Behind My Smile; Untold Loneliness

Our life when I was young was so difficult. We struggled everyday to work hard just to have a meal. Even though I was young, my eyes were already open to how hard our situation was. At a young age my mum and I asked neighbours for work as clothes launderers, while my dad worked as a farmer at his brother's rice field. My two eldest siblings worked as local domestic workers in our auntie’s house in exchange for help to finance their schooling. It was hard for my mum to see her children suffering from the hardships of life, with not enough food, an uncomfortable house and no nice clothes to wear. There wasn’t even enough money to buy lollipops and toys for her children. Poverty was the main reason why my mum decided to go abroad to work as a domestic worker in Malaysia.

If I’m not mistaken, I was seven years old at that time and she left without saying goodbye to me. She left me asleep so that I wouldn’t see her leaving and she wouldn’t see me crying. Growing up there wasn’t a day that I didn’t ask my dad or my older siblings when our mum would be coming home. I would go outside our house if I heard a plane and would wish for my mum to come home so that I could be with her again.

Thinking about that moment is so painful as now my only child is suffering the same thing I experienced when my mum left me.


My loneliness started in 2016 when I applied to work abroad because we were unable to afford our daily expenses, especially the needs of my one year old daughter. It was a dream for me to work in a foreign land and yes I made it. But the excitement turned to loneliness as I had to leave my only child in the Philippines. My dream was to give her the best future, but in exchange I sacrificed my motherhood and her childhood. It’s very frustrating how many more years I need to count to be reunited with my daughter, my status as undocumented preventing me from leaving the country and visiting my child.

Like my mum when she left me, I also left my daughter just after her first birthday to go overseas. I left abruptly because I had a job in Oman as a domestic worker and had a flight that day. My daughter is six years old now and it’s been five years straight without seeing, holding and hugging her. I am glad that I am able to give her all that she wants and needs now financially and materially but what is missing is happiness from our mother and daughter bonding. I missed everything about her, how she grew up, her childhood days and I missed teaching her basic things as a child. It’s crazy to think that as migrant domestic workers, we are caring for other children here in the UK, but we can’t care for our own children.


Thanks to modern technology I can talk to my daughter and watch her grow through video calls every day. I see her happiness when she has new toys or clothes that I sent to her in exchange for my absence. That is our way of giving love and happiness to each other and we call it virtual happiness and hugs. Yes we smile and laugh in front of our phones but can you imagine the grief inside our hearts for how we miss each other? The eagerness and want so badly to see each other personally and feel the warmth of our bodies. Nothing can replace our love. The pain that we are hiding inside and a crying heart everytime I see my daughter ill or sad and screaming that she needs me. A mother’s concern cannot be offset by money especially if you have only one child.


If I want to go home to see and be with my daughter there is always an obstacle because I am afraid that my daughter will suffer. I’m thinking about her future and education too. The separation between me and my child was a great sacrifice so that we wouldn’t starve in the hardships of life. I thought it would be nice to go abroad so I could finally give my daughter a good future but I never thought I would be trapped in the country where I am now, the United Kingdom. Legal changes were made to the 2012 Overseas Domestic Worker Visa which took away our rights to change employers without restrictions, the rights to renew the Overseas Domestic Workers visa, the rights to settlement and rights to British Citizenship.


Like a bird in a cage I have no freedom at all. I’ve been a member of the Voice of Domestic Workers for five years now where we campaign for changes to the law restricting the rights of migrant domestic workers.

Maybe you are reading this and you are a mother or a father too. I am sure you wouldn’t like to be apart from your children like I am. Can you imagine the sacrifices domestic workers like me have made to be away from them just to give them a better future? Can you try to walk in our shoes as we take the journey of a hard life and then judge me after? We are essential workers, not a burden to this country. And if we get our rights back we will make sure to love your country, as we love our family back home.


About the Author:

Jenny is a domestic worker born in the Philippines. She worked in the government sector but the salary was not enough to feed her family. She left this good job and ventured abroad to work for her family’s future. She is now one of the active members of The Voice of Domestic Worker and was selected to participate in the Future Voice training programme to develop skills and confidence as a public speaker.

@jennyabenoja32


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