Tag Archives: empowerment

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.

HOME Pageant winner discovers her talents

In June this year HOME hosted the HOME Talent Pageant 2014, a unique pageant, that focuses on skills rather than beauty, and that aims to show that domestic workers have many other talents aside from cleaning and cooking. Six months after the event, we wanted to see how joining this pageant has shaped the life of its contestants. We asked HOME Talent Pageant 2104 winner, Enok Sunani, to share her experiences on the HOME blog.

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My name is Enok Sunani, and I come from West Java, Indonesia. In September 2001, I landed at Changi airport to work in Singapore as a domestic helper.

Back in Indonesia I never had the chance to attend school for financial reasons, so I took the opportunity to upgrade myself while I was in Singapore. I completed a computer course with HOME, and started English classes as well as courses in entrepreneurship.

Sisi Sukiato, who works for HOME, was the first person to ask me to join the HOME Talent Pageant. At first, I said no to her. I was very shy, and did not have confidence in myself. I am very short (petit), and I have a rather dark skin complexion. But Sisi told me I should try and make my country and fellow foreign domestic workers proud. So I was the first to register.

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At the time I registered for the HOME TALENT PAGEANT, I had just completed my first course. I started volunteering for HOME, in the HOME MUSICAL group, and was keen to help out at the English classes as a teacher, or assistant teacher as soon as I had my certificate. Then, I got caught up in the excitement of the pageant.

Now the pageant is over, but for me, it is just the beginning. Last July, I performed on stage with HOME KARTINI MUSICAL at the Hari Raya Mega Bazaar to raise funds for the needy Singaporean. We were all very happy to do this, even though we were all busy and fasting at the time.

I am really glad I joined the HOME Talent Pageant. What I liked most about the pageant was getting the chance to meet people from different backgrounds and communities. And off course, the sessions where we learned how to walk on a catwalk were great. I had never worn high heels before!

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We got to work with exciting people like supermodel Hanis Hussey, and performer Pamela Wildheart. These ladies have become great inspirations for me, and I really appreciate all their hard work, and that of Cristina Santos who was always there for us during our practices. And off course, I should not forget the HOME Talent Pageant committee, who are the unsung heroes behind the successful pageant. The committee, all foreign domestic workers themselves, was so friendly, kind and supportive. I salute all the candidates and committees for being professional and hard working!

During the HOME Talent Pageant I have learned to work with different people in the group, and found that communication was really important as we were all from different communities. I never knew I could do all the things I did onstage, and getting to know what my talents are is just the best thing that ever happened to me. I have gained a lot of confidence, and have even started to wear high heels more often now. What made me even happier is that and I was able to teach other candidates, and that I could practice whilst sharing what I had learned.

To me winning means achieving what you set out to accomplish, either personally, or as a part of a team.

And, last but not least … I am looking forward to the next round: HOME Talent Pageant 2015

Four Dutch girls, two tandems and 14.000 kilometers

Where some people go backpacking for a bit after graduation, these four young Dutch girls are looking for a larger adventure. In just over a year they will cycle from Jakarta to Amsterdam. On two tandems. And not only that, they do it for a good cause: to raise awareness for women’s rights. A ‘Ride 4 Women’s Rights.’

A few weeks after their departure from Jakarta Carlijn, Monique, Lidewij and Sophie arrived in Singapore. The Dutch girls were invited to join our Dreams Class, where we dreamed about our prospective future’s together with domestic workers staying at the HOME shelter. We found that, although the contestants came from very different countries (the Netherlands, Myanmar, Indonesia, the Philippines, India and Greece) their dreams were not that different. We all wanted to start our own companies, build our dream house and be able to take care of our loved ones. Also, visualising their own dreams helped the girls as a reminder and motivation of their road to realisation of that special dream, their ride for women’s rights.

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The day after the four women cycled on, over the causeway to Malaysia, but luckily there was time for a quick interview. How did they get the idea for this challenging journey? It turned out not to be the first time these women, that have been friends since primary school, travelled together. This time they wanted to do something different. ‘It was on our last trip that we realised that students like us are very self-centered. We took all our opportunities for self-development for grated, without stopping to think how special they are. Because we are all quite sporty, we wanted to add a challenge. To be aware, for 400 days, whilst cycling, of women’s rights, will be an unforgettable exploration. So that is how we started the ‘Ride for Women’s rights.’

The four women will visit various local projects that support women’s rights, and share their stories on their website. So far the group cycled through Indonesia to Singapore, neighbouring countries but which are worlds apart. Singapore impressed them as being ‘futuristic, grand, visionary, and full of expats.’ The ladies of R4WR don’t like to judge. Their journey is one of exploration. Yet they have to admit that Singapore is more modern, and much wealthier than Indonesia. The visit to HOME showed them that ‘beneath the veneer of Singapore there is a darker area, where for instance migrants rights are not always heard.’ 

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How does the public respond to four cycling Dutch girls? ‘When in the busy Indonesian traffic two red tandems appear, men, women as well as children laugh their heads off. There is astonishment, but we also get positive reactions, when we tell that we will cycle 14000 kilometres from Jakarta to Amsterdam to raise awareness on women’s rights. Four girls cycling? Really…from Jakarta to Rembang? O no, all the way up to Amsterdam?’ They had not expected all these positive reactions, and the sign, conversations and meetings that came forth made a lasting impression on the four.

Apart from the Far East they will cross the Middle East. All countries that are not as safe as Singapore. Are they never afraid? ‘In the Netherlands we did training on how to handle aggressive situations. This was also a prerequisite for our parents and sponsors. Safety remains very important to us. In Indonesia we often slept at police stations, a golden concept. In every town or village we’d knock on the door at the local police office. After the first week police offices started to feel like home! Every office we slept at (on our mats) would provide us with a letter of recommendation for the next one. When we arrived at the last one, in Bali, we had 17 letters. Let’s hope this trick will work in other countries too.’ IMG-20141005-WA0013

After Singapore, Sophie, Carlijn, Monique and Lidewij will cycle through Malaysia, then Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar before entering the Middle East. If you want to follow their adventures, do check their website at www.r4wr.or or find them on facebook as R4WR.

And if you have any suggestions for projects to visit, or places to stay in any of these countries, don’t hesitate to drop them an email at info@r4wr.org

Singapore’s got talent!

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The X factor. American Idol. Idols. Britain’s got talent. America’s got talent. Who does not know them? But Singapore’s got talent, who’s heard of that? The city-state is not known for it’s creative excellence. Does Singapore have talent?

This weekend, I had the honour of being a judge at the HOME Talent Pageant 2014. The pageant is open to a very special group of Singapore residents: Foreign domestic workers. These brave women leave their home’s behind to take care of other peoples homes overseas. They live in their employers houses, have long working hours, and often not even a weekly day off. No wonder HOME felt these amazing women deserved to be in the spotlights for once.

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UWC’s Dover campus hosted the semi finals, the talent part of the pageant hosted by the amazing Pamela Wildheart. With the other judges I sat, slightly nervous, in anticipation of the day’s events. We would have to judge the contestants women from mostly Indonesia, the Philippines and India on attributes including stage presence, uniqueness, skills and emotional impact.

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HOME’s talent pageant not about body shape, age, race, weight. It is about inner beauty. Grace and charisma. Focusing on skills rather than beauty, the pageant hopes to encourage domestic workers develop their talents, and pick up life skills whilst working in Singapore. HOME Talent Pageant 2014 was organised by HOME domestic worker volunteers, giving them the opportunity to showcase their talents off-stage as well as on.

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Embracing my inner Simon Cowell, I sat in eager anticipation of the contestant’s performances in the first category, singing. Just like on TV, not all the contestants managed to hit the right notes all the time, but dedication, beautiful costumes and poise more than made up for that. In the special acts category, we heard declamations about the strife of foreign domestic workers, percussion, even dressmaking and make-up skills were demonstrated on stage. Doling out points became harder with each new contestant. How do you compare a lady dramatically acting despair to one performing a traditional Indonesian chant, or one swirling a hula-hoop on her neck?

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The most popular category was dancing, and wow, these ladies can shake their hips! We saw Shakira, belly dancing, hip-hop, traditional Philippines sarong dances, classical Javanese dance, pop, zumba, tribal dances, and much, much more.

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During the counting of the votes, the audience was treated to performances from fellow judges Gerson Lapid Jr, and Robert ‘Obet’ Sunga. Young music student Neil Chan made the hearts of many contestants’ race, with young ladies swarming around him to get their pictures taken. In the meanwhile I, the writer with the singing capacities of a peanut, hid in a corner.

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Fifteen finalists were selected, each of them demonstrating that domestic workers are capable of more than cleaning washing, or taking care of the elderly. They are women of many talents.

I hope that the HOME Talent Pageant 2014 will teach Singaporeans how unique and special their foreign domestic workers are, and that these women deserve the right, opportunity and time off to further develop their skills and talents.

The HOME Talent Pageant 2014 final will take place on Sunday, the 29th of June 2014 from 1 to 5pm at the Catholic Junior College Performing Arts Theatre, 129 Whitley Road Singapore. Tickets are available at 20 dollars each.

Text by Karien van Ditzhuijzen

Photographs by Tessie Cera and Karien van Ditzhuijzen