I always believed in the word hope

Arlhyne is part of Future Voices programme in partnership with The Voice of Domestic Workers. Future Voices is a unique leadership programme which works with migrant domestic workers to become spokespeople and speak out against the issues that their community face.

Content warning: This article contains mentions of abuse. 

When I applied to be a domestic worker in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, I was really hopeful. I was hoping that I could give my family and my daughter a better life and build a better future for them. I was hoping that my employers would treat me well when I entered their house as their helper. But that hope became my nightmare. As the months and years went by with them, I became helpless.

I was in the hands of my employers. I lost all my strength, my freedom, and my power to control and protect myself. Even if I were to ask for help, it would have been hopeless in Saudi Arabia. But I still kept fighting for my hope.

I hoped that maybe one day, when I woke up, there would be a change, but it never happened. Instead it became worse. I was mentally and physically abused and harassed. I had no privacy, and was deprived of sleep and food. I couldn’t even go to the toilet when I needed to, which caused me to become ill. But I didn’t have a choice — I needed to be strong for my family and my daughter. 

Finally, after four years, I was able to go back to the Philippines to see my family and my daughter in 2018. It was a mixture of emotions when I saw my parents, my siblings and my daughter. Four years is a long time to be apart from your loved ones. 

When I returned to Saudi Arabia, I had been sold to another employer for a huge amount without my knowledge. I tried to fight for my rights with my existing employer by begging them to just give back the money and send me home. I didn’t know what kind of family the new employer would be, and I was scared. I didn’t think that this new employer would be worse than my previous one. I still held out hope. 

When I travelled with my employers, I only knew that we were going to the United Kingdom because of the flight path on the airplane monitor. After passing through the immigration gate, they immediately confiscated my passport.

Even here in the United Kingdom, these new employers didn’t change how they treated me. I didn’t have a proper place and time to sleep, I was always monitored, and there was no time for myself to eat or shower. 

I remember one incident in a hospital here in the UK. My employer was shouting at me, pushing me and holding my arms so tight while threatening me about what she would do when we go back to Saudi. She said to me that I would be working with no pay until I reached 20,000 Saudi riyals (£4,200) for my freedom. 

I knew there had to be hope outside of these abusive hands. I had nowhere to go, and I had no identity, because I didn’t have my passport with me. The only belongings I had with me on the day I freed myself from my abusive employers were the clothes I was wearing that day. 

Now after five years, I’m in a community and campaign group called The Voice of Domestic Workers, who opened my eyes and my mind to know my rights as a victim of modern slavery and human trafficking. I have supported The Voice of Domestic Workers by campaigning, lobbying about domestic workers’ rights, to stop modern slavery, and to stop human trafficking. I will still continue to help raise awareness alongside my fellow domestic workers who suffer abuse, leaving our helplessness behind in exchange for hope.

Domestic work is the backbone of this society. This work is in demand in the United Kingdom. Domestic workers are the workers of every home, doing the cleaning, cooking, laundry, ironing and more. Domestic workers look after our employers’ children and babies, and look after the elderly in their families. We sometimes are even the security guards, looking after houses and pets when our employers are on holiday. I don’t want to depend on support from the government and charities or any organisation, because I have the capabilities to work. Through this, I can contribute to pay all necessary fees like taxes. 

Through the Future Voices programme in partnership between Sounddelivery Media and The Voice of Domestic Workers, we are gaining our confidence back to speak out and share all our thoughts to help our fellow domestic workers who are afraid to speak out and share their stories. We are victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, and our lives have been in danger, but we are not criminals. I often wonder why these abusive employers can still freely come and go in the UK, while we are still here waiting for justice for our rights. How many more years are we going to wait so we can reunite with our loved ones back home? 

About the author

Arlhyne is 46 years old and was born in the Philippines. She studied a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology at Southwoods Cavite. She left the Philippines and became an Overseas Foreign Worker in Taiwan as a Production Operator. ​After she got married and had a daughter, she decided to work in Saudi Arabia as a Nanny. Her employers were exploitative, and when they brought her to the UK, she decided to leave them. ​Now she is a proud and active member of The Voice of Domestic Workers. She feels happy and blessed to have been given the opportunity to participate and be one of the Future Voices 2023, a leadership programme run in partnership between Sounddelivery Media and the Voice of Domestic Workers to develop a network of domestic workers as confident public spokespeople to advocate for themselves and their community. 

Arlene and other members of the voice of domestic workers doing campaign rally @Labour Day.

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