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.
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.
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.
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