Tuesday, March 15, 2016

I Am My Work Experience

by Annie Cabansag

I am Annie Cabansag. I have been in Singapore since 1997.  At age 23, my sister-in-law's cousin encouraged me to work here. They told me that I would earn more and that life here is better than the Philippines.  Of course I believed them because they all looked happy and it seemed that they really enjoyed working abroad.

I was then working and receiving a minimal wage but I was contented with my earnings.  I kept the money all to myself since I did not have a family to support. But everything changed when my mother, who was the sole bread winner of the family, got sick. Bills started to pile up and my youngest sibling was then about to enter college. I felt responsible for them because I am the only one they can depend on.  My brother has his own family to support and my father had already passed away.

I was not quite ready for the big change in my life, but I had to sacrifice.  I consulted some of my close friends, and even a priest and a nun about my plans of working abroad.  They were all concerned about me, especially about the country I have chosen to work in.

I had mixed emotions of leaving my job to work abroad because it meant leaving my comfort zone.It broke my heart when I said goodbye to my family and my boyfriend, the love of my life,  but I needed to be strong to be able to support my family.

As I boarded the plane my tears fell and I said my prayers. But my sadness turned into joy when the plane started ascending.   I felt the excitement of riding a plane for the first time and looking forward to seeing another country with that beautiful image in my mind.

When I arrived in Singapore, the Immigration officer asked me to sign documents. Then my agent brought me to the hospital for medical examination. I had lunch at the agency where I was introduced to my first employer. I would be working for a couple; their two children (a baby aged 5 months and a kid aged 6 years);   plus the mother of my female employer. Although my parents had trained me well for house work, I was not prepared for the daily tasks which proved to be physically exhausting.  I would hand wash the clothes of five people even if they had a washing machine. I had to clean the floor using my hands. Apart from all these, I still had to look after the two young children.  The kids’ grandmother who lived with them scrutinized my every move.  

My lady boss or her mother would scold me several times each day. Yet I took their criticisms positively and motivated myself to do better. But they continued to abuse me verbally, physically and mentally.  They would slap me, kick me, and pull my hair. To make matters worse, they would not give me food so one time, I had to steal a slice of bread and peanut butter spread. I would cry each night but I continued to pray and sing praises to God. I would ask Him to give me the strength to carry on. I was in misery for two harrowing months until God gave me a better chance.

One day, I was sent out to run errands and I took that opportunity to inform my agent about my situation. My agent called my employer and asked to see me immediately, with my bruises and marks still visible.  When my agent saw me, she hugged me, and in tears, took me away from my employer and transferred me to another family.

This time my employer turned out to be kind.  However,  after I had finished my contract, I was told that my services were no longer required since the children were already independent. One was in secondary school and the other was already undergoing his compulsory military service.

With a heavy heart I looked for another family.  I was blessed and hired by an employer from the United States of America. Since then, in my eighteen years of working here, all the families I have worked for were families of expatriates in Singapore. I have worked for six expats and for two local families.

Some say that working for expats is a bed of roses, but I know that this is not true based on my own experience.   I worked for a family whose members had difficulties handling emotions.  I worked for a family whose members had difficulties handling emotions. I felt pressured but I tried to ignore and endure my situation. I almost had a nervous breakdown because of all the screaming and tantrums when the day seemed imperfect for them. But despite all these, I never retaliated or quit my job. Why? Because I always waited for God's right time. He had gifted me with a fighting spirit.  I am not a quitter. I continued to pray and to strive always to be a good worker. And after four years, God heard my prayers.  The family moved out of Singapore.

My life as a domestic worker is very challenging because of the variety of people and culture that I have to deal with.  There is also the transition of living from one family to the next. Expats do come and go, there is no definite time for their stay in Singapore. I also have to work hard to fight my homesickness and loneliness. But I never feel abandoned by God’s love and grace. I always feel that He blesses me and cares for me. He constantly protects and provides for me.

I have been blessed with generous and kind hearted employers and through them I am able to take evening classes to earn a diploma. God had even helped me fulfill my sister's dream of finishing college. My mother was able to visit me here in Singapore. I have gained friends and I now belong to different religious organizations like the Legion of Mary and Couples for Christ.  I consider them  my second family.

I do not have any regrets working abroad to support my family, even if it meant losing my boyfriend and going through that unhappy incident with my first employers. I am what I am today because of what I have learned from my work experiences. These have taught me to have a forgiving heart, to be patient, and to be strong. I praise and thank God always despite my life circumstances.

For those aspiring and wanting to work abroad I advise you to leave the country of your origin as a legal worker possessing the necessary documents.  You should have undergone very good training. BE PREPARED! Life
 abroad is not easy as depicted by some OFWs or as seen in pictures shared in social media such as Facebook and Instagram.

If you get sick, nobody will cook and take care of you.   And sometimes, even when you feel unwell, you still need to get up and work. You also need a friend that you can count on.  Choose a good community of Filipinos or join and be active in church activities where you can find reliable friends as well.

Also, before you leave, discuss matters on finances and remittances with your family, not only between couples but children as well.  There should be openness about how to properly use and save money.

I encourage you to enroll and attend classes on financial education by such institutions like the International Labour Organization (ILO). For example, I was able to attend a training program on financial education.   It helped me check on my finances which I had neglected for the past years. There are also training courses offered in cooking, baking, being a nursing aide, among others. All these classes could help me in my work and in the future.
OFWs should remember that we will not work abroad forever. There will come a time when we would have to go back home because of our age, health, or when our services are no longer needed. All of us yearn to be with our family and to be with them during special occasions, so start thinking of saving instead of spending.  Lastly, we should hold on to our faith in God and always ask for His guidance.

Annie A. Cabansag, domestic worker, Singapore. She considers her life as domestic worker as very challenging but never regrets working abroad to support her family. She has gone through most of the typical experiences of domestic workers with abusive employers. Yet, she never surrenders in her goals which is to provide for her family. As she continues to learn financial literacy, she is also encouraging OFWs to  save and invest for their reintegration once they stopped working abroad.

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