By Finder blogger: Andrea McKenna
Making the rounds lately on social media is the story of Lola who was a slave for a family from the Philippines that emigrated to the United States.
The story is a powerful expose of how a family hid this secret while living in the Land of the Free based on perceived acceptance that this is just the way things were for Lola, who was undocumented, unpaid and unloved, seemingly, at least in terms of the employers’ behavior towards her.
My American friends are disgusted. They can scarcely imagine having a live-in maid, never mind an unpaid one, under the latent heading of “household slave.”
The expats here in Singapore are equally outraged. Of course, we have a different perspective in that we have paid household help, called “helpers,” who we take care of as part of the family. In my house, she has her own room, and we all share the same food.
Let me say that again: Yes, we have helpers. No, we do not treat them as Lola was treated. However, as my experience volunteering at the Humanitarian Organization for Migrant Economics (HOME) has shown me, some employers here do not treat their domestic helpers very well. HOME helps these ladies get new employers or get back to their home country, meanwhile providing them food, shelter and legal help.
So, what does this all mean for we expats who have quite the privilege of not cleaning toilets, doing laundry or staying home 24/7 with our kids? For me, it means I look at my helper’s life and take an inventory of how we treat her.
Without exposing too much about our personal life here, I will say that she seems happy.
I ask her now and then and she says the obligatory “Yes.” But there are other times when more profound feelings come out about how lucky she feels to be working for our family, an expat family.
We remind her she is an important and valuable part of our family and life wouldn’t be the same here for us without her. Our daughter absolutely adores her “Tita” (which mean Auntie) and has not been without her by her side very often, except when we are on home leave in the U.S.
I am really careful not to ask too many personal questions about her family. I don’t get the feeling she wants to discuss any of that with me. I know a little bit about her friends, in that they go to church and out to eat. I don’t invade her privacy further than that.
Some employers do. In fact, one time, I had another employer in my building tattle tale on my helper about having friends over while we were away. Well, they were shocked that we were the ones that suggested she have a party while we were gone. So there.
Occasionally, I see Facebook pictures of people I don’t know at my house—we can tell by the background—but I trust my helper utterly and know that it’s friends or a family member who works here in Singapore.
I guess I’ll pat myself on the back for not being a jerk of an employer. I’ll pat anyone else on the back here also for not being a jerk to their helpers.
With that all said, can we do more? Be grateful. Be compassionate. Be considerate. Be nice. That’s certainly a lot more than Lola got, at least til the end of her life.
I refuse to wait. I’m doing this now. With everything I ask her to do, I say, “Thanks, Tita.”
About Andrea McKenna
image: E. Chiau
Andrea McKenna Brankin is journalist and author from the United States who lives a full life with bipolar disorder. Her book, Bipolar Phoenix, is awaiting a publishing contract. She is also currently a volunteer at the DaySpring Residential Treatment Centre for teen girls in Singapore, providing befriending-family support, therapeutic writing and rugby coaching.