In an early age, I already experienced pain and suffering. I was born and raised in tribal community (B’laan) in the southern part of the country, in a sleepy town in Davao del Sur. Access to education was nearly impossible. Attending school everyday was a challenge to my young mind and body. The trek from my house to the school took two hours each way because we lived in a remote part of town. I mustered all the courage and energy I could to receive my elementary diploma.Life was difficult for my large family-I had 12 siblings. Farming was our sole source of income. Money was always tight. We never had enough. My parents could barely scrape by to send us to school. Our collective earnings were still not enough to feed 14 hungry mouths. There were times we only ate root crops to get by. This happened often when we are waiting for the harvest season to arrive.
I was eight years old when I started working in a farm. I was tasked to weed the cornfields from eight in the morning until the three in the afternoon. The back breaking work under the scorching heat of the sun earned me 40 pesos a day. I joined in the work during the planting and harvesting seasons. Regardless of the time of the year, I was out in the fields working.
I was 12 years old when my parents started fighting together that lead to their temporary separation. My mother left me behind together with my 3 siblings for six months. Our life was indeed miserable during that time as my father doesn’t even take care of us. I and my siblings mostly spent our time in working in the fields to survive the day. We almost dropped in school and don’t have courage to pursue it. I reported to my class to officially drop my studies but my teacher encouraged me to continue. She shared her life story that she used to be a domestic worker just to finish her studies; hence I was enlightened and motivated. From then, I worked hard to retain my grades.
Fortunately, with my perseverance and hard work, I was able to finish my elementary education. However, due to financial constraint, I was not able to enroll in high school.
I was thirteen when I was recruited by my cousin who also works as domestic worker in the city. I was forced to move to the city hoping that there are greener pastures in its concrete roads and I will be able to pursue my secondary education there. Since I only finished elementary education, the only job available for me was in domestic work. I worked for a well off family in Davao City, the capital city of Southern Philippines. Being a first timer in a city, I don’t have any knowledge about operating electric appliances, unfamiliar with the place hence I only stayed inside the house all the time. I did not even dare to ask my employer to send me to school because I felt that they will not allow me and also I am afraid to get lost in the city. I was paid P800 (roughly US$18) monthly but they usually withheld it every time I commit mistakes. After one year, my employer went to United States and I was placed to her siblings who have their own families already. With this set-up, I was forced to serve multiple employers with all-around tasks with the same salary I was receiving from my first employer. I cleaned 3 houses, cooked to 2 families, wash all their clothes and follow all the errands. At night, I still ironed their clothes until 11:00 o’clock in the evening. My young and fragile body was not able to endure the heavy workload hence I decided to move out with the help of my cousin.
My cousin referred me to my third employer who is a doctor. I expected that I will have a better working condition with them but I was wrong. They never allowed me to go out, I was not allowed to use the telephone, I do all-around tasks including bathing their dogs and cleaning their two cars. With all these tasks, I was paid P1,000 per month. After three months working with them, I mustered all my courage and asked permission from my employers to send me to school. Fortunately, they allowed me to enroll in a Sunday School with an arrangement that I will not have a day off anymore since I will be studying on Sundays. Furthermore, I will shoulder all the cost including tuition fees and transportation costs. After one year and three months, they forcibly terminated me after having a disagreement with them. At 8 o’clock in the evening, they forced me to leave their house. Having no family in the city, I sought refuge from my best friend who also works as a domestic helper. Since she could not accommodate me, she referred me to her friend who is renting a room.
I called up my cousin to seek another employment. I learned from her that their neighbor is in need of domestic worker. I thought I was fortunate enough to render domestic work services to them because I felt that they were good and treated me like a family member. I did all-around work including washing their car, and feeding their cocks. However, after three months, they put up a business, a mini-videoke bar and eatery. Eventually, they told me to work in their new business which became an additional burden to me. I was tasked to report in the eatery after I have done all the household chores. In the morning, I do household chores such cooking, cleaning, washing the clothes, feeding the cocks and other errands. At night, I used to serve food and liquors to the customer, washing plates, and assist in cooking from 10 o ‘clock in the morning until 4 o’clock in the afternoon. After that I went back at home to prepare dinner for the family. When one of her worker left, I was assigned full time in their business during weekdays and only do the household chores on Saturdays. I worked very long hours, often I can only sneak in 3 hours of sleep a day. I endured verbal and psychological abuse every time I failed to do some of the task given by them. On Sundays, I go to school at my own expense. Having a very hard working condition, I usually take a nap during classes resulting to poor academic performance.
There are times I want to end up everything by committing suicide. When my employers don’t respect me as human, and degrade my dignity. I sought the help of the guidance counselor in school and was referred to the Visayan Forum Foundation, Inc, a non government organization which works for the welfare of domestic workers and trafficked women and children.
Through the Samahan at Ugnayan ng mga Mangagawang Pantahanan sa Pilipinas (SUMAPI), the National Association of Domestic Workers in the Philippines. I was given a thorough orientation about the rights of the child and the domestic worker. I never even imagined that domestic workers could form associations and have programs for fellow domestic workers! Through the trainings and activities given by SUMAPI, I was enlightened about the rights and privileges of a domestic worker. Before that, I didn’t have the faintest idea that I, too, have rights. Since then, I have been very happy to be part of this group. SUMAPI serves as my second family. My fellow domestic workers understand me and help me through dark times. I am also happy to help them explore other options and opportunities to improve their living and working conditions. With my motivation and dream to help fellow domestic workers, I decided to leave my employer and volunteer with Visayan Forum who supported my education.
Currently, I primarily lead the organization in its advocacy to uplift the working conditions and dignity of domestic workers through trainings, advocacy, networking, and organizing. As part of my duties and responsibilities, I have been sent to trainings and conferences in and outside the country as a representative of the domestic worker sector, and to represent the situation of the sector in my country. I help manage the Kasambahay Center, an education and recreation center where domestic workers can go to avail of free tutorials and computer classes. I also conduct various trainings on domestic workers rights in schools. Being an association of domestic workers in the Philippines, we envisioned those domestic workers are given freedom, respect, justice, and to enjoy the fruit of our labor. We believe that we give big contribution in the economy of the country. We let both husband and wife work outside their home while we assume their responsibilities like taking care of the children and looking after the safety of their home. Through us, they had their freedom to uplift their status of living.
I am now a graduating Social Work student at Philippine Christian University in Manila. I took up social work because I want to continue serving my fellow domestic workers, indigenous people especially B’laan tribe and other disadvantaged sectors. I have seen the significant role of social workers to enhance the social functioning of every person in his society.
Through the information and knowledge I gained in my participation in SUMAPI, I was able to change the perspective of my parents. Now, they see the importance of a good education. Although it is an additional burden to their already strained finances, they are now sending my younger siblings to school. They now know that through proper education, my siblings will have better opportunities to improve their quality of life.
Now, I look at my hardships from a different and more positive perspective. I am thankful that I struggled early in life because the difficulties I faced transformed me into a stronger and better person. Now, I am more confident, more open to share my thoughts and feelings and more hopeful.
It is my passion to work with children, indigenous people, and of course for my own sector , the domestic workers Time--- Organizing
My Vision for the Future
that domestic workers will have the freedom, justice, dignity, and to enjoy the fruit of their labour