Filipina maid Cherry Pie Antaban (love that name) wants to work as a domestic helper in Singapore. My own asawa spent years working in Singapore and Taiwan (see photo) as an Overseas Contract Worker, OCW. The current term for those having overseas jobs is Overseas Filipino Workers, OFWs. The government refers to them as "heroes." Indeed, without the sacrifice these over nine million Filipinos are making, spending years separated from their families in order to send remittances back to their loved ones in the Philippines, the economy of the PH would suffer a tremendous blow. But Cherry Pie is going to a "maid school," a month long government-mandated crash course in domestic duties, something my own spouse didn't have to do, and has to successfully complete her training before she can get a coveted job in a place like Singapore.
A recent report in the Inquirer Global Nation alerted me to this story. The article states that the course can be "bewildering, daunting and occasionally humiliating." But an overseas job in a country like Singapore can bring in much more money than working as a maid, or domestic helper, in the Philippines. A salary of 400 US Dollars is a lot of money and is twice the amount my sister-in-law in Kuwait makes. But since my sister-in-law, in her early 40's, is already considered "too old" for the choice jobs in Singapore or Hong Kong, she went to the Middle East, where conditions are much harsher and more dangerous.
My asawa spoke to a young lady the other day with a one-year-old baby boy who was working as a maid in our subdivision. She thought my own spouse was a domestic worker as she is always in our yard caring for her plants and flowers. The poor Filipina was venting about her current employer, who was paying her P2,000 (46 US Dollars) a month salary (plus room and board) and was extremely strict.
The young maid's employer had just scolded her for drinking coffee advising her that water would be just fine for her. How terrible! No one employed at that home has lasted longer than a month according to neighbors, but the young lady has managed to find another employer and will be earning P2,500 under hopefully better conditions. My wife gave her five individual packets of Nestle coffee to take with her. The Filipina was so happy. She was going give three of the packets to her Mother. Mom is caring for her daughter's baby and lives some distance away.
But if this young lady wanted to get an overseas job and go to Singapore like Cherry Pie and make the big bucks, she would have to go through the "Maid School" training. “I didn’t know there would be so many different techniques just for cleaning. It isn’t just sweeping and mopping,” Cherry Pie, 30, said during a break recently from Domestic Duties 101.
“We have to know the different types of vacuum cleaners, the different kinds of air-conditioners and how to clean them: the window type, the box-type, the split-type.”
The article reports that nearly 100,000 women in the Philippines head overseas annually to toil as maids, many of whom come from homes where washing clothes is done by hand and dishes are cleaned in a bucket (just like at our house; but you won't see me doing any "toiling," my asawa stripped me of my last chore and won't even let me fill our water barrels anymore.)
There is no guarantee that Cherry Pie will graduate, with six percent of all students across the country failing the domestic training courses each year, according to the national government’s vocational training department.
“Some of the candidates fail the assessment because they cannot operate the vacuum cleaners, the washing machines, the driers,” said Lenny Carreon, who is in charge of the department’s training courses in two districts of Manila.
“These are women from poor rural areas. They are not familiar with these state-of-the-art household appliances.” (My wife's advice: "Just read the instructions; that's what she did.)
My own asawa also came from a poor rural province. No electricity. No running water. No shoes to wear at important school functions, but she adapted, she learned and started work as a maid in Manila before obtaining an overseas job. Worked as a nanny in Singapore before we were married for several years. Worked for two years straight in Taiwan without one day off as a caretaker for a lady with Alzheimer's Disease.
Some of the students said the lessons were humiliating, although this too offered an important lesson about their future careers. Here's what one student had to say:
“It is painful to have a college degree and then apply as a domestic helper. But I think about my family. I am the one sending my brother and sister to school,” said Janet Quiron, 25, a former school teacher.
Quiron said she earned just 5,200 pesos (US$120) a month as a school teacher, but would make four times that in Hong Kong as a domestic helper. The report goes on to state that Quiron's plight is depressingly common in the Philippines, where many give up careers in better-skilled jobs locally to earn more overseas.
With more than 96,000 women leaving the Philippines last year to work abroad as maids, domestic helpers are the second largest overseas Filipino workforce behind merchant seamen, according to government statistics.
The top 10 destinations for Filipina maids are Hong Kong, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Singapore, Bahrain, Oman, Cyprus, and Italy.
Our neighbor, Jesus, has a spouse that has been working in Lebanon for 17 years. Working as an Overseas Filipino Worker is an extremely difficult job and tears families apart. I have two brother-in-laws working on fishing boats and they are gone for years at a time, and as mentioned before, a sister-in-law in Kuwait who has two children left behind in the Philippines. There's no such thing as a vacation to return home and visit the family. Maid school? I wouldn't cut it. My own wife, who I had mentioned stripped me of my water duties, won't even let me sweep. Just as well. I could never get the hang of that crazy ''walis ting-ting'' broom she uses anyway.