my studies, but life’s complications made it impossible. At the age of 17 I was already working. Things got worse when I got pregnant at the age of 22, and unmarried. I was abused physically, mentally and verbally by the father of my kid. This made me decide to go overseas, to earn for myself and my kid since my (ex)boyfriend at that time couldn’t fully support my child, as he has vices.

I have been working in Singapore for 3 long years. I had a lot of experiences. I gained some friends, but it felt like something was missing. I knew how pathetic it is to say that I was looking for love in this foreign land, when I actually came here for work.

But those feelings you have when you’re far away from home make you long for something that would make you happy, even if it is just for the meantime. I am not looking for sex or hook ups since I’m too emotional and I don’t go for games. So I registered with this online dating application that lets you meet people around you. I talked to a lot of guys on that application, and yes, I told them what my work was. I’m fully aware that most of the men there are looking just for fun, and here I was looking for something serious.

Then I spoke to this certain guy. A foreign guy from Pakistan, who came here to study as required by his work. We rarely talked at first as I wasn’t interested in him at all. Then, it suddenly changed.

One day he asked me to see him and do something intimate. He told me that love and relationships sometimes begin with one night stands. I don’t know what came to my mind, that I accepted his invitation and met him. And believe it or not, I fell in love with him. From then on, I always spent my days off with him. Stupid as I was, we never had any confirmed relationship. And the nightmare begun, when I found out that he was married and had a child. He lied to me about his real status. I didn’t end the relationship we had, even when I found out the truth, because he told me that his marriage was forced, and he got divorced 2 years ago. But as days passed, he kept changing his ways. He seldom spoke to me, and that made me upset .

I made my move by asking one of his schoolmates what was really going on. I wasn’t prepared to hear the truth that day. I was hurt to learn that he wasn’t divorced, and he was actually playing around. I made the decision to cut off what we had. And here I am, moving on.

With all the women out there, I just want to share my experience.

I learned my lesson well, though it still hurts me whenever I remember all the things that he and I shared with each other. To love in a foreign land with so many strangers is a challenge. I just want to let you all know that you can’t make yourself complete by letting yourself be close, and fall in love with other people who are fools. Just be cautious with yourself and be aware of people who will just use you for their own benefit.

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MY TWO MOTHERS

By: Juliet Ugay

I have two mothers. You might think I am being silly, but it is true, I do have two. Both women played a part in my life, and made me the woman I became. Two women, opposites in many ways, yet I love both of them dearly. I may not be very vocal about it to them, but deep in my being I do. I may not talk to them often, maybe it’s just being me, always quiet, but they are always in my mind.

Let me start with Lolita – my biological mother. My father and the people close to us often called her “Kadi” or “Lita”. My mother has always been skinny. I am not sure if having 7 kids made her that skinny, or it has to do with her metabolism. I think I got her genes, I am skinny too, or should I say slim or petite? I think that sounds better. Lolita spent most of her life being a housewife, taking care of my siblings and working at the farm raising cows, chickens and goats, and planting corn, peanuts and sweet potatoes as big as an adult head. I can’t remember the last time she actually took a holiday or went somewhere else other than our town or the nearby city. I remembered when we were little, she used to scream all the time when we were naughty. Her voice was so loud in a tiny body; even the next neighbourhood could hear it. She used to give us a pinch, or the cane if we didn’t follow her rules. I used to sneak out of the house after mealtime to escape from washing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen. The next thing she knew, I was at the neighbours playing “sungka” or “Chinese garter”. The moment I came home, I’d expect a punishment from her. If there was one thing I hated about my mother, it would be her smoking. It is odd because when she smokes, the part that you light up would be inside her mouth. I can’t still figure out until now how she managed to do that. It must be painful if the hot surface of the cigarette touches any part of the mouth. But yeah, that’s my mother. She can be funny at times; she’s got this unique laugh that I always love to hear. My mother has been through a lot in life and I admire her patience, and the sacrifices she has made for her family. Since I started working in Singapore, she has been taking care of my son, 10 years now. Despite her losing an eye in an accident a few years back, she still manages to pull through everything, and I thank her for that.

My other mother, Patricia, lives in Baguio City, the summer capital of the Philippines. Her family and friends call her “Patring” or “Alling”. She is the sister of my father’s father. She is actually my grandmother. She took me to her house in the city to live with her when I was 5 years old. At that time, I was still too young to understand things, but I remember how much I cried when I left. Maybe because it was my first time away from my family. It was hard at first, the adjustment, the people around me and the new place. But it didn’t took me long to like living in the city. Unlike my biological mother, Inang Alling as I called her, is the type who is soft spoken and has an aura of calmness. Even when she was angry, she still spoke softly. I think I acquired some of that behaviour from her. She used to sew me dresses for school and for my everyday clothing. I was her model for her craft. We used to sleep in one bed, and I loved her soft and thick blanket. She got so upset whenever I peed on the bed. We went to church every Sunday, attended black rosaries and she took me anywhere she went. She taught me about religion, but my beliefs and principles have changed over time. I enjoyed climbing up the pine tree beside the house to pick her some passion fruit or Spanish tomato fruit. We used to go pick some “chayote” for dinner, and leaves for her pet pigs. I spent most of my childhood with her. Good times, sad times, they are all part of the memories. Some of the values I learned from her got me through life.

These are just some of the many things that describe my two mothers. Inang Lolita is now 59, and Inang Alling is 76. Two women, with opposite beliefs about life, living in different worlds and yet they are both extraordinary women to me. If one day, when I have enough resources and I’m given a chance, I would like to take them somewhere nice. They deserve to get nice things and experience good things in life because they are great, they are my mothers.

A mother’s love

By: Rosita Atisor

Being a woman is God’s gift that all of us must appreciate; the life that we have, the origin of a child- is the mother. She shows to man and share the caring, the loving that a woman have.  A woman has a good heart, she can sacrifice all for her love ones, and even her own life she is willing to give.

A flashback to the year 2005: I can’t forget that incident that has been part of my life. That was the time when I delivered my baby girl Lyza at the hospital. There was another woman sharing my room. I heard very clearly what the doctor told the husband, who was standing next to his wife, “Mr. I need you to sign this paper, and be prepared. Your wife is in a critical condition. Which one will be your priority, your wife or your baby?”. The husband answered with a crying voice and said, “Please doctor save my wife”. When the wife heard what the husband said, tears fell from her eyes while holding the husband’s hand. She said, “Doctor please save my baby, save my son”. And the doctor took the woman inside the operating room. My eyes are in tears every time I remember those times.

That next morning, I was already a mother. Having a baby girl next to me, and each time I looked at her, the happiness I had at that moment is indescribable. That same morning, the doctor was doing a routine check and gave congratulations to new mothers. When he was by my bed, I took the chance to ask him how the mother and the baby I had seen yesterday were. He said that the boy was healthy and in good condition but unfortunately, the mother didn’t make it. She was gone. The doctor left the room but I was still in shock and started crying. I felt so sorry and pitied the baby for not having a mother anymore. But then, I admired the woman and I saluted her for giving up her own life for her son to live.

I want to let all the kids out there know, to please love their mother and love their life because they’ll never know what sacrifices their mother made or will make, just for them.

 

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New Year Resolutions

 

By: Maria Allen Cellan

New Year is the best time for us to start making meaningful changes in our lives. This new beginning gives us the hope to persevere with our dreams, and to create new goals. For anyone who’s serious about New Year resolutions, making them is a brave step. First of all, it requires an honest assessment of what’s working and not working in our lives. We need to consider what we want for ourselves, and what we want to achieve in the coming year.

For domestic workers, the New Year is a chance to find new opportunities, and to reach new goals, like saving money and eating healthy. In this article, I’m going to share with you my personal New Year resolutions – and most importantly, how I plan to keep them for the rest of the year.

1) Read more

I believe that reading is another way of gaining wisdom and knowledge. The more I read the more I will learn about things. Reading can also help improve my communication skills.

2) Keep myself fit

That means I will exercise twice a day, 6 days a week, for at least 10 to 15 minutes. I will also try to eat healthy foods, and avoid eating junk food and sodas. I believe that in my kind of job it’s good to take care of myself as much as I can. Being sick and away from family is one of the struggles of domestic workers. The fact is that we still have to work even when we are sick, so staying as healthy as possible is very important.

3) Write more

Writing is another way of expressing myself. If I have good writing skills it will allow me to communicate to other people with clarity.

4) Less shopping and more saving

Although I save money every month, I still need to try to save more. Nobody wants to work away from their family for the rest of their lives.

5) Look for other opportunities

Let’s be honest here: nobody wants to work as a domestic worker forever. We all have dreams and we all know that this kind of work is only temporary until we have enough money saved to start a business or until we find a new career.

But how am I going to keep my resolutions? Here are some of my tips to stay on track.

Be realistic.

Before I wrote down my New Year resolutions I had to be realistic about what I could achieve. For example, one of my resolutions is to avoid eating junk food. One way of being realistic is that instead of saying that I will not eat junk food anymore, I can just say that I will avoid eating junk food. That way, I’m not putting too much pressure on myself.

Share my resolutions with my friends

Friends can help us succeed in keeping our resolutions. For instance, I can get one of my friends to be my workout buddy every weekend, and through this I can lose weight and keep myself fit. Friends can also remind me of the benefits I will receive if I achieve my goals (good health, satisfaction etc).

Don’t make a long list of resolutions

Chances of success are greater if I only channel my energy into changing just a few aspects of my behavior, like less shopping and more saving. Instead of going for shopping I can go to church and attend religious group activities.

Create a plan and write it down

It’s important to create a plan so you can stick to your resolutions. For example,

I’m planning to start each day with a 10-15 minute exercise and a healthy breakfast. I’m also going to start a journal so I can track my progress. Don’t forget to give yourself a small reward whenever you achieve a goal: it will keep you motivated.

It’s challenging to stick to New Year resolutions, but remember that if you fail, you can always start again. Nobody is perfect; missteps when reaching goals are completely normal. What matters most is that we have a good vision for our lives. Our vision will help us reach our goals, stay disciplined and focused. This New Year, we should keep trying to find opportunities to develop ourselves, so that we never feel devalued as domestic workers. Let’s see 2016 as the start of a new, exciting journey.

 

 

 

 

IN MY HELPER’S SHOES

On Sunday the 31st of January, I, together with other volunteers from HOME, attended the screening of “ In my Helper’s Shoes”, 4 episodes by On the Red Dot, a TV programme on Channel 5 which first aired on Jan 15 at 9:45 pm. The last episode will be shown on February 5 at 9:30pm. The show documents the journey and challenge of three personalities Benjamin Heng, Daphne Khoo and Paul Foster as they visit their Domestic Worker’s hometown and live in their helper’s shoes for a few days. If you missed them, episodes can still be seen via the toggle.sg website. The screening was at Library@esplanade and was attended by the Philippine and Indonesia Consuls, the people behind the show and Domestic Workers (DWs).

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Actor Benjamin Heng went to Ponorogo, East Java Indonesia, where his DW Yasinta lives. Yasinta, 35 years old and married with a son, has been working with the family for over four years. She started working when she was 19 years old. According to Yasinta, Benjamin’s family treated her like a family member. She said that she has learned a lot while working with them. Benjamin was surprised to see the well-organized house of Yasinta, and admired the fact that she owns a business, a chicken farm that will provide her family a good income in the long run.

Daphne Khoo, a Radio DJ and Singer/Songwriter went to Sorsogon Philippines. Her DW Yolly Dogillo, 47 years old and single, is the eldest of eight children in her family. She went abroad to work as a Domestic Worker because her work as a teacher payed so little compared to what she can earn abroad. She used her earnings to send her siblings to school. Yolly has been with Daphne’s family for 20 years. She has been living with her aunt in the Philippines. Yolly now owns a piggery. According to Yolly, her relationship with Daphne is the same as that of a sister, and they get along very well. They had supported each other since.

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TV Host and Actor Paul Foster took the challenge to go all the way to Capiz Philippines, to spend a few days living with her DW Bel Baltazar. Bel started working with Paul’s family when he was in his mid twenties. She was hired to take care of Paul’s niece. Bel, who has two sons, lost her husband 10 years ago and shortly after that she left her country to work abroad. Her family are farmers. Though it is tough to be apart from her family, she managed to pull things up for her sons.

These three personalities experienced so many things that they never seen in their lives. They were so caught up with their busy life in Singapore, that they don’t take notice of the other stuff regarding their helpers; their lives back in their country, their background, their statuses and their reasons for leaving their country. The experience was a mixture of emotions for Daphne, Benjamin and Paul. They got to know their helper’s family and even their friends and extended families. They took the challenge of planting rice, fed chickens, gathered grass for goats, visited the school of their DW’s kids, played with their kids, swam, bathed pigs and many other things. They even got to cook for their DW’s family.

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According to Ben and Paul, the experience of being able to visit their DW’s hometown, and meeting their families made a huge impact in their lives, and as a person. They get to know their DWs better, and that brought them closer than before. The opportunity was humbling, and the feedback they got from people has been overwhelming and positive. The biggest challenge that they experienced was the long travel hours, the slow Internet connection and for Benjamin, the slaughtering of the chicken.

The trip also served as an eye opener for them. Knowing their DWs in their own environment has made them understand their situation more. As for DWs Yolly and Yasinta, the visit has made them closer to their employers and their relationship has become better. They are very proud and happy to have had their employers visit their hometown. The biggest challenge for Yolly, Yasinta and Bel was that they were worried their employers might not like their place, the food, the people and that they might be uncomfortable being there.

 If you will be given a chance to do the same, will you take the challenge?

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.

The simple life

HOME shelter offers a ‘home’ to domestic workers that have run away from their employers. During a writing workshop the residents were asked to write about what ‘home’ means to them. Read Hilda’s contribution about her dreams for a simple life with her family below.

I am Hilda from Philippines. I would say that I am proud of my country. I lived in a province, in Luzon part. It was nice that each morning when I woke up, I could feel the cold, fresh wind. Life was so simple then, when my family was around me everything was fine, even though sometimes we worried about financial matters. I love the beach, the mountains, and above all I love the simplicity of everything.

In Singapore, I once lived with an Australian and Chinese family. They had a nice home with complete equipment inside. They were both working. I could say that they had almost everything except kids. They had a small garden where I spent half my time clearing and watering the plants. But of course I didn’t have the privilege to go out any time. The house was good, but the people living there were the problem. Without the right people, a house is not a home.

I would like to live in a place near the sea where I could see the sunset every day of my life. In a house with my own family, living a simple life. I would love to have a little garden in my back yard with different kinds of flowers, like orchids, and green plants. It is the simplicity that counts with me. I believe that we don’t need to be rich to have everything, but what I would like is only to have my own house, earned with my own hard work, and to live with my family because we just live here on Earth temporarily.

As the saying goes there’s no place like home, there is no other place where I can show myself, and be who I am. Home is like heaven for me. There I can express myself without humiliation. They won’t look down on me, they will understand me and most of all love me.

My dream home is like a simple, native made up of native products like bamboo and wood, but stable. Having a garden in the backyard bearing fruits and vegetables where my family will spend our time together harvesting and cooking and eating together. Cooking is my passion and I believe I can make my family happier.

 

When to call it a day?

By Juliet Ugay

“Twenty two years!” This is what Marie Coloma answered when I asked her how long she has been working as a Domestic Worker in Singapore. Marie, who is 46 years old and a native of Tabuk Kalinga, Philippines, is mother to a 23 year –old. Her son is in his third year of school, taking up Hotel and Restaurant Management.

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Marie and her son

Marie is planning to retire when she reaches the age of 50. When she returns home for good, the petite and cheerful lady plans to set up a business together with her close friends. She thinks of starting a shop that sells school supplies and has a photocopying machine. She also plans to put up a canteen near a school, which her son will manage in time – if he wants to. She said that it will be good to be home because she can make up for those times she wasn’t with her son, and she’ll be able to take care of her ageing parents as well.

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Saturina as an Aidha volunteer

Another Domestic Worker, Saturnina Rivera, 47 and single, plans to retire when she turns 50 or when her 2-year contract with her present employer is up. She has been working in Singapore for 21 years. She hopes to develop land that she bought a few years back to put up a massage parlour and piggery. A portion of her property includes a vegetable farm her brother is managing at the moment. Because Saturnina has no family of her own, she has been able to save most of her salary. Despite being single, she says she is happy and contented with what she has now and that soon she will be her own boss.

Retirement- I had never really thought about it until I interviewed these ladies.

There are some Domestic Workers here who have stayed longer than 22 years and when I asked them about when are they going back for good, many of them said they will stay as long as they are fit to work. The thought of a very slow phase of life in their home country made them stay here for as long as someone still wants to hire them. Others are choosing to continue to work because they have difficulties getting a job in their home country, where most companies and employers prefer fresh graduates and competition is high.

Retirement may still be a long way off for many of us, but proper planning for it can lead a more secure, less stressful life in the future. I have heard that a lot of Domestic Workers who worked in Singapore for more than 20 years and no savings, because they sent all their earnings to their families back home. Sometimes, they go back to their countries with just a little money. It’s a sad truth.

Domestic Workers in Singapore have no access to formal retirement funds so it is important to plan something that can benefit them when they decide to retire. Saving some of the salary every month is a good thing to do. You can use this money if you plan to put up a business when you retire, like Marina and Saturnina did. For Filipino DWs, monthly contributions to government institutions like Social Security System (SSS), PAG-IBIG and PHILHEALTH is also a way of preparing for retirement as you can benefit from them in the long run.

CAUGHT IN THE ACT!

By Juliet Ugay

If you are an employer and you found out that your domestic worker wore your bikini or your personal belongings on one of her days off, what would you do?

This is the question that one of my friends, who employes a domestic worker, asked me when I bumped into her in a mall one day. She then asked me what I, since I am a domestic worker myself, would do if my employer found out I had been wearing her personal things?

For a moment I stared at her while absorbing what she asked. My initial response was, that it is a bit crazy. She told me that her friend’s helper posted a photograph on her Facebook page of herself wearing her employer’s bikini. She had found it out through a domestic worker of another friend, who happened to be a mutual friend on Facebook. She was so shocked to learn about it, and asked her friends around what would be the best thing to do with her domestic worker. Most of her friends advised her to talk to the domestic worker first. Some of her friends told her to terminate the domestic worker’s work permit because they thought that her actions were a bit over the top. It can be considered stealing, as well as breaking her trust.

I have asked some of my fellow domestic worker what their thoughts are about the matter. All of them said that it is really inappropriate to use your employer’s belongings without their permission. Some of them said that the domestic worker must apologise to her employer, and ask them to give her another chance, while some said it’s better to look for another employer, because it will be very awkward to work with them after what happened.

I also asked Jolovan Wham, executive director of HOME if this would be enough reason to terminate the domestic worker’s work permit. He said he does not personally think it should be. But then again, in Singapore an employer has the right to terminate the domestic worker’s work permit for whatever reason there is.

To my fellow domestic workers; please refrain from posting similar situations like this on any social media, especially when you know there’s a not pleasant story behind the photos or statuses. We should think a few times before we do something, because we’ll never know whether our actions might create a long-term regret.