MANILA, Philippines – Scarred by memories of their stay at the United Arab Emirates (UAE), two former Filipina domestic helpers chose a life of voluntary service to their fellow overseas workers upon their return to the Philippines.
Marelie Brua and Marina Sarno did not let their past abuse take control of their present, and instead capitalized on the experience by informing migrant workers of their rights.
Brua now works for the Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK)*, while Sarno helps in the repatriation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) through Migrante International. Both said they will no longer work abroad after what they have been through.
“Hindi ko na maisip magpunta sa ibang bansa (I couldn’t think of going abroad anymore),” Brua said. “Kontento na ako magserbisyo sa kapwa ko OFW (I am content to serve my fellow OFWs).”
Sarno said, “Kung meron naman trabaho dito, dito na lang (If there is work here, just stay).”
The two have vowed to stay in the country and warn would-be OFWs of the dangers of not fighting for one’s rights abroad.
Sorrow turned to advocacy
Sarno said she joined Migrante “para maibalik yung sakripisyo na binigay nila sa akin (to repay their sacrifices for me),” apparently referring to her parents.
Forced to leaved the country out of poverty, Sarno said in Filipino that she was “made to work like a robot” by her employer in the UAE.
After 9 months of excessive work, her hand became “paralyzed” – she couldn’t even pour water from a pitcher to a glass.
“Kahit mag-ayos ng damit ko, hindi ko kaya (I couldn’t even arrange my clothes),” she added.
Her employers would not allow her to have phone conversations with her family back home.
This prompted Sarno to seek help. She wrote, “Please help me,” on a sheet of paper and the contact number of her son in the Philippines. Hoping for the best, she threw the letter through the window of her employer’s toilet, toward the house next door.
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The move proved to be crucial, as her husband attempted to reach her recruitment agency days later. He sought the help of government labor agencies and was always told to just come back. When he could no longer wait, he sought the help of Migrante.
Sarno, a 39-year-old mother of 4, eventually got back home, and now helps fellow Filipinos in their repatriation troubles similar to what she had gone through.
Sarno reflected on the courage she mustered while in the UAE. Her employer, apparently referring to Sarno, had told her that Filipinos were “maliit pero matapang (small but courageous).”
Home washed away by Yolanda
While Sarno had been an OFW for years, Brua was a newbie in the field. Brua thought she was lucky. In her first attempt to seek employment in a foreign country, she got a spot as a domestic worker in the oil-rich kingdom.
Brua left the Philippines on November 8, 2013, the day the catastrophic and most powerful tropical cyclone hit land. Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) wreaked havoc in the Visayas, where Brua hails from.
Her family home was among those washed away by 7-meter-high storm surges. (READ: ‘Storm surge’ not explained enough – PAGASA official)
Tragedy after tragedy struck Brua. Upon her arrival in the UAE, she was faced by the shocking discovery that her monthly pay was a meager 800 dirham ($217* or P9,712).
The 7-year-old daughter of her employer imbibed the notion that she had been “bought” for a price. Serving as her employer’s translator, the child told her: “We bought you – 10,000 dirhams.”
“Magtiis ka, kasi ‘yan ang trabaho mo. Ang mga Pilipino talaga, katulong lang mga ‘yan (You should endure the suffering, because that is your job. Filipinos are really just that, just helpers),” her employer had told her.
Seeing the indignity in the way she was treated and unable to take the verbal and psychological abuses, Brua ran away from her employer. She rejected the idea that she was “already bought.”
She finally found happiness in her present work, she said, as a full-time volunteer at the PKKK. – Rappler.com
*NOTE: We earlier reported that Marelie Brua is currently working with the Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA) instead of the Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK). We regret the error.
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