By Marissa Begonia
It was the morning of the 14th of January when my son Jemuel handed me the post; and said, ‘’Mum, this looks special; the seal looks like the seal of the King!’’ he was right; indeed, it was an invitation for me to attend a reception at Buckingham Palace at the invitation of His Majesty King Charles and the Queen Consort to celebrate the British East and South-East Asian Communities in the United Kingdom. I was delighted to be invited in recognition of our contribution to the United Kingdom through The Voice of Domestic Workers (VODW), an education and support group calling for justice and rights for Britain's sixteen thousand migrant domestic workers that provides educational and community activities for domestic workers - including financial and employment advice alongside English language lessons, drama, IT, and art classes. I shared the news with VODW members, who were all so pleased with the invitation.
February 1st, the day that I was scheduled to attend the reception at Buckingham Palace, was also the day that public sector workers walked out over a long-running dispute on pay and conditions. The trade Unions have been calling for a pay rise, better pensions, job security, and no cuts to redundancy terms but all these have been ignored by the government.
I planned to join the rally wearing my Philippine native costume before going to Buckingham Palace but on this day the northern rail trains were also on strike and sadly couldn’t join in. However, I still sent my solidarity through the social media of VODW
Because there was no train and I fully support the strike, I asked my daughter to drive me to Buckingham Palace, and my family made an effort to make sure I reached the reception on time.
Around 2 PM, my daughters Jemarie and Jessa (who were more excited than me) began to help me dress up, including putting on my make-up and other accessories. At 4 PM, we set off from Bedfordshire to London. While I was excited on the way, I still couldn’t take my mind off the news about the strike. How I wished, I could have joined them.
My daughter Jessa dropped me off right in front of the Palace. Upon my arrival, I saw a queue and joined the others waiting. We began to talk to one another. The first 2 people I met were natives of Japan and Malaysia. I also met others from Cambodia, Vietnam, South Korea, Mongolia, and many more.
At around 6:15 PM, we all began moving inside. Our first stop was the cloakroom, where we had to leave our coats and phones for security reasons. From the moment we took off all our coats, we began to see the beauty and wealth of all our native national costumes. I was wearing a bright red Filipiniana top together with a sequined long evening dress.
We all gathered in the white and blue drawing room and had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the display in the picture gallery room. There were around 300 of us at the reception across various sectors, including healthcare, arts, media, fashion, education, business, and other community leaders like me.
While the King and Queen were busy talking to everyone, they were joined by other members of the Royal family during the celebration – the Earl of Wessex, Princess Royal, the Duke of Kent, the Duchess of Gloucester, and Princess Alexandra.
I was able to greet and talk to Queen Consort Camilla, Prince Edward and Princess Anne. The aide to the Queen told me that it was the first time that such an occasion was held in Buckingham Palace. We were served food and drinks while chatting with everyone, and I also met many other Filipinos who had travelled from as far as Scotland and Northern Ireland by coach for many hours, particularly in light of the limit on rail service. Of course, no one was complaining about the strike, and everybody was in strong support. Most importantly, we all managed to attend and witness the happy occasion.
Then, it was my turn to talk to King Charles and shake hands with his majesty. He told me one thing, ‘’You can’t do it without the Philippines (Filipinos),’’ as he smiled and talked next to me.
I am glad that the king was aware of the contribution of the Filipinos in various service sectors like healthcare, food, academia, domestic work, and many others. I hope The Voice of Domestic Workers will be invited again next year so other members of our community will have a chance to attend also. It was great to see the King taking initiative at an occasion like this and that the United Kingdom is welcoming and recognising the contribution of migrant workers and communities.
The Voice of Domestic Workers is an education and support group calling for justice and rights for Britain's sixteen thousand migrant domestic workers. We provide support for domestic workers who need to leave abusive employers and in many cases rescue them ourselves.