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Resilience and Determination: My Path as an Overseas Worker

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

By Lyn

I began working on our family farm at a young age alongside my siblings, which instilled in me a strong work ethic and a sense of responsibility. After completing grade six in our province, I went to Manila to study with my sister and cousins. After my secondary education, I made a decision to work abroad instead of going to college, because I couldn't afford my college fee. This decision to work and support myself came from my determination to create a better future for both myself and my family.

My choice to become an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) in Lebanon was a bold move, especially considering I was just 18 years old at the time. I vividly remember being the only young person among a group of women from the agency applying to be a domestic worker in Lebanon.

My flight to Lebanon was via Hong Kong from the Philippines. Before entering the airport in Manila, we were gathered in the room, and the agency instructed us to hide our genuine tickets to Lebanon in the most private parts of our bodies so that they wouldn't be detected during check-in, so it appeared as if we were only travelling to Hong Kong. This agency seemed to have an inside contact at the airport who guided us on what to do and where to stand during the check-in process. This situation filled me with fear, and I had so many questions racing through my mind. Why did I need to conceal my actual ticket?

While I was in the bathroom, folding my ticket into small pieces so that it could fit into my underpants, tears streamed down my face and I felt an overwhelming urge not to go anymore. In that emotional moment, I was calling my mom's name. I reached out to every deity I could think of, asking for help on my journey. Once I arrived in Lebanon, I joined 10 other domestic workers in a room, waiting for our employers to pick us up.

I was the last one to be chosen. My work at my employer’s house in Beirut began the very next day at 6am and continued late into the night, involving childcare and household chores. There were no days off, and the work was gruelling. In the early months, I often cried in the bathroom, but I had to quickly compose myself and continue working because I had no access to my phone. I could only talk to my family once a month when I sent them my salary. It was disheartening not to speak with them for long, as my employer claimed it was too expensive. Moreover, I couldn't even call my family directly because of the lack of signal in our province. Instead, I had to communicate through my recruiter, informing her when I sent money.

Sometimes, my employer sent me to clean their relatives' houses without any payment. After completing this additional work, I had to return to my employer's house to finish my regular duties. These experiences often left me feeling physically drained. However, I endured, always telling myself that time would pass quickly and I would finish my contract to return home.

Originally, my contract was for two years, but my employer extended it by three months while they searched for my replacement. I trained four women to take my place, but none of them stayed; they found the workload too demanding. My employers pleaded with me to extend my stay, emphasising that the children loved me. However, I declined, expressing my desire to return home and continue my studies. This is why they eventually let me go.

Returning home, I had no savings because my employer sent all my salary to my family every month. I went back home without a penny, but I was still so happy because I could be with my family again. After a few months, I applied to work abroad again, as a sales lady in Doha, Qatar, but unfortunately I ended up doing cleaning services. This shift work brought me new challenges that further tested my adaptability, but was less difficult than my experience in Lebanon. Eventually, this company found an employer for me who brought me here to the UK.

This employer who brought me to the UK processed my papers without my knowledge. When they told me that we were going to the UK, I refused to come, because I didn’t know anybody in the UK. But it was too late, and I had no choice. My employer asked me to pay every penny on the processing visa. They held my passport and visa, and they gave me a contract to sign which said I would be paid £1,800 as my salary per month, but I received only £200.

I managed to leave them. They even reported me to the police as a missing person, but by this time, I had found Justice 4 Domestic Workers, which is now The Voice of Domestic Workers (VODW); an organisation that supports domestic workers in need and advocates for our rights. VODW’s Director, Marissa Begonia, brought me to the police station and played a crucial role in my recovery, along with my fellow Domestic workers who became my friends. The police officers interviewed me, and eventually said it was okay to go home, giving me a calling card in case my employer started calling or harassing me again.

VODW really helped me get back on my feet by giving me so much support and introducing me to new friends, alongside free education and accommodation. Every Sunday, we meet at Unite the Union to attend free classes from VODW. We also go on tours and trips organised by VODW. As domestic workers who have experienced various trauma and difficulties with employers while living away from our loved ones, these trips provide a source of happiness and a sense of companionship. We really need this sometimes, especially because domestic work is not easy. Some of the funniest moments I remember from these trips have been when we played jump rope in Scotland, as if we were children and didn’t have any problems in life, or visiting Stonehenge and the Roman Baths.

I’m now part of Future Voices 2, a training programme for migrant domestic workers run by VODW and Sounddelivery Media. In our first session, I was nervous and worried, but after a while and in our training, I eventually felt comfortable with everyone. It's been four months now since we started our Future Voices 2 sessions, and I can see my own self-esteem and confidence growing. Through this programme, we have the opportunity to tell the world about the lives and stories of domestic workers behind closed doors.

I've been working abroad now for many years and haven't visited home for the past nine years. Now I have built my own family and have one beautiful daughter Athena, who is yet to visit the Philippines. Living in the UK, I find happiness in my family. The skills I've learned, from being a nanny to doing household chores, now enrich my life.

I'm deeply grateful to my mother-in-law, Judy, and my partner, Jayrold, and friends for their unwavering support. Despite the distance, my family in the Philippines remains my rock. I'm thankful for my journey in the UK. I'm also grateful to The Voice of Domestic Workers for their invaluable support.

About the author

Lyn was born in the Philippines and previously worked abroad in Lebanon and Qatar to provide a better future for her family. These employers were tough and abusive. Her employer in Qatar brought her to London where she was able to leave them and support herself. It was here that she met The Voice of Domestic Workers and has been a member of this community since 2016. She considers the group to be like a family. In her spare time, Lyn likes to sit down and drink coffee while talking to her family back home, and enjoys spending quality time with her daughter Athena.

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