Content warning: contains mentions of abuse, sexual harassment and suicide
I am a woman who doesn’t give up easily because I believe that as long as I am breathing there is hope.
I am the youngest of seven siblings. In the Philippines, we lived a simple life in a small region called Laguna. I have three children — I have two sons and one daughter.
I am a battered wife, and experienced physical abuse and violence from my husband. He almost killed me. I tried to put up with this abuse for the sake of my children.
Our life was hard. My husband would rather spend money on alcohol instead of food. It broke my heart to watch my children crying from hunger. I decided to work abroad both so I could escape my husband’s violence, and so I could provide my children with the decent living they deserved. My children would run, cry, and hide whenever their father would start to beat me because they too would be beaten. I didn’t want my children to continue to experience and be inflicted with this kind of violence. As their mother, I had to protect them at all costs even if it meant leaving them behind.
It was 2009 when I first left my family to work in the United Arab Emirates. I experienced sexual harassment so I called the agency to send me back home. I didn’t finish my contract because the husband of my employer attempted to rape me. I applied again, this time bound for Qatar. My job was to look after a sick child and my employers required me to take a Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN) course, for people caring for others with nutritional disabilities. My employers promised that they would increase my salary if I completed the course but that promise was only words.
In December 2017, my Qatari employer brought me here to London with another promise that they would increase my salary and let me go home to visit my children. I looked after my employer’s two children nearly 24 hours a day, seven days a week on duty with no rest, no day off, and no salary. Eventually, I became very sick, but I still had to work. My employer wouldn’t even bother to take me to see a doctor or even get me medicine. The thought of dying in this uncaring and abusive family forced me to escape, and I eventually ran away from my Arab employer.
I thought that maybe outside I could find refuge. That I could find someone who can help me to move on and to continue my life. I met a woman who gave me the contact number of Kalayaan, an organisation that provides advice, advocacy and support services in the UK for migrant domestic workers. I contacted them and they referred me to The Voice of Domestic Workers (VODW), a support network and campaigning organisation run by and for migrant domestic workers, who had a place for people like me to stay. Having fled my employer, I felt many emotions, such as sadness, loneliness, and fear, along with the hope that someday I could see the light.
Through VODW, I met my fellow domestic workers. I felt safe because they treated me like their family and I found out that my suffering is also their suffering. When we shared each other’s stories, I realised I was not alone and that we needed to stand up together to become stronger.
They helped me to move on and slowly recover from the trauma I suffered from my abusive employer. VODW gave me a new life and new hope. They provided education courses including English for Speakers of Other Languages, financial literacy, body and mind wellbeing and computer classes. Although we are all adults and not young anymore, we enjoy every moment of learning, and there is no age limit to continue educating ourselves.
I worked hard not just as a learner but as a member. We run our charity on a day-to-day basis, and I became the leader of the VODW Education Working Group. This is a great challenge and a lot of responsibility. Being an education leader, I am responsible for encouraging all my fellow domestic workers to join the classes to enhance their confidence, knowledge, and skills. In the Physical classes every Sunday, I must check the attendance and prepare the rooms and online, and I make sure everyone receives the Zoom link for the classes.
I help to share and post the link and class schedule of VODW and I check the number of attendees every week in all the classes. It is also my responsibility to check the reason behind why members missed participating in the classes, extend help if necessary in their homework and other activities and make sure no one is left behind in the classes. I enjoy this opportunity to be able to serve my fellow domestic workers and contribute to the work and services of VODW. I am always happy to do my part and be included in shaping the kind of society we live in today,
I always look forward to learning new skills and taking every opportunity that VODW gives me. I participated as a co-researcher in VODW’s project with Dr Ella Parry-Davies about ‘’Reintegration’’. This is participatory research where Dr. Ella-Davies, an academic lecturer in theatre, performance and critical theory is the lead researcher, who trained us as her co- researchers to explore the experiences of migrant domestic workers who were forced to return to the Philippines for different reasons. Some of these workers were arrested and deported, suffered several abuses, or were sick upon their return. It’s given me a lot of impact and benefits as a researcher and interviewer. This research showed me the reality of what will happen to me if ever I am forced to return unprepared financially and what opportunity awaits me now that I am older, in a country where age discrimination is severe. Usually, I am an interviewee, but in this research project, I was the interviewer and I learned how to collect data, transcribe, and analyse the data.
Finally, when Future Voices 2 opened up for application, I told myself, ‘’Why not!’ and so I applied and was selected. It wasn’t easy because there was a written application and then an interview. I’m proud of my initial achievement just being chosen to be one of the 12 participants. I used to watch vlogs and read blogs of Future Voices 1 and they inspired me but this is my time now to shine.. We have the opportunity to meet people who can inspire us to be a spokesperson and help us build relationships with the media. I am now a leader in my VODW community and I look forward to becoming a confident spokesperson and public speaker.
Knowing other women suffered the same as me, I couldn’t just keep quiet. I wanted to be able to speak out and not suffer in silence. The impact of this violence on me has led to a long and severe impact on my physical, emotional, and mental health and suicide attempts but being a mother has saved me from holding on. Now I believe that I am a strong woman. I always thought and feared that escaping from my abusive husband to an exploitative employer would harm me more but those decisions changed my life for the better. It has made me braver to face any challenges that come my way and enabled me to provide a better life and future for my children. The people who left scars on my mind and my heart became my inspiration to become stronger. From when I was living with my husband, to when I was working in the Middle East, life was horrible. But now, I see the light because I have freedom and respect for myself that I had lost before. Life is good, just keep going.
About the Author
Yolanda (Yolly) was born in Sta. Cruz, Laguna, Philippines and is an active member of The Voice of Domestic Workers, where she leads the Education Working Group. She is also a member of Future Voices, a unique leadership training programme run by The Voice of Domestic Workers and Sounddelivery Media to develop a network of confident migrant domestic workers as visible public spokespeople. In her spare time, Yolly likes to use her laptop to finish the attendance report for all the classes every month of VODW. She also likes to create graphics and videos using the different templates in Canva, and talking on video calls with her loved ones in the Philippines.
About Future Voices
Future Voices is a unique leadership programme in partnership with The Voice of Domestic Workers that aims to develop a network of confident and skilled migrant domestic workers as public spokespeople to amplify the injustices their community is facing.
The work of The Voice of Domestic Workers seeks to end discrimination and protect migrant domestic workers living in the UK by providing or assisting in the provision of education, training, healthcare and legal advice. They campaign to improve the living and working conditions of migrant domestic workers in the UK. As migrant domestic workers are one of the most vulnerable groups of workers, it is vital that their stories and experiences of injustice are heard, and listened to.