Content warning: this article contains mentions of abuse and suicide.
Since I was young, I experienced a lot of struggles in life. I am Genevive from the Philippines and I have four siblings. Being the single breadwinner of a poor family was never easy.
When I was in my elementary school days, I started working hard to sustain my needs and help my mother. I worked in a laundrette, selling sweets in exchange for rice. I worked in a plywood company just to finish high school. My father was an alcoholic and couldn’t stop his drinking habit. My siblings and I were separated and lived in different houses because my mother couldn’t give us enough support—her own job was doing laundry from our neighbours. My father did nothing but come home drunk.
Despite the hardships in life, I continued to work hard until I reached college. Even though I was a scholarship student, it was still hard to pay my tuition every month. I didn’t finish my time at college so I decided to work and save money to enrol for the next semester.
But my life started to get worse. My mom became ill and my dad was still an alcoholic. I used all my savings to pay for her hospital bills and her medication. I was losing hope about whether or not I’d have a bright future, until one day I received help with my studies, and I enrolled in the Vocational Course of Health Care Services and Caregiver.
After I graduated from this course, I applied to Maria Reyna Hospital as a Nursing Assistant. I only worked for three months and decided to take a leave of absence, because my salary was not enough to sustain my family's needs and for my mother’s medication.
I decided to apply abroad as a domestic worker. I left our home without saying goodbye. I reached the agency in Manila in the middle of the night. I saw many women lying and sleeping on the floor. My eyes started to cry in silence. Like the other women, I had to sleep on the floor after working hard every day. I waited for almost three months to get a job offer, until my air ticket bound for Qatar finally arrived.
My experience of hell started at the hands of my employer in Qatar. On my first day of work, the child I cared for slapped and spat on me. I was working 24 hours a day, seven days a week with no day off and no food. I slept only on the carpet while watching the kids. I cleaned two houses: both my employer's house and her mom's house.
After seven months my employer hit me with a bamboo cane, pulled my hair in front of people, and slapped me too. I didn’t do anything. All I could do was cry. I called my agency but I was so sad to hear that they were scared of my employer, who was giving donations to their company, so no actions were taken to protect and help me. Because of the weak systems in the Philippines, these agencies continue to sell us like a commodity to employers abroad.
Despite the physical, verbal abuse, emotional, and mental torture, I had to endure it because no one was there to help and save me. I was scared and slept with nightmares every day. My suffering from trauma, depression and anxiety pushed me to my lowest point, where I thought about ending my life. Every day, my employer would threaten to cut my tongue and kill me. All I could see was darkness and there was no light.
Still, I kept on praying and always talked to God to give me more strength to fight until I was hospitalised. I had nausea after vomiting, I banged my head on the floor. My employer didn’t care about me. That was one of the saddest things about my situation: serving as a slave in a heartless family, I still had to work even while I was at my weakest and sickest.
My employer told me to go with the driver to the embassy to get a visa for a vacation with them. I didn't even know the name of the embassy or the place where we were going. When we were about to travel, my employer told me that we were going to London and she told me that I shouldn’t talk to strangers because they would kill me. On 25 July 2019, we reached London.
I was treated the same. I was beaten and shouted at and overworked until I couldn’t take the abuse anymore. I decided to escape early in the morning, and I was lucky because an elderly lady helped me, giving me a calling card from a charity that helps domestic workers like me leave their abusive employers.
I called the number and thank God, someone picked up the phone and quickly sent me a taxi from the train station to the house of her employer. I met the director of that organisation and I stayed in their house for three months. At first, I was afraid to socialise with people, as I was still suffering from the trauma.
I was introduced to The Voice of Domestic Workers, which is an organisation and campaign network supporting migrant domestic workers, and is linked with Unite the Union. I’ve met different people and I've started to talk with them and slowly open up what is inside my heart. The charity provides classes I’ve joined and counselling I’ve accessed to heal my trauma and anxiety.
I was offered a system that would identify whether or not I was a victim of modern slavery or trafficking. I had no choice but to accept. I was supported to apply to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive the appropriate protection and support. In December 2019, I passed the assessment and received a positive reasonable ground decision. I thought this system would help me with my status but no, it is just temporary protection.
Even now, after many years of being in the NRM system, I haven’t received a letter that indicates the conclusive ground decision. This means that I am stuck here in the UK, unable to visit my family, even on the day that my father passed away. I hope the Government hears our voice and allows us to reinstate our visa. It’s important that all domestic workers receive amnesty so we’re free to do whatever we want, especially so we can see our loved ones back home. I hope the story of my life will inspire people to stand and fight with me.
About the author
Genevive is 29 years old and was born and raised in the Philippines
in Tagoloan Misamis Oriental. She graduated from a caregiver NC2 course and worked in health care services, and later left her job in a hospital as a nursing aide assistant as the salary did not sustain her family’s needs. She worked in Qatar before her abusive employer brought her to the UK.
She eventually escaped, and came into contact with The Voice of Domestic Workers. She has benefitted from the organisation’s education classes, media training and counselling services. In her free time, Genevive enjoys talking to her family and friends, and watching shows on Netflix to relax.