Thursday, July 31, 2008

Domestic Work is Work… Not Slavery!

by Carmelita C. Ballesteros
The lights were turned off in a tiny auditorium at the Substation, a small art gallery for emerging artists on Armenian Street in Singapore. About a hundred men and women in the audience hushed. Soft, background music which sounded like a muted lamentation slowly filled the silence.

Six women in batik pants literally crawled in from the backstage. Then they struggled to stand up. They pantomimed a ritualized beating-up of a poor, hapless slave. As the victim pleaded for mercy, an angel came and snatched her from her tormentors.

The lights were turned on and the six women performers took a bow. It was then that I noticed what their t-shirts proclaimed, “Domestic work is work…not slavery!”

I tried not to cry, but I felt hot salty tears streaming down my face.

H.O.M.E., a registered charity organization which looks into the welfare and rights of migrant workers in Singapore, had sponsored the free screening of the film “ina… anak, pamilya.”

Starring Joel Torre, Eula Valdez, and Angel Aquino, it is a mixed documentary and fiction. Surprisingly, its director, J.P. Bautista, is an amateur film director who resigned from her comfortable Makati job in order to go into advocacy work through the film medium.

The ladies’ pantomime was just a front act. After the introduction of the director and her producer-husband, the lights were turned off again.

It was a simple film about a mother and wife who decided to work as a domestic helper in order to provide more food on the table for her family. Her husband had a lowly clerical job and his salary was hardly enough for food, house rental, school uniforms and shoes for their three children.

On the day that the mother left for the first time, her bunso was probably five years old. It was early dawn and she didn’t wish to wake up the children. As her husband (Joel Torre) stood waiting, holding her suitcase in the doorway, the mother (Eula Valdez) looked longingly at her children. She couldn’t resist caressing ever so gently her bunso’s hair as he slept peacefully.

I tried not to cry, but I felt hot salty tears streaming down my face.
Eula Valdez wasn’t crying; neither was Joel Torre. The children were asleep. There were no words spoken. There wasn’t any music. Then I heard my seatmates to the left and to the right sobbing. My face was getting soaked, so I took out a hanky. I heard a collective sniff. Everyone was crying!
How could a simple, underacted scene make everyone cry? It was because of the depth of our collective anguish, unspoken pain, and silent yearning for our families to hold and to love.
Interwoven with the mother’s story were statistics, survey results, and interview excerpts. It said there were 10 million domestic workers around the world in chains. In addition to Filipinos, these workers included Indonesians, Thais, Sri Lankans, Burmese, Cambodians, Vietnamese, Lao, etc.
Toward the end of the mother’s story, hope through OFW reintegration programs was shown. The husband attended an NGO-sponsored seminar and the docu-part of the film talked about the government’s initiatives towards providing loans for small entrepreneurs.
When the lights were turned on, the director of the film spoke again saying that her hope was that OFWs would be able to go home for good, succeed in their small businesses, and never ever have to leave their families behind again.
Copyright © 2008 to Barangay OFW. All rights reserved.


Freddie said...

Dear Carmel,

The movie you described exactly copied the many scenes whenever I leave my family. And how do you add that feeling of a heavy feet and the silence brought inside the plane?
Domestic helper or accountant does not mean any difference when leaving the family. Freddie

Dr. Carmelita C. Ballesteros said...


Thank you so much for the affirmation. OFWs make the sacrifice for their families. Everyone - man or woman, skilled or unskilled -- is pained by separation from the families they love. We must find creative ways of generating wealth in our own hometowns so that we would never have to leave again, as the director of the movie said.