Meet the writers: Jo Ann

To whet your appetite for the ‘Our Homes, Our Stories’ book we take you behind the scenes of the publication. Whilst the editors and proofreaders are working hard to get the manuscript ready for the printer, we interview domestic worker and HOME MyVoice writer Jo Ann Dumlao about her experiences whilst writing her story for the book.

The moment I heard about the HOME book project, I didn’t give it a second thought: I knew I wanted to join. I am not a professional writer but I can push my pen. I love writing and I knew that with this book one of my ultimate dreams would come true. Seeing my name in a book as a contributor, to me, it’s such and achievement. This is not the first time that I wrote my story. I also joined the HOME MyVoice Writing Workshop with OFW Pinoy Star Founding Editor Clement Mesenas in 2015, and my story was featured in the HOME section of the OFW Pinoy Star magazine.

Writing a personal story like this is somehow both hard and easy. It was especially hard when I remembered the difficult times, and I would pity myself and ended up crying. I’d have to put myself back together, not let my emotions overtake, to be able to put words together smoothly. How did I do this? I reminded myself of the positive outcome of my struggles; that through these struggles I have been able to prove to myself that I am strong. In spite of being alone in this foreign land, I was able to survive and conquer my fears. The complex part of story telling is that it tests how sharp your memory is. Remembering the sad, fun, easy and adventurous sides of the story, I was surprised by my still sharp memory!

Do you know the feeling of having a burden on your chest? Writing helps to release it. I felt unburdened when I finished my story. My family – far away in the Philippines- did not know about my struggles. They never knew that I was once on the edge of giving up, of losing hope.

Jo Ann, Novia, Gilda
My Voice book writing workshop (Jo Ann, Karien, Gilda, Novia)

We domestic worker writers all have different stories to tell and yet, we understand each other. We have different dreams to share, but we comprehend what each one of us wants to convey to the readers. We enjoyed the group sessions we had, as if we were just sharing chitchat over a cup of coffee.

I am hoping that many people will grab a copy of our book, especially employers in Singapore and their families, the officers from government agencies like MOM (Ministry of Manpower) and also that they will take their time to read it. From our book, they can learn what ‘our world’ – that of a domestic worker – is like in reality. Maybe it will make them reflect; think about whether they are a reasonable employer to their own domestic worker. Do they treat her fair and just?

We are working hard to earn a living for our families, just like our employers do themselves, in their offices. An employer and a domestic worker are the same like that. After reading the book, I hope the employer’s hearts will soften, as they gain a better understanding of a domestic workers’ situation, knowing that they are away in a strange country, far from their own family.

The relationship between an employer and a domestic worker should be on a give and take basis. If the employer is kind to her domestic worker, she will be more diligent in her work, and happy in doing her chores. They will have a harmonious relationship and live peacefully and happily under one roof.

My employers know that I am an active member of HOME, and that I wrote my story for this book – also that they are a part of my story. They were happy to hear about it, and their two children even shared some thoughts about me that they wanted included in my story.

Writing this story made me realise that I have learned many life-lessons that had a great impact on me. They made me the person I am today. In my journey I have faced lots of ups and downs, it was a rocky road. I have cried buckets of tears, questioned myself and even God, asking why I needed to suffer and carry such burdens.

An organization like HOME is very important to migrant workers who have no one to turn to for help. They offer a shelter to stay safe, and medical, legal or financial assistance to those in need. I am happy to be a member of HOME – the voice of the voiceless, the helper of the helpless, the home for the homeless.

‘Our Homes, Our Stories’ is an anthology of real-life stories written by migrant domestic workers in Singapore. It will be launched on March 8th, International Women’s Day, by HOME.

Did you pre-order your copy yet? You can do so here: https://www.giving.sg/humanitarian-organisation-for-migration-economics/our_homes_our_stories

 

 

 

The long wait is over. The cool breeze of air is making us feel that Christmas is here. The shining, shimmering lights and decorations accros every corner of the roads, in shopping malls or buildings, Santa Claus and his reindeers all along. Christmas trees were put-up with the star symbol on top of it and lots of wrapped gifts underneath.
As FDW’s are away from home, how do we celebrate Christmas? Everyone of us wishes to be back home in this festive, grandest season of the year but we don’t own our own time. We can’t just decide that at anytime we wish to go home, we can. We surely miss the traditional Christmas Dinner, the Noche Buena.
Lucky are those fellow FDW’s who are going home and are celebrating Christmas with their loved ones.
But away from home doesn’t mean we can’t make our Christmas a merry one,of course we can! Attending Christmas parties or gatherings with our friends or relatives is one way of celebrating. We prepare Filipino dishes to share, there are some games to play and prizes to be won and gift giving makes a happy and most awaited part of the party. Aside from this, we like to go walking at night and enjoy the beautiful decorations that symbolize Christmas or hop to the nearest island is what others do. And yes, do your favorite things to do, sleep as long as you want and eat delicious food and of course, buying yourself a few presents, wrap them and look surprised when you open them! Don’t forget to attend mass to feel the real essence of Christmas.
The joy that you feel may not be as heartfelt as when you are at home with your loved ones. But, wherever we are,we should have a great Christmas. Let’s feel the spirit of Christmas within us!

 

by Jo Ann Dhumlao

Our Homes, Our Stories

We are excited to announce the making of a new HOME MyVoice publication! As we speak we are working hard writing, editing and designing the book, which HOME plans to publish and  launch in March 2018: Our Homes, Our Stories.

Domestic workers can be seen everywhere in Singapore’s streetscape, in our parks, our shopping centres, and most importantly, inside our houses. But who are they really? Although these women form an integral part of our society, their voices are not often heard in Singapore literature. This book is an anthology of non-fiction stories written by migrant domestic workers in Singapore, and gives them a voice and a face. The book aims to create awareness of the issues domestic workers face, both in Singapore and in their home countries.

The stories explore different facets of the theme ‘home.’ All writers are either part of HOME’s network of domestic worker volunteers, or residents of HOME shelter for run away domestic workers. They come from different backgrounds and countries, and cover a variety of subjects relating to the lives of migrant domestic workers; positive as well as negative experiences. Their stories are compelling, insightful, and at times horrifying. They are important and need to be read.

In order to get this book published and printed, we need funds, please 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. An ebook version will be published in March 2018 as well.

We will update you here on the MyVoice blog on the progress of the book, get you special behind the scenes reports, and interviews with the writers, so watch this space! To get regular updates on the book, please also ‘like’ our Facebook page: https://web.facebook.com/ourhomesourstories

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

Tears In My Eyes

By Rosita Sanchez

 

Tears In My Eyes

It started one day

When I fell in love with you

My days were filled with laughter and happiness

I was content and I felt complete

 

My life has changed because of you.

I am not the same girl as before.

My days, my time, changing so fast.

Even the sun and the moon are competing with each other.

 

But what happened one day?

Where are you? Why can’t I see you?

Is there something wrong my love?

Please tell me, I’m dying to be with you.

 

Days, months and even years have passed us by.

I feel a deep sadness and my tears keep flowing.

Have you forgotten me? Have you left me?

 

You just walk away like the wind.

What I feel will never be seen.

 

A gift from you makes me feel strong.

A life with you makes my life continue on.

It feels like yesterday that we were together.

 

I thank God for the son that we have.

I trust Him and surrender my questions because right now I am happy with our son.

 

Tears keep falling from my eyes, that one day you will wipe them off and make them dry.

Now the time has come and this little voice says to me, “Mama, stop crying, I’m here, I love you.”

This sweet voice makes my heart calm.

 

Where ever you are, where ever you go,

Thank you for the day that made me feel a woman. It made my dreams come true to be a mother and to have a son with the man I love so much.

 

I have these tears in my eyes but now the tears are flowing because of the happiness that our son gives me.

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

The Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) is an anti-human trafficking organisation advocating empowerment and justice for all migrant workers in Singapore