Thursday, February 4, 2016

Domestic Work is a Decent job

 By Katherine R. Millares

I still remember that day when my maternal uncle asked me why I wanted to work abroad. I had simply answered, ‘I just want to.’ The truth is I just wanted to escape the kind of life that I had.  After taking a two-year computer course through the support of some relatives, I worked for only a year in a construction company, and then I resigned… 

The following year, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to work as a domestic worker in Lebanon and I eagerly said yes. I met the owner of the Lebanon-based agency in a hotel lobby in Malate where he was staying. He interviewed me and my documents were processed the following day.  

I visited my uncle for the last time before leaving the country for Lebanon.  On March 2006, I arrived in Beirut. 

Being a first timer is never easy.  I had to adjust to the food, climate, language, traditions. Moreover, although I knew for a fact that household chores are done differently in other countries, in my situation, I had to relearn and do them according to my Madam’s instructions. But since I was determined to embrace their culture and my new situation, I was able to adjust and things became easier for me after a few months. 

When I first met my employer, I had initially thought that my contract would last for two years. But I was wrong. My Madam had become hot tempered and was not happy with my work. One time, she hit me with a broom while I was cleaning the windows. I just stood still and never cried during the incident. I tried my best to keep my composure.  After only seven months, I was sent back to the recruitment agency.  I had to explain what had happened. Thank God I was freed from such an oppressive situation and was given an opportunity to find a new employer.

It was in 2006 when the civil war hit the country and some Filipinos ran to the Philippine Embassy so that they could go home. But I chose to stay put. After a few weeks of staying in my agency, I was assigned to a new employer.

This time my employer was a retired diplomat.  Only he and his wife (who was then working) lived together because their children were based in Canada. Although the house they occupied was big, I had no problem cleaning and arranging stuff because I enjoyed doing them. 

Aside from household chores, my responsibilities included gardening and fruit picking in their farm. It was my first time to learn those skills. It was fun, educational and I loved it.

One of the challenges of the job was cooking or preparing meals.  I never cooked in the Philippines. I did not know how to cook and I did not have the passion for cooking.  I was not proud of it but I could not fake something just to impress or make them believe that I was good at it. My employer, on the other hand, loved to cook, so he patiently taught me how to prepare Lebanese food. 

After a few months of working in their home I called my uncle in the Philippines to ask if we can start a small business.  But my uncle suggested that I send my youngest brother to college instead so that he could continue his course in Architecture.  (My mother had passed away a long time ago and my relatives, especially my uncle, had become our guardian. He accommodated my youngest brother in his house in Valenzuela City while I provided  for his allowance and tuition fees. My father lived in Manila with my eldest brother.)  I had kept all my salary from my first employer while I budgeted my earnings from my second employer. I would save part of my income and send the rest to my family. I would call home from time to time.  

My focus was my family back home. Back then I never entertained the idea of falling in love.  While some men showed interest, I had managed to keep distance and treated them only as friends. I knew my limitations and priorities in life. Living abroad entailed a lot of difficulties and challenges. I had to be strong. Besides, I felt I was not mature enough to be in a romantic relationship. 

I tried to hide the pain and hardship I was going through because I did not want my family to be concerned about me. I always believe that my mother would be happy if I am also happy.  Some people I know in the Philippines think that our life here abroad is a bed of happiness and money. If they only knew the kind of loneliness we go through each day. Nevertheless, my life abroad has made me more mature and a better person than what I used to be. 

After two and a half years with my employer, I sought refuge at the Philippine Embassy.  My employer had just hit my face one day. I ran to my room and cried. I talked to his wife but she prevented me from filing a legal complaint against her husband.  I stayed at the embassy shelter for three months. 

My stay in the shelter was one of the most difficult parts of my life as an OFW.  There were almost 100 of us, Filipina OFWs, with different cases of maltreatment and abuse.  My situation was compounded by the fact that my youngest brother had dropped out of school. I prayed every day that one day I would be with my family again. I could not think straight.  Thoughts were racing through my mind: ‘What is going to happen to me here?’  ‘How will I survive?’  ‘How about the other OFWs here?’ ‘How are they going to live?’  I must say that my experience at the shelter had taught me to be stronger and smarter in life.

In 2009, I returned to the Philippines to start a new life but after some time I tried my luck abroad again.  I wanted my brother to finish his four year course. Hence, in 2010, I travelled to Kuwait to work. Unfortunately, my brother did not want to go back to school.  After reaching his third year in college, he had decided to look for a job instead. I am proud of him so I really made sure that I could provide him the support he needed. 

The salary I earned in Kuwait was sent to any family member who needed money. Honesty I did not have any savings. My first employer in Kuwait was strict but I still managed to do my job. But perhaps I was not just so lucky. Again, I was sent back to my recruitment agency after nine months. I was sold by my employer to another recruitment agency to find a new job.  And this time I thank God that he had sent me a wonderful employer.

From 2011 up to the present I am still working for the same boss, and in 2012 I became a Patnubay Riyadh Online Volunteer for Kuwait. As trainee of Sir Joseph Espiritu, I became more aware of the human rights of OFWs. I assist and handle some cases in the Middle East coming from KSA, Kuwait, UAE, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, among others. These are cases of abuse, maltreatment and imprisonment. I would spend even my own money to make calls to their mobile phones or send them chat messages via Facebook (FB). I do my best to let them feel that there is hope and encourage them to assert their rights as OFWs. 

I help evaluate their requests for assistance and send them to the embassy, POLO (Philippine Overseas Labor Office), or OWWA. I also check inbox messages on Patnubay's FB page for some inquiries. I post links of informative news, articles and other educational stories. Throughout my journey in Patnubay Riyadh, I am so thankful that I am able to provide advice, hope and care to OFWs who come to us in need of help. 

FB has become the easiest way for OFWs to connect with one another and their families. It is also a platform to do advocacy for OFWs. Hence, in 2013 I expanded my engagement and online volunteer work by becoming an administrator of the Pinoy Expats/OFW Blog Awards (PEBA).  Through the trust of Sir Jebee Solis based in Jeddah, KSA, I became part of one of the most popular and active social media groups on FB. I had promised myself that, after having gone through the same hardships that distressed OFWs have to undergo, I will help make their lives easier for as long as I live.

Through my hard work and sacrifice abroad, my youngest brother was able to get a very good job. He currently works as a supervisor in a company in Makati. He is earning well and is capable of supporting our father’s need. His company even extends free medical and health services for our father as his beneficiary. He is also starting to pursue his dream and career in photography.  My eldest brother, on the other hand, now has his own family. 

Our family dreams of having our own house someday so we do not have to rent anymore. I also plan to invest in agriculture, particularly rice farming, but it all depends on finding time and managing my expenses. As for my personal life, I am currently happy and in love with my boyfriend even if it is a long distance relationship.

I am an OFW, and even if people look down on household service workers or domestic workers, I want to prove them wrong. I am proud because my job is decent. And as an OFW, I will always be proud of every Filipino who leaves their families behind, takes risks to work at some foreign land, just to give their family a better life.

Katherine R. Millares, domestic worker, Kuwait. For her, domestic work is a decent job. Through her work she was able to send her brother to school who now has a stable and good job in the Philippines. According to Katherine, as an OFW, she will always be proud of every Filipino who are taking risks to leave their families back home just to give their families better lives.

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