One of them wanted to be a professor. Another worked for no money in her first month as a domestic worker. And the third fears facing a child who grew up without her for the past 10 years.
Three Filipino women employed as household service workers in Hong Kong were named as winners in the "Be a Journalist" contest for domestic helpers last month.
The contest was in collaboration between Coconuts and local social venture HelperChoice.
Topping the list was Jacqueline P. Formento from Bulusan in Sorsogon while Marie Claire from Kiangan, Ifugao took the first runner-up place. Riz Peher, 34, from Tayug, Pangasinan was named second runner-up.
To be a professor is what I dreamed to be,
An engineer is what my dad sees in me,
Unfortunately, both will remain a fantasy
Because we were poor and it frustrates me deeply!
Unable to sustain my university expenses,
I decided to work as a DH and put my dreams at rest,
For my priority is to provide the best for my family,
Because as a breadwinner, it is my ultimate duty.
Homesickness is a daily basis I’ve got to fight,
Pray for strength and guidance for the next morning light,
For in a foreign land, it is really hard to cope,
As I work hard for every dreams and every hope.
And as my siblings have all graduated,
My sacrifice was indeed greatly rewarded,
For their certificates and medals they have received,
Are the same things I, for myself never achieved.
- Riz Peher
Hometown: Tayug Pangasinan, Philippines.
Background: She started to work as a domestic helper at age 17 in Singapore, and has worked in Ngau Chi Wan, Hong Kong, for the past eight years with the same employer.
My mind was racing, my heart was in my throat, my tears just kept on falling. It was 4 o'clock in the morning and everyone was still asleep. I had to run and catch the first bus to Manila because I was flying to Hong Kong the following night and I had to get my documents from my agency. With a heavy heart, I hugged my two sleeping daughters goodbye and was out the door before I changed my mind. My husband had to stay for a while to attend to my daughter (she was five years old then), who would be one of the flower girls at a wedding later that day.
All throughout the eight-hour bus trip, I never stopped crying. What kept me going was the thought that I was doing the right thing for my family, as landing a decent job in the Philippines is hard and even if I got one, it is not enough to sustain a family, with children growing fast and everything getting expensive. My meagre income would not have been enough for basic commodities alone, let alone education. And so, the journey began.
My husband caught up with me in Manila, just in time to send me off to the airport. In the waiting area in the airport lobby, we just sat there in silence, holding each other's hand, drawing comfort from each other hoping this decision I made is for the best. I know he was against me going, but I insisted it would only be for a while. At last, they called us to get ready to board. We hugged each other so tightly for the last time, and without a backward glance, I left him there. I never dared look back for fear that I might change my mind if I see the forlorn look on my beloved's face. So I just kept walking forward towards my dream.
It was the longest two-hour ride of my life. I felt so alone.
The following day, after spending the night at a cramped room with twenty other women, I was led to the waiting area to wait for my employer to come pick me up. It was another six hours of waiting.
My energy was draining. I had little rest from my travel. Before the day was over, my employer came to take me. It was getting dark when we arrived at our destination. It was a traumatic experience working with them. There was never a day that I did not think I would lose my mind.
When we arrived at my employer's home, it was almost dinner time. I was introduced to at least seven members of the family, when in my contract, there were supposed to be three family members only. They were so hostile, no smiles, no shaking hands, I never felt welcome. I got very scared and alone. Immediately, I went to work.
It was tough working and learning things with them. Everything I did, even if I followed the instructions on the dot, they always find fault in my work. But I still persisted, thinking that if others can, why can't I?
My first month was hard as I got no money, since I paid my whole savings to the agency that helped me. I was treated so unfairly, I got a fair share of being shouted at and the worst thing, food was not enough to sustain me for the hard work. I was provided HKD20 per week to buy my food. Most of the time, I have to rely on noodles, eggs and bread.
I found another employer after that. They are so good. And for as long as they need me, I will be happy to work with them. My ward was nine months old when I started work with them. Now, he will be turning four years old and I am happy to say that I had enjoyed looking after him, watching him grow up to be a smart and lovable little boy. He loves me and I love him more. Now, my family is happy because they can have whatever they need. They were even invited by my employers to come over to Hong Kong for a visit. Those was the happiest days of my life, seeing them happy.
Now, I realise all those hardships, all those difficulties I have been through in the past were meant to be, for me to realise that I am a strong person.
- Marie Claire (edited by Coconuts HK for length and clarity)
Hometown: Kiangan, Ifugao, Philippines
Background: She has been working in Hong Kong for the past three and a half years.
would you still remember these hands
to push your cradle, while
outside the whistling wind on a stormy night
created the background
to a vast ominous darkness
would you still remember the smell
meal that clung to my skin,
the tangy smoke of firewood
that often leaves my eyes crying
would you remember the soft lullabies
when we watch the fireflies
outside our window,
while the stars dance merrily to the gentle wind from ocean
but i know you will not remember
the last time i held
you in my arms
and i kissed your eyes while
you were sleeping
i know that you did not even notice how
i stealthily left our house
in the cloak of dawn...
i did not look back, but the tears kept falling
the emotions that almost choked me
that was long time ago, now im coming back
and im fearing your wrath, im fearing the accusations in your eyes
the silent metallic anger when
i left you
unleash it my child.
- Jacqueline P. Formento
Hometown: Bulusan, Sorsogon
Background: She has been working in Hong Kong for more than 10 years and will be going back to the Philippines soon.
This story first appeared on Coconuts Hong Kong.