Content warning: this article contains mentions of abuse and suicide.
When I was 18, I decided to leave my home and family in the Philippines to find work abroad. My family was not rich, and there was a time when we only survived on sweet potato and sweet corn, especially when my father got sick.
I was offered a job in Dubai, and I moved there in 1989. The agency picked me up from the airport, and from their building, my employer picked me up and confiscated my passport and documents. In the job offer, it said that I would look after three children, but when we arrived at their house, there were six children, aged three, five, 10, 12, 14 and 15 years old. I was immediately asked to work without even being asked if I wanted to eat or drink water. The childcare and all the housework was on me. I started work at 5.30am until 12.30am – or as long as my employer was awake, I was not allowed to rest. The two young children slept with me so in reality I hardly found any time to sleep. I complained to the agency but I was asked to put up with the abuse. I also had to think of my family, especially my father who needed medicine.
When I was working in Dubai, my father passed away. I asked for permission to go and see my father but my employer refused. I cried day and night, that was all I could do. A few months after that, another tragedy happened. My sister died through suicide. It was only after I finished my contract in Dubai that I could go home, but it was too late — I didn’t get to see my father or my sister alive.
I met my husband in 1992, and we got married in 1993. We have one child together, a boy. My husband was a farmer and owned the land, but he was a womaniser, so our marriage didn’t last long. As a single parent, I had to work really hard to make sure my child wouldn’t starve.
Even though I didn’t want to work in an Arab country again, I couldn’t do anything apart from apply again for a job in Qatar. I signed a contract in the Philippines that said my salary would be 1500 Qatar riyal, that I would have one day off a week, that my employer would pay for my toiletries and that I could use my phone. But, when I arrived at Qatar airport, my employer took all my documents and didn’t follow what was written in the contract. They also took my phone.
When I was about to finish my contract, I asked my employer to let me go home, but they refused because they wanted to take me with them to London. I travelled with my employer and the children, and we stayed in a hotel apartment in Marble Arch. My situation was the same with the six children to look after, alongside the household work. My employer continued to verbally abuse me and the children would beat me and spit on me with their saliva. Their parents wouldn’t even stop them.
One day, I had an emergency. My brother needed money for an operation, so I begged my employer to give me my salary, including the two months’ salary that they had not already paid me, but they refused. My brother died, and I couldn’t help myself but to cry out all the pain. I asked myself, did I deserve all this? To be beaten, to work non-stop without a salary?
My body was giving up, so I decided to escape. I was very scared and hungry, and I had no phone and no money. I walked for very long hours until I sat down at the bus stop. I was afraid to take the bus; I had no money for a fare, and didn’t have a phone. A Filipina approached me and asked me if I needed help, and said that I should go to church. I went with her, and stayed temporarily in the house of the priest, where they gave me food and clothes. I had no passport and no documents, and I didn’t actually know my situation in the UK. Some new friends gave me a part time job so I could survive and be able to send money to my children and to my mother who was very ill.
Then the pandemic came, and I was very vulnerable because I had no documents to show to be able to access the vaccine. At that time, I met people from The Voice of Domestic Workers (VODW), and they referred me to Doctors of the World, who registered me with a GP, and I was able to get my vaccine in High Barnet. VODW also helped refer me to the National Referral Mechanism, which is a framework to support victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, so I could rebuild my life. VODW gave me hope and made me a strong person. I used to be afraid but now I feel protected by the group. Look at me now —I’ve gained skills and knowledge, and have become part of Future Voices.
I’m also thinking about how to rebuild myself. My son passed away. It was so painful that I didn’t even see him or hug him in his last moments. I wanted to go home at that time, but I thought of the situation with my mom. If I were to go home then, I wouldn’t be able to come back anymore, and I wouldn’t be able to earn money to buy medicine for my mom or to afford her care. I decided not to go home.
Losing a son is like losing part of myself. It’s a part I can never bring back. Losing a son is one of the most painful experiences a parent can have. But I know one day, my son and I will meet again. These are the trials in my life that I know I can overcome. I am a strong woman, because strong women have raised me up. Despite everything I have gone through, and the difficulties of life, I have been able to handle it all.
About the Author
Evangeline, also known as Vangie, is from San Isidro, Isabela, Philippines. When she finished high school, she worked as a domestic worker in Manila, Philippines. At the age of 18, she decided to work abroad, and was offered a job in Dubai, where she experienced different forms of abuse. She later worked abroad in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which were both abusive environments. The family that she worked for in Qatar took her to London, and it was there she escaped and was supported by The Voice of Domestic Workers. Vangie is part of the Future Voices Programme, a leadership programme run in partnership between Sounddelivery Media and the Voice of Domestic Workers to develop a network of domestic workers as confident public spokespeople to advocate for themselves and their community. In her free time, Vangie enjoys cooking, playing the guitar and listening to Christian music.