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The breadwinner of the family

by May Belen

I am a single mother and I have one son. I am from a poor family in the Philippines  and it was very hard to survive. My parents separated when I was only eight years old.


My mother worked as a laundry woman, while my father was a construction worker. From a young age, being the eldest sibling, I helped my parents provide for our daily needs and became the breadwinner for my seven siblings. I worked as a shoemaker, which did not earn enough money to support our needs. I tried to work in the morning, and then studied in university to get a degree in accounting. 

In 1988, one of my sisters needed an operation because of a heart condition. I decided not to finish university, and applied to be a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia. I thought that would be the year when I would find my luck working abroad, becoming a domestic helper in the Middle East. I put my trust in God to face the new chapter of my life, being away from my family. 

I was a housekeeper and a nanny simultaneously, multi-tasking many duties inside the house. I cooked, did all the household chores and cared for the kids for a minimal salary for the first seven years. I felt like I was in slavery and a victim of human trafficking.

I have encountered different kinds of employers. My first employer was in Jeddah, and there have been many more. I have experienced abusive treatment and managed to fight back in order to survive. I spent three years in Kuwait, experiencing the most challenging time when I could not provide enough salary for my family. Life was so tough. My sister passed away that year because I couldn’t support paying for her medication. Sometimes, I felt so exhausted I wanted to give up, but I knew there was a reason to move forward, stand still and hold on.

On 6 September, 2002 my son was born. His biological father abandoned us and since then, I have been the only person supporting the needs of my son. I decided to go back to the Middle East in order to work as a domestic worker so I could financially support my son and my family. 

At one point, I was working for a prince in Saudi Arabia. I was the only one caring for his only son for eleven years. Being a Filipino nanny is not just a job. We care too much, with all our hearts. I became the second ‘parent’ of that child. I experienced how to be a mom, always behind him. The family travelled back and forth between the UK. But as the time went by and after I was abused so many times by my employer, for example, by not giving me my salary in time and delaying it for months, I decided to leave this family on their fourth visit to the UK.

Starting my journey here was not easy. I felt no one could help me here. At first, I really cried so hard for leaving the prince’s son, but in order to survive and for the future of my family, I had to be tough. I had to step up to another journey and join new Filipino communities in this country. 

I’ve been here in the UK for almost five years. The decision from the National Referral Mechanism about my case came in December 2018, and said that there are reasonable grounds to believe I was a victim of trafficking. I received this decision one week before my visa from my previous employer expired. The only way that I can apply as a Domestic Worker is by holding a paper that states I have a right to work.

My situation as a worker here has been so hard. It’s been challenging to find a stable job that I could stay in for a year or more. After having to change jobs and working for only a few months at a time with little pay and no documents, my social worker recommended that I find a job as a carer or a helper for the elderly. I came to work for an elderly Jewish lady who needed someone to keep her company as she lived alone. I felt very comfortable in this job and enjoyed it, and was paid a decent salary. I loved this lady as she treated me as her daughter, and I called her Mama Leah. She passed away and was buried with the Jewish traditions. The family mentioned in the funeral speech that I was a helper whom Leah treated as her own child. 

Again and again, I have lost my job. At last, I found a little girl, who was two and a half years old and just starting nursery. I have been with this family for one year now. They supported me with the documents for the Home Office, and I received a conclusive grounds decision, meaning I am recognised as a victim of human trafficking. I have my Biometric Residents’ Permit now, but there is only a year left on it. A very big question I’m thinking about is, when it expires, what will happen to me? 

My son is now 21 years old, and in his third year of studying for his Bachelor’s degree in Criminology in our town, Marikina City. Even though we are far away from each other, I managed to communicate with him and thought about all the courage I have in me to help him study harder for his future. 

About the Author

May Belen is 61 years old, a mother of one son, and the oldest of seven siblings. She worked as a domestic worker for almost two

decades in the Middle East and for five years in the UK. She was recently identified as a victim of modern slavery and trafficking. She currently works full time as a nanny. She’s proud to be part of The Voice of Domestic Workers, as it helps her to show the world what happens behind closed doors for domestic workers. 

In her free time, May Belen enjoys doing her activities in Body, Mind and Wellness, English for Speakers of Other Languages, also doing her Mediacom and IT Computer homework. She enjoys shopping for her personal belongings, and enjoys watching the news and movies on Netflix. Sometimes if her son needs advice for his studies, May Belen helps support him. 

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