Category Archives: Our Homes, Our Stories

Domestic Worker Writers at SWF 2018

Sunday at its best!

 

We, the contributors of the Our Homes,Our Stories book have been waiting for this day to come: November 11th, 2018. Who could have thought that ordinary Migrant Domestic Worker (MDW) writers would be featured at Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) 2018?

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First, we shared our stories of struggles, failures, victories, learnings, love and heartaches compiled into book. The book was launched, and since then we have been invited to numerous reading events then unexpectedly, Singapore Writers Festival invited the Our Homes,Our Stories writers to read at their prestigious festival.

Singapore Writers Festival is one of Asia’s Premier Literary events which was founded in 1986 and was called Singapore Writers Week by then.

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Thank you Singapore Writers Festival for inviting us. It is such an accomplishment for us and so humbling. It is beyond our dreams that we were a part of SWF 2018as presenters and not just in the audience.

The General theme of the 2019 SWF is “The world(s) we live in, which is a perfect fit with that of our book: “Domestic Worker Writers reflecting on their two homes: Singapore and their “home countries.”

Our Homes, Our Stories is a book that give a voice to Migrant Domestic Workers in Singapore. A book that every household with MDW should have and read. It is a must-read for employers.

 

On November 11th Seven MDW writers read part of their stories in the following themes:

 

1) Homesickness- Jo Ann Dumlao

2) Making a home:support network- Novia Arluma

3) Home countries:missing family- Miriam Escander

4) Role model- Nina Rotelo (Cute)

5) Love- Rea Maac

6) Self-confidence- Kina Hidayah Kastari

7) Pride in your job- Robina Navato (Bhing)

 

With pride, they read their stories. The audience showed interest as they listened  and asked  questions afterwards. These MDW writers has been working in Singapore for many years and have considered Singapore their 2nd home.

Migrant Domestic Workers spend a big  part of their lives making sacrifices working away from their love ones, from their families. Employers should treat them fair and just and respect them as Human Beings – just like anyone else. They are people, not commodities. And, be mindful that these MDW’s play a big role in your lives – taking care of your loved ones.

Again, thank you Singapore Writers Festival for this enjoyable experience!

By Jo Ann Dumlao

 

Meet the writers: Bhing

Robina Navato, or Bhing as her friends call her, is one of 26 writers in the book ‘Our Homes, our Stories’ – an anthology of 28 real-life stories written by domestic workers in Singapore. Her story ‘I love my job’ shows how, with the right employers, being a domestic worker can be a dream job. Still, her experiences of being a domestic worker in Singapore for more than two decades also tell that the life of a domestic worker is never easy. Bhing has been an active volunteer with HOME for years and is part of our Sunday helpdesk, where she helps fellow migrant workers with advice. Apart from that she is an eloquent advocate of migrant domestic worker’s rights at many different platforms in Singapore. So we at MyVoice felt it was about time to learn more about this amazing woman, and we asked her some questions about her experiences writing for the book and as a HOME volunteer.

What was it like for you to be a writer featured in the ‘Our Homes, Our Stories’ book?

For me, it was a dream come true. The project has inspired me to do even more to spread awareness on domestic workers rights. Having been a domestic worker in Singapore myself for over 2 decades, I have gained a lot of experience with different employers. I like sharing my experiences with my fellow domestic workers, and giving them ideas on how to deal with their own problems at work. Being a domestic worker is not as easy as some people think. But I have managed to last for 22 years, and I am still working here. Mainly because I love what I do. I love my job. I picked this phrase as the title of my story.

Your story is great as it shows the different sides of domestic worker life, the good and the bad. It is well-written and balanced. What was it like to write so openly about your life?

I love to write, and to compose poems too. I like to share how I feel. Usually I can only do it when I’m not happy or I hear a sad story. Writing about my own life was different. I was very excited when I was doing it, but it was never easy. I kept thinking of my previous employers, with whom I had very good relationships and happy experiences. I started to miss them. And then I recalled my bad experiences with other employers. As a domestic worker, we never know what kind of employer we will get next. When I focused on those parts, I felt stressed. And when I thought back to my first year here, I got a nostalgic feeling. I did not know anything then. I said “yes” to everything my employer asked me to do. Because at the time, I did not know where to get help and who to talk to.

So that was two decades ago, and I believe you now know quite well what to do to get help?

I volunteer with the HOME Helpdesk every Sunday. Sometimes I receive calls too during the week. At the helpdesk I advise other domestic workers that have problems with their employers. Being part of this Helpdesk taught me about humility. Listening to other people’s problems made me realise how blessed I am. That is why I do this. I love my volunteer work like I love my day job. I have gained many friends there too.

Bhing

Do you do any other volunteering?

I have had so many amazing experiences volunteering with HOME. When I just started, they sent me to Thailand for a United Nations conference about undocumented migrant domestic workers. I gave a presentation there.

I have also been a ‘human book’ in the Human Library SG. As a human book, readers ‘read me’ by asking me questions. That way I could introduce HOME to my readers and spread awareness on how to treat domestic workers right. I often represent HOME at panel discussions too, for instance last month at a ‘Difficult Woman’ panel discussion. Sometimes I do interviews with students, or give school talks. I have also been part of a video on the poem I wrote.

 

That is a very impressive list! What is your motivation to make time do all this?

With all these things that I do, my purpose is helping my fellow domestic workers. Every platform is important for me. It can take time to prepare for presentations but it’s all fine. This is not about me, this is about the things that I can do to help others. Because I know that I have the will and courage to do this.

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So let’s talk about the book. What does it mean to you?

I learned a lot being part of the ‘Our Homes, Our Stories’ project, both writing the book and selling and promoting it. It has made me realise that we can help others if we have the courage to talk, to narrate our stories. My dreams should not stop the moment I became a domestic worker. There is hope! There are so many things us domestic workers can do to have a meaningful life here. Many people think that we are simply unskilled, un-driven, have no ambition, but we can prove them wrong with projects like this one. We are motivated by the people who believe in us, who treat us fairly and who value our worth.

Who did you write it for, who do you hope will read it?

I hope that both domestic workers and employers will read this book. Because our stories are raw and real. Each one of us has a different story to tell that other domestic workers can relate to. They can learn from our experiences.

And really all employers need to read this book. Reading our stories will make them understand us more. This book will be an eye opener for them.

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Did you tell your own employer about the book? What did they say?

My employer and I were having conversation one day, when I mentioned the book to her. I told her that I am one of the writers, and that my story is about all my experiences in Singapore. She was very happy and excited, and told me that she is very proud of me. She bought the book and attended our launch party too.

Is there an important message you wanted to bring across with your story?

The most important message of my story is to love what you do. I love my job and I am proud being a domestic worker. If we love what we are doing, there will be good relationship between our employer and us. If we love our job, we will have a very good understanding of it. We will not allow anyone to take it away from us. Because it is our bread and butter. But we also need to know our basic rights, and what we need to do when an employer is abusing us. We need to have the courage to speak up. And remember that there’s always hope.

Why do you think an organisation like HOME is important?

HOME helps so many domestic workers. HOME gives them a reason to fight because this organization understands and supports them. As a volunteer at HOME, I have experienced how many domestic workers rely on this organization. I can feel how satisfied they are after we give them advice. HOME is where the help is!

 

If you like to read Bhing’s full story, please purchase a copy of our book. More information on where to get a copy can be found here.

Photos by: Mita Kelder photography

Pride and Joy

By Jho Ann Dhumlao

March 11th 2018 was marked on our calendar for some time. And now,  our book is launched! The event last Sunday was indeed a big success. The book ‘Our Homes, Our Stories’  that contains personal stories by domestic workers who bravely share their true life with the public, is available in Singapore and beyond.

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“Have you ever wondered what is life like to us Migrant Workers working abroad?”

Does anyone care about this subject? I hope so, I hope everyone will grab a copy of the book, from employers to migrant workers and government officials alike, especially those working for the Ministry of Manpower. Within every migrant domestic worker story in this book lies a significant lesson; the readers will be able to learn and understand what migrant domestic worker life is like. Their life abroad needs many elements: Motivation, Courage, Strength, Bravery, Perseverance and Faith with God. They need all of this  to keep on facing life’s struggles while away from their families.

May employers realize that migrant domestic workers are just like their “hands and legs”,  that without us most employers would be helpless. The relationship between an employer and a migrant domestic worker should be on a give-and-take basis. The migrant domestic worker needs the salary from the employer to support their family and the employer needs the migrant domestic worker’s service for their family. It seems simple but it is not. Sacrifices, abuse, lack of food, broken trust, salary deductions, salary not being paid, no medical attention or support and love from the family the migrant domestic worker is working with, the employer dictating how the migrant domestic worker spends her day off, all these are things migrant domestic workers are facing; these things are part of our stories.

Last Sunday on stage, you could see migrant domestic worker writers with faces beaming with joy and happiness after they just received their  copy of their book. They come from the Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar and India. Those brave migrant domestic workers shared their stories. Sponsors, HOME family, employers, and friends were there to witness the launching of the book. All the proceeds of the book will go to HOME, the home of the homeless, voice of the voiceless and Help to the helpless.

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A humongous ‘Thank you’ to Karien who edited the book, and Pleun the project manager. Without them, this book would not have been possible, even if we have so many stories to tell. And it is with  with pride and honor that I can say: I am one of those writers.

 

Our book has been launched!

Yesterday was an amazing day, that saw the long expected launch of our book ‘Our Homes, Our Stories’. Seeing the emotional and proud looks on the faces of the writers when they unwrapped their copies was more than worth all the hard work that went into the preparation of the book.

The audience could enjoy some of the writers reading from their own work, as well as a Javanese dance performance by one of the writers and her group. Of course afterwards there was time for buying and signing!

If you would like to pick up a copy, please do, we are selling them fast! And remember 100% of the proceeds go to HOME, as all the work was done by volunteers.

The book is for sale at the following addresses:

HOME offices (open to the public):
Helpdesk for Filipino Domestic Workers, 304 Orchard Road, Lucky Plaza #06-22, Singapore 238863

Helpdesk for Indonesian Domestic Workers and other Migrant Workers, 511 Guillemard Road #01-06, Singapore 399849

Bookstores:
Books Actually, 9 Yong Siak Street, Singapore 168645 (Tiong Bahru)

First Draft, #B2-63 Marina Bay Link Mall, Singapore 018984 (CBD)

Kinokuniya, Ngee Ann City, Orchard Road

Tango Mango at #03-11A in Tanglin Mall

Cat Socrates, 448 Joo Chiat Road, Katong

Fairs

upcoming: Boutiques Fair (16-17-18 March) – at the HOME booth as well as the NCA.

Ebook:

The ebook is for sale at international retailers like Amazon, Kobo, E-Sentral.

 

If you like to get  book delivered to your home, please donate to our campaign on giving.sg.  (20 dollar for book delivery in Singapore, 25 for oversees) and notify publisher@home.org.sg

More sale addresses will follow later this week. If you know of a book store that you think should sell these books, please send a message to publisher@home.org.sg.

Our Homes, Our Stories

They share our lives and homes, but have you ever wondered what life is like for a migrant domestic worker in Singapore?

Our Homes, Our Stories offers a look through their eyes as they share real-life stories, from childhoods in mountain villages to rogue agents and difficult employers, and that one thing they all suffer from the most: homesickness, and the pain of leaving their families behind – in Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar and India.

The women write frankly about sacrifice, broken trust, exploitation, lack of food, and salary deductions. But there are also tales to lift the heart, of supportive employers, the love they have for the families they take care of, and how they use their time in Singapore to realise their dreams for the future.

The stories explore different facets of the theme ‘home.’ All proceeds of this book go to HOME, to support their important work. All the writers in Our Homes, Our Stories are part of the HOME community, either as volunteers on their one day off, or as residents at
HOME shelter for domestic workers.

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If you want to support this project, you donate to our campaign at http://www.giving.sg to support publication: https://www.giving.sg/humanitarian-organisation-for-migration-economics/our_homes_our_stories . You can choose to pre-order the book, buy a VIP package with access to the launch party, or of course simply donate as much as you like to support this amazing project.

And mark your calendar: on March 11th you can pick up your copy at our launch event, at the Hollandse Club.

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The book will be available at the HOME offices and select bookstores in Singapore. Watch this site for further details on how to order or purchase your copy after Match 11th.  An ebook version will be published in March 2018 as well, available with all major international retailers.

To get regular updates on the book, please ‘like’ our Facebook page: https://web.facebook.com/ourhomesourstories

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

Meet the writers: Juliet

Juliet Ugay worked in Singapore as a domestic worker for ten years before retiring back to the Philippines. In the book ‘Our Homes, Our Stories’ she reflects on her time in Singapore, what it was like to return to the Philippines after all that time, and of course, on what her future might hold. Juliet has always loved to write, and is an active member of the HOME MyVoice team, both as a writer and an editor.

We asked Juliet what it meant to her to be part of the book project.

 

My story is just one of the thousand stories that domestic workers in Singapore have to offer. I will take you to where I started, how that went and what it was like, as well as my background and my reasons for leaving. I share some details about my wellbeing during the ten years I worked in Singapore, until the time when I decided to go home for good. Most people think that working abroad is all about earning money. Through my story, readers will hopefully gain a better understanding that my life abroad was not a bed of roses at all.

Being part of this project has given me the opportunity to share my story with the readers. The project also helped me a lot with my writing, thanks to our very patient and hardworking volunteers who made every part of the process easier for us. The whole experience has been a great way for me to spread awareness; the ups and downs of being a domestic worker abroad. We are women from different backgrounds and all have different perspectives on what it is like for us, from the start to finish.

The book will be my treasure for the rest of my life: something that I could be proud of and share with my family and generations to come.

Does your story have a special message, anything you like the reader to learn from it?

I think that this book will serve as an eye opener to everyone, most especially to employers and domestic workers. I am hoping that through this book, lawmakers will have a better understanding of what is the real situation of domestic workers; hopefully it will serve as a guide to them in providing better protection for us.

At the same time I am hoping that through my story, my fellow domestic workers can learn to prepare better when they decide to go home for good. Returning home needs a lot of preparation, good planning as well as emotional and physical adjustment. Saving is one important thing to do, especially for older domestic workers, as age is an important factor when applying to jobs in the Philippines.

With the help of organizations like HOME, other domestic workers can be made aware that there are people who are willing to give them a hand when they are ill-treated or abused. This book can play an important role in that.

What are your own plans for the future now you are back in the Philippines?

At the moment I am still fulfilling the motherly duties to my son, in exchange for all the time with him I lost when I worked abroad. Aside from that, I am preparing myself to join the workforce again, hopefully soon. If I can’t get a job in my country, it will have to be in another country.

Will you continue to write?

Writing played a crucial role in putting things together for me, not only in my story but in my life basically. Writing has always been something I wanted to do. It doesn’t require much pressure and I can do it at any time.

I will continue writing as long as I can. If I get a chance to be part of a project similar to this again, I’ll be more than willing to put my effort in. I did some writing classes a few months ago, and now I intend to write a novel, a short story and a collection of poems. And I am writing any time I want.

You have been part of the MyVoice team as well as editor the MyVoice blog for years. How do you look back on this period?

HOME started doing an online newsletter years ago, and later we had printed copies. During this time, there were many cases of abuse and issues concerning domestic workers. One big issue was domestic workers falling to their death out of windows, and the compulsory weekly day off another. The newsletter served as a voice for us. We gathered signatures and filed a petition for a ban on cleaning windows at a height, and a weekly day off. I think we really made a difference, as there is now new legislation for both.

As technology improved and with the help of volunteers we came up with the MyVoice blog. The blog serves as a platform for domestic workers to share their experiences, stories, talents, trivia et cetera. Writing for MyVoice is not just about me, I am writing with a purpose.

A blog like MyVoice is very important especially for domestic workers who are having a difficult time getting help and information. MyVoice gets domestic workers together, and encourages them to share, be it through their stories, poems, talent or any other form.

Thank you Juliet, and good luck with your further writing!

For a video where Juliet introduces herself, and tells us about her great passion, join the Our Homes, Our Stories Facebook page.

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Juliet in the Philippines

If Juliet’s story inspired you, and you would like to join the MyVoice team, please send Karien a message at Karien@home.org.sg