Living in poverty is the main reason why at an early age I had to work for a living. I didn’t even experience being a child, playing with friends and neighbours and exploring my childhood. I was still young but I already knew how hard our life would be, without a stable job or source of income from my parents. My mum decided to go abroad to work so she could give us a better life someday. But it turned out to be a living hell and she experienced different kinds of abuse – physical, verbal, emotional and mental. She didn’t tell us so that we wouldn’t worry about her.
At the young age of seven, I started feeling alone and isolated myself out of the frustration of being away from my mother, especially her having left me without my knowledge. Living without a mother is so hard, no one will guide you, even in basic household chores, as my father was never at home, finding money for our daily needs. My two eldest siblings started to find someone to finance their schooling in exchange for their tuition fees and be their helpers. Being alone and independent, I dealt with these kinds of challenges on my own. Seeing and experiencing these kinds of trials in life made me stronger and stubbornly independent but I lost my confidence and always kept myself away from people. I was scared to be judged, bullied and hear negative comments from others. I’m sensitive and I don’t like to hear words that bring my self-esteem down.
I suffered a lot and did not trust people around me, even my family and loved ones. I always think that they will betray me, hurt and leave me sooner or later. I even underwent twenty-nine sessions in counselling trying to find out what’s wrong with me but still can’t get out of this nightmare. Being exposed to forced labour, problems, challenges, trials in life at my early age had a negative impact on me.
I was a domestic worker in Oman and eventually I was brought by my employer to the UK. Although, I had no idea this was happening as I was not told. This family processed my papers and it wasn’t until I arrived at the airport that I realised I was being taken overseas. Once we arrived in the UK, like many migrant domestic workers, I had my papers and passport taken away. I didn’t receive a salary. I wasn’t fed, only given leftovers. I didn’t have a day off. I was locked in the house. I managed to get access to the internet and found the Voice of Domestic Workers, an education and support group calling for justice and rights for Britain’s sixteen thousand migrant domestic workers. I eventually escaped when I found the key to let me out.
It was the Voice of Domestic Workers who supported me and helped me get back on my feet. Every Sunday we meet for classes including ESOL (English as a foreign language) and wellbeing. It was there I met other domestic workers who had similar experiences.
Last year I received a call from Marissa Begonia, Founder of the Voice of Domestic Workers VODW suggesting I apply to the Future Voices programme. I immediately refused because I said I can’t stand in front of many people and speak. But she insisted and said just to apply and try to go for an interview which I did. I remembered she said to me “how can you say you can’t do it if you don’t try it even just once? And besides you will undergo training”. I sought advice first from my family and friends, and they all gave the same answer “go and find what makes you feel comfortable and gives you happiness, we are here supporting you all the way”. Words of wisdom and encouragement from my family gave me strength to pursue what I started.
On the day of the interview via Zoom with Jude Habib, founder of Soundelivery Media and her team, I stood in front of a mirror and talked to myself so repeatedly and said “I can do it” taking a deep breath. And I did and passed the interview. I was so happy and proud of myself when I received an email saying I will go forward for the next step. I still had mixed emotions because I didn’t know what was next, I still doubted myself and if I would make it until the end. I honestly opened up about my fear speaking in front of people and they understood me. Jude always comforted me with her encouraging words and that’s my motivation to keep going. Day by day, from the different activities and challenges we did, I started loving it. Every session we had different speakers where we got our inspiration and got some strategies and lessons from them on how to be a good public speaker. We met journalists and toured Channel 4 News which we would never experience in our respective countries. We tested ourselves, facing practice TV, radio and newspaper interviews. There were a lot of ups and downs moments wherein some shared traumatic experiences that related to the story of the guest speaker. We embraced every moment, we sympathised and comforted each other, we built friendships and became like a family.
I learned and discovered a lot from myself. I never knew I could be a vlogger or blogger someday. I have passion for writing too, blogs or poetry and started to contribute to our monthly newsletter too. I started accepting event invitations, joining Zoom discussions and research.
“Future Voices was my eye opener to come out of my shell. It encouraged me and helped me to grow and build my confidence to speak for myself and on behalf of all Migrant Domestic Workers.”
I became more active in my charity and most special of all, my confidence is growing and I have started believing that nothing is impossible in this world. I never imagined that I would cope up with my shyness and low self-esteem. Future Voices was my eye opener to come out of my shell. It encouraged me and helped me to grow and build my confidence to speak for myself and on behalf of all Migrant Domestic Workers. All my doubts, worries and other negative thoughts before were washed away by this programme and this is the positive impact of joining Future Voices. From being an introverted person, I am now fully confident in speaking to the public. I am so grateful to be part of it. Thanks to the two joined charities, the Voice of Domestic Workers and Soundelivery Media. You are such a blessing to every Domestic Worker you’ve helped.
About the Author
Jenny is a domestic worker born in the Philippines. She is now one of the active members of The Voice of Domestic Workers a charity advocating for the rights of migrant domestic workers and was selected to participate in the Future Voice training programme to develop skills and confidence as a public spokesperson able to speak out on the issues affecting her community.