Thursday, September 27, 2007

Proud of Our Filipino Domestic Helpers

My friend Jerick Aguilar, who is on vacation in the United States, wrote another piece about OFWs which i have posted below. A few weeks back, Jerick wrote about the Kindness of Filipino Strangers. That article got positive response from readers when it appeared in the Reader's Corner of Philstar.com, and i am sure this new article from Jerick will receive the same acclaim.

You can repost this story as long as credit is given to Jerick T. Aguilar who wrote the article and Philstar.com where the article first appeared.


Proud of Our Filipino Domestic Helpers

By Jerick T. Aguilar
Thursday, September 27, 2007

I have this one photo album where I place a picture of a country, territory, or autonomous region I’ve visited and it is usually of me with its famous landmark as the background – Bagan in Myanmar, Petra in Jordan, Djenné in Mali, Statue Square in Hong Kong. Yup, you read it right – an unassuming square in the island of Hong Kong which is not at all historical or was once eventful.

As a matter of fact, my friend from college with whom I travelled there had to confirm and reconfirm, while we were still in the hotel, that I wanted a photograph taken of that place. And when we got there, she finally understood why.

Statue Square is where thousands of our domestic helpers congregate during their day off from work (well, not all of them at the same time).

It was like a fiesta over there! Our “kababayans” transformed the concrete pavement into a grassy park – they were lying on either a piece of cloth or “banig” they brought with them from the Philippines and fanning themselves either with a newspaper or “pamaypay” (that went with the “banig”) while exchanging stories of how their week went, “tsismis” concerning their “amo” (i.e. employer gossip), and how their loved ones are in their respective hometowns.

My friend and I also saw family pictures strewn on the ground and, being away from my mother and siblings myself, it struck a chord when I saw them proudly showing off these photos to each other such as their children in toga, the tricycle a husband just bought, a newly-built house (with the husband and children as the background), etc., etc.

It was also very grounding to hear different Philippine dialects spoken in just one place. I only know Tagalog but my friend who is from Mindanao understood what some of our “kababayans” were talking about.

Of course I wasn’t only there for a photo opportunity. I instantly became an interviewer and asked my recently found “entourage” questions such as where they were from, how long they had stayed in Hong Kong, how old they were, and what their occupations were in the Philippines.

Their response to the first question was like listening to the jingle of “Eat Bulaga” – “mula Aparri hanggang Jolo”, since they came from everywhere in our country. There was also a huge contrast between those who had been working there for decades and the ones who had just started at the young age of 18. And among their previous professions, most were, as common knowledge, teachers; some worked as food servers; and there were a few who were homemakers.

But whether or not they have a college degree, I find these Filipino domestic helpers, not just in Hong Kong but around the world, to be intelligent and resourceful. I mean, I for one who did doctoral research did not even know that I had to separate white from colored clothes in the washing machine until a Filipino domestic helper in Singapore pointed this out to me.

Somebody I met in Qatar told me to simply gather the rubbish from a trash can with one pull of the plastic bag without having to empty and then clean the bin each time.

Our Filipino domestic helpers can also be feisty, if need be. A number, unfortunately not all, of them know when they have to argue with their employer about a pressing matter and how to do it.

I came across someone in Syria who only finished her elementary education but can speak in straight and perfect English every time she has a verbal argument with her boss. And there is another one in Tunisia who talks diplomatically to her boss’ mother when she has a complaint about her boss’ wife. The mother then discusses the matter with her son who then tells his wife what not to do or what to say next time to their “kasambahay”.

If rich people outside the country have their Jaguars instead of Kias, they also have their domestic helpers from the Philippines rather than from anywhere else in the world. In England, for instance, there are celebrities, royalty, and millionaire-businessmen who have Filipinos in their households. Mind you, they are really well-paid because the British know that they have to spend a lot on quality.

In Italy, our Filipino domestic helpers tell, not ask, their future employer the salary they prefer to receive. In some instances, they even tell their bosses when they want to go on vacation. And in Greece, it is a status symbol to have a Filipino domestic helper. A Greek family is considered middle-class if the household help is from Albania, for example. This is sadly not the case in most countries where there are Filipino domestic helpers (go Europe!), but it is great to know that some of them are being recognized and rewarded for their decent work.

With the relatively high salary they earn in countries such as these, they and their families get to live a good life in the Philippines. It is both amusing and ironic that they work as domestic helpers overseas but they simultaneously hire their own domestic helpers locally in their homes. And I like the way some of the people I asked view this irony. They said they did the same household chores in our country anyway so it’s better that they get paid to do them overseas! They also said they don’t want their husband and children (and/or mothers) to do the housework while they’re away so they hire someone else to do it provided they can afford this additional household expense.

A few months back, there was an article published in a magazine about the author’s brief summer vacation abroad in which she mentioned being on a plane with Filipino domestic helpers. She was trying to be funny and witty at the same time by recounting how their cheap colognes had overpowered the scent of her expensive and exclusive fragrance, among other things. But the readers weren’t laughing. Amazingly, almost everybody reacted negatively and passionately to her article in defense of our “kababayans.” They adamantly asked her to apologize and so she did.

But she actually forgot to thank these Filipino domestic helpers for her international trip. Were it not for the billions of foreign currency remittances that they, along with the rest of our OFWs, regularly send to the Philippines, the instability and depreciation of the peso-dollar exchange rate would’ve made the dollar costlier in peso terms. In short, the value of the dollar would be much higher so airfares that are quoted in US currency would be much more expensive in Philippine pesos – probably prohibiting her from traveling abroad and from writing about it in the first place.

It is sad that there are overseas Filipinos who have to work as domestic helpers, but it is the reality. It is much sadder that some people look down on them because they don’t consider it a professional job. What they probably fail to realize is that it is a demanding and difficult occupation nonetheless, like any other work in the office. Yes, it is manual labor but it also entails intellectual thinking and a common sense of basic things a white-collar worker like me doesn’t even know of. From the point of view of our Filipino domestic helpers (and mine), their job is a noble one – providing valuable household help to their employer and employer’s family overseas while giving more valuable financial aid to their own families at home in the Philippines. This is why I have always looked up to them and believe that they deserve not only our respect but also our appreciation and praise. So to all our Filipino domestic helpers out there – keep up the good work! You definitely make us proud!

Mapangurirat's reply:

Those who look down on filipino domestic helpers don't understand that these people are the ones who send much-needed dollars back to the Philippines. Yes, it is sad to see our countrymen working as domestic helpers. I remember your article about ofws who had to be naturalized citizens of their host country just to get work. Gutenberg.org, in a brief bio of Rizal, said that (Rizal) always regretted the naturalization of his countrymen abroad, considering it a loss to the country which needed numbers to play the influential part he hoped it would play in awakening Asia. Rizal may be speaking at a different time and under different circumstances, but the regret is the same. However, i think that the filipino domestic helpers and OFWs in general deserve our respect even more because of this. They are the true heroes of our nation. Cheers to all our OFWs and domestic helpers abroad!