My Story, my life

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.

Rest in Peace?

Rest in Peace?


How many lives will be wasted
How many dreams will be tainted
How many Migrant Domestic Workers will go home cold and lifeless
How many hearts will shatter with distress
How many children will not be able to hug their mother
How many parents will miss their daughter
How many siblings will loose their sister
How many husbands will be left heartbroken 


How much you pay for her as a commodity
How much is her worth to be your property
How much it takes to treat her fairly
How much respect to spare her freely
How much tears she'll shed for humanity
How long she'll beg for equality
How many times will she be denied of justice in this society


The answer my friend is the storm she carries with her to the grave


#rolinda77

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

 

Halloween Filipino Style!

By Miriam Escander

If ever there was a holiday that deserves to be commercialized, it’s Halloween. It comes second only to Christmas and kids and adults can both enjoy it. I am especially attentive to Halloween, because it happens that I was born on Halloween. So for me it has always been a special occasion.

In many countries, Halloween is celebrated on October 31st, but in the Philippines, due to a strong Catholic tradition, we celebrate it on the first two days of November. November 1st is All Saints Day (Araw ng mga Santo) and November 2nd is All Souls Day (Araw ng mga Patay). We spend these two days remembering our dead loved ones and you will find most of us at the cemetery or a memorial park. We don’t celebrate these days with tricks and treats. When we visit the cemetery we bring candles with different designs, different colours and amazing smells, as well as nice and beautifully arranged flowers.

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When you go and live in a foreign country, you might feel amazed at how a favourite holiday is celebrated there, how different. That is what I have experienced here in Singapore. Halloween as is celebrated here started in Britain and other parts of Northern Europe as part of the ancient Celtic Religion. I’ve been working here for 12 years yet only last year experienced my first Halloween celebration with my friends. It was a lot of fun and vey exciting, though I did have some difficulty in saying NO to dressing up and putting on Halloween make-up. That’s the thrill and highlight of having a Halloween party.

 

Here in Singapore, a few weeks before, you can already sense that Halloween is just around the corner. Shopping malls display Halloween stuff. Adults, teens and especially kids are getting more excited every single day. Take for example the 4 year old boy I look after. The whole family was invited by a friend to attend their Halloween party. They started planning their costumes and he was excitedly counting the remaining days left before the big day. Every morning he would tell me “Miriam, 5 more days more to go before Halloween!”

He said that every day until the big event. That morning, when I was making coffee for myself, I asked him, “How many days left  before he Halloween?”

He showed me his clenched fist and said “ZERO”

I could not stop myself from laughing. The excitement on his face made him look even more adorable. When we arrived at the venue, we saw hanging balloons with Halloween designs, amazing food, residents with their kids wearing scary costumes, and a corner for the games they prepared. At the end of the event, everybody was looking tired and exhausted, especially the kids, but I could see the happiness and satisfaction on their faces.

 

When we got home and I was already on bed, I looked at the pictures I took, and suddenly reminisced about the Halloween we used to celebrate when I was a kid.

In the Philippines, a week before, we start to clean up the cemeteries and the graves of our love ones; the graves get a layer of fresh paint and everything is made ready for the visits on November 1st and 2nd. People from other places start going back to their hometowns to visit their dead loved ones. Airports are packed, as are ships and buses.

 

You might think we have a very boring Halloween, I mean cemeteries, graves, prayers and all, make it seem like a serious affair. Not so. Spending Halloween in the cemeteries is a fun event. It is like a mini-reunion for families and friends alike, a chance to be with those people that we see only once a year. Tents, shelters, chairs and tables are set up in front of the gravesites to provide a place for families and their visitors to stay and talk. Best of all, food and drinks are overflowing during this time, with families bringing basket of foods and drinks to share with others. Food we prepare is not the same as food here, we make native delicacies called “kakanin” some of which are only prepared during Halloween. I remember when I was a kid, my grandmother used to tell us not to eat the food that they cooked until it had been offered to the dead loved ones. We do this by taking a small portion of each food and put in a corner with candles.

 

If I am to compare the way Halloween is celebrated today and before, I’ll still choose to celebrate the “BEFORE”, it was so much more fun than these days.

There you have it. Halloween Filipino style. It is definitely different but equally as interesting as the Halloween celebration in other parts of the world…

 

My sunset

By Rara

 

My Sunset

 

When the sun is rising

When the morning comes

When the air is cold

At that moment, I remember you

 

You, you are my sunset

The sunset that I always miss

The sunset that is always in my mind

The sunset that always makes me warm

But …

I have lost you

 

If I had a second chance

I always want to be with you

Spend every second in my life

Laughing with you

Crying in your arms

And fall asleep in your hug

 

Dear my sunset

In another life

I will never let you go

 

 

Rara is a pseudonym. Rara is a domestic worker from Indonesia and has been staying at HOME shelter and writing helps her to cope with the problems in her life. The English version of her poem Matahari is her own.

Can I have a day off please?

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. 

jho

Helper Appreciation

 

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.

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Who is She?

Who is She?

***

She is the first person to wake up in this house

She prepares your breakfast and packs foods for you to bring

She assist your kids to be ready for school

Who is she?

The maid you call her.

**

She tidies up your crumpled bed so you may rest your tired body

She cleans up your house so you may have a peaceful mind

She takes care of your kids while you are at work so you may not worry

Who is she?

The maid you call her.

**

She cooks food so you may have a sumptuous dinner as you always say

She feeds your kids so they may stay healthy

She secure doors and windows each night for your safety

Who is she?

The maid you call her.

**

Her worth is less than a thousand each month

Her freedom two days each month

Two days with curfew hours each month

She is the maid.

That is what she deserves.

Too much isn’t it?

**

**

#rolinda77

BEING A DOMESTIC HELPER

By: Jean RAGUAL

 

Being a domestic helper

 

My heart is without pain

If they call us only HELPER

The sadness of my will

Who are the educated people of the world?

 

They still lower the real meaning

And the importance of being a HELPER

 

You are a hero and very helpful person

Your blessings will be rewarded

GOD to create you will be praised

 

You are a hero and very helpful person

Your blessings will be rewarded

GOD to create you will be praised

 

Sweaty day and night

Soaked at work

She will remain stable

Because each drop of it

In life it is symbolic

Sacrifice has its rewards

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.

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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.

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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.

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