Hi everyone, I am Jenely, Community Building Officer. Thank you for joining me tonight.
Uplifters is a non profit organization dedicated to empowering underprivileged communities with online education and peer support. We offer a free online money management course for domestic workers. You just need to click “ Send Message” on our Facebook page to enroll. This is the tenth episode of our Antivirus series and we are very happy to be here with you tonight.
Our objective with this Antivirus Video Live is first to reply to your questions if we can or collect them and consult with professionals afterwards so we can answer them later. Secondly, we just want to be there with you. Uplifters is first and foremost a community and we will go through these difficult times with you.
Our guest for tonight is Evelyn Obillo. She has been working as a domestic worker in Singapore for 18 years. She has been volunteering for a long time at the Centre for Domestic Employees – CDE. She is also our most committed team leader at Uplifters and has facilitated 17 batches in our monthly online class Dare to Dream out of the 20 we have organised since our creation! She has helped so many women with her guidance and advice. Her dedication to helping fellow domestic workers is truly admirable.
Hi Evelyn, welcome to our live broadcast. Thank you so much for joining us tonight.
Question: These are very challenging times in Singapore. The circuit breaker measures which was meant to last until May 4 was extended until June 1. Can you give us updates on these measures?
Evelyn: Yes, indeed. It was supposed to end on May 4 but then it got extended for another month, but it will finally end on the first of June, on Monday and it will reopen in three phases. First phase, they call it “Safe Reopening” in which some businesses will reopen with measures in place of course. Second phase is called “Safe Transition” and the third one they call it “The New Normal”. But as for now, if Covid-19 should remain low and stable, the government will decide by the middle of June if they will do phase two instead at the end of July.
Question: What is the situation and current challenges of migrant domestic workers in Singapore?
Evelyn: Currently the situation in Singapore is stabilizing although the number of cases, 30,000 is quite high but it’s contained. Majority are in the dormitories. Community transmission is actually very low. As far as FDW is concerned, this is pretty challenging for us. It’s too much work. The top on the list of the challenges that we are facing right now is too much work and we don’t feel safe.
We are physically, emotionally and mentally drained right now. Social distancing measures in place, you can’t see a friend whatever and some cannot even go out. Of course we have to keep our spirits up. Let us pray and hope that the situation will be over soon.
Question: Can you give us some specific examples of these challenges?
Evelyn: Physically, because everyone is staying home especially when there are children. Mentally we crave for physical interaction. When you are cooped up at home for two months and you can’t see anybody. Yes, we can talk over the phone, but it’s still different when you at least have some time to go for a walk or have some meal together away from work at least once a week, then it will recharge the energy and keep us going.
Question: Can you give us tips or advice on how we can cope with these challenges?
Evelyn: At this point in time, there’s not much we can do, because as we need a job we can’t afford to lose our job, we have to stay. So you still have enough food at the end of the month, you get your salary. We just have to be patient and we need to be positive and think that this is not gonna last forever. So just keep it together, we will get through this storm together.
Question: Can you tell us more about the work that you’re doing for CDE?
Evelyn: As volunteers, we are the network on the ground. So as a volunteer for CDE, I take it as my responsibility to keep my eyes and ears on the ground around the Filipino community. I make sure to be more aware of what’s going on around me. Usually, I just give advice and encourage my fellow workers to speak up. It’s like in our Uplifters class, to encourage them to speak up, to join this kind of thing where many are shy or scared of losing their jobs. So I encourage them that when they are getting treated improperly or when their rights are being violated, they have to speak up, otherwise, nothing’s gonna change. You can’t suffer in silence, you have to speak up to improve your condition. It is really a big challenge for me to convince them to reach out, to call the proper authorities because they’re scared and they don’t want to lose their jobs. But then of course we can only do so much. For serious cases, normally I would contact the CDE staff directly.
Question: How long have you been volunteering at CDE?
Evelyn: Almost two years actually. CDE is only around 4 years, and I’ve only come to know them when they opened their satellite office at Lucky Plaza, that’s when I joined them. I didn’t know them before, but I knew other NGOs but I am not an outgoing person. I’m a diamond volunteer already.
Question: Has it always been a passion for you? Helping people, cheering people on.
Evelyn: Yes, because if I can pull someone up, I know the feeling of being away from your family and you don’t have anyone to talk to. Now that I have the chance, I give it back to the community, If I can help someone go through a day or a few days or at least finish their contract just by listening to me, ranting to me until they finish their contract and then they’ll be fine, that’s more than enough for me. It’s very fulfilling.
Question: Do you have more calls since the circuit breaker started?
Evelyn: Actually we don’t pick up calls during working hours. This is my strict policy. So every time I get a call, I will message them “no calls please, if there’s anything urgent let me know, so I can call you back when I have the time”. Calls, actually not that much, but messages, I’m getting more than double about their issues with regards to Covid19. We’re getting more messages so my phone is always burning hot.
Question: What are the most common questions you get these days?
Evelyn: You know the challenges we face is too much work, so that’s why many just feel like throwing the towel and want to transfer. So the first thing they ask, “I’m too tired, I don’t think I can carry on, is it possible to transfer right now?” And some are worried about their families back home and just want to fly out. Sometimes when you have fear about your family and you miss them, or you’re worried about them, you just want to fly out. But as you know with the travel ban and all, I tell them to calm down, whatever you’re feeling right now, you’re stressed, you fear about yourself, about your family, but everybody’s going through this same, you have to calm down yourself so you can think better. So those are the things, either wanting to go home or wanting to transfer. Which is very challenging right now because the IPA approval is limited to local employers with young children and elderly. So if the employer who wants to hire you are expats, the chances are very limited, very slim chance. There are ladies who are in the agencies for months, the application keeps getting denied. So it really depends on your luck. That’s why I always tell them, currently, they only want to approve only local employers with young children or elderly, so are you willing to accept it? Why in the first place are you leaving your job? Is it because you’re looking after children or elderly? Then there will be no change, you have to think about it. If you’re not being starved or being abused, you have to reconsider at least after the circuit breaker is lifted. There are a lot of delays in applications and also being denied. Some can handle it well, their minds are stronger than others, some really get persuaded by their emotion easily, they get depressed, that they cannot go out and socialize, not even realizing that they are already have neglected their jobs, their temper becomes shorter, so they think that by transferring it will solve their problem or by going home the problem will end. But then it’s not, it may actually be the start of a new problem, you will transfer, what if you can’t get a new employer? You’ll get stuck in the agency, can you afford not to have a job? What if the family is waiting for you to send some money home? So if it’s still tolerable, I tell them to stay put for now. So it’s more emotional because when you are tired physically, you just rest then you’ll be fine. But if it’s emotional, or your mental well being is being challenged, how to keep yourself sane in this situation where can’t take a day off, can’t even go out for a walk and get some fresh air, really you’re gonna go mad definitely.
Question: We have a question from Ayda. Can you give us some advice on how to finish our Dare to dream course smoothly? And how do you manage your time between Uplifters and CDE as well?
Evelyn: For me as a team leader, how to encourage, the first week, everybody is excited, I’ve noticed that the first few days, everyone’s sharing and all, but once we started with the challenges or when it becomes more challenging and they feel like they’re tired or they seem to lack the time, as a team leader I will personally tell them that if you stop then nothing’s gonna happen. You have to have a positive mindset, you have to keep positive, that this is for you and not for us, we are trying to help you uplift yourself and upgrade not just to be money smart but for your well being as well. This is where the affirmation comes in, you have to tell yourself that “I am doing this for myself and I can do this!” So that’s why I encourage them even if it’s slow, never quit because if you quit then it’s over. Baby steps, one at a time and in the end you will be proud of yourself when you reach the finish line. The joy of accomplishing something is really a good thing, we can only encourage but as a team leader, we need to spend time with them, be with them because when they know we are there for them, it will only encourage them more to participate and carry on. That’s why I prefer the group chat class, so I can interact with them and learn from each other.
Question: Can you give us tips on how to adjust to sudden changes, of not being able to do the things that we love?
Evelyn: For me, I always tell everyone that we need to be flexible, we need to learn to adapt. When a situation changes, you need to be like bamboo. You can’t be like a tree, that when the wind comes you say “No! I’m stronger than the wind.” It can’t be like that, we need to be like bamboo. When the strong wind comes, we need to bend, we need to adapt to the given situation, like right now, the circuit breaker, what can we do? We can’t do anything, I always tell them before you make a decision, “Oh I’m so tired”, almost everyday I always hear that, how exhausted they are, it’s depressing. Those thoughts, it’s very negative and if you start your day with that negative thought, definitely your whole day will surely be negative. But when you start your day, “Oh it’s another day less from the circuit breaker we’re almost there, let’s hope and pray this thing will be over. We need to be flexible, before anything else we have to think “I am so tired but if I go home, would I be able to afford to lose my job?” If you can’t, then you have to be more patient and bear in mind this is temporary. This is not gonna last forever, you just need to be stronger, more patient and flexible because there’s nothing much we can do, the only option for us is to stay and wait. We can’t do this situation if we are emotionally drained, depressed, you have to look at the bigger picture and not just think about yourself but also your family. To provide for them is the main reason why we left them in the first place. If you give up then it’s over, your life here can be over, you may have dragged yourself and your family as well.
Question: How do you manage your time for your work, being a team leader and a volunteer at CDE? Hats off to you!
Evelyn: We teach money management here at Uplifters, but at the same time we can also apply that in managing our time. For me, volunteering at CDE, my commitment to Uplifters, they are on top of my priority so that’s why I have a notebook, checking my to-do list, the night before I already plan it. So if you are committed to something you will definitely find the time. It will be difficult but it’s all in a positive mindset, your passion and setting your priorities straight. Of course, my job is my number one priority, I’m just lucky because I have less work so I have more time.
Question: We have a question from Syafira. Does CDE also handle OFWs who get verbal abuse from employers, do they have psychologists for them?
Evelyn: Verbal abuse is a very broad topic. So if you feel threatened, definitely we encourage them to contact the police. Examples would be the employers saying I’m gonna kill you or something. For those asking me about this issue, I tell them to contact the CDE staff or send a message to them directly because they can handle it better being professionals. They have psychologists, great counseling, they have those professionals that can help in this field.
Question: We have a question from Janelyn. May I just ask during the circuit breaker, what is the toughest situation you’ve dealt with so far and what is the advice you’ve given?
Evelyn: For me is to convince them to talk to their employers in situations of no day off, extra work but no pay. How to talk to the employers? Some are almost being locked in the house. So I tell them to talk to them one more time, explain to them the situation, they can read the news, they know what’s happening in the Philippines, appeal to their good side, otherwise you can contact CDE or other NGOs or MO.M. Because it is not fair. Especially if it is a necessary errand that we need to do and they won’t allow us to do so. They need to be human at least, because if you bluntly say no to us then how do they think we would feel? We’re not gonna want to work. Not everybody has the guts to talk so I have to tell them you have to think, you need to help yourself, because if you can’t then I also can’t help you, no one can help you. You have only yourself to count on. Or at least be brave, to take the risk, whether they deny your request or whatever the consequence might be, at least you tried instead of suffering in silence. So that’s the biggest challenge for me is convincing them. Some employers might not care but most of them do. Appeal to their good heart. I don’t believe that there are people who are totally heartless.
Question: Do you have any general advice to domestic workers to make their migration successful?
Evelyn: Going abroad and leaving your family behind can be pretty challenging. Of course it can really be heartbreaking especially for me personally. I have four children, but I think if you have the right mindset, this is the number one priority and what I always tell them, not just the positive mindset but the right mindset. Whether you’re in Hong, Singapore, Malaysia or anywhere else in the world, remember it’s all different compared to our country. We shouldn’t be expecting things to remain the same or have the same expectations we have when we are in our home. Having the right mindset means we must learn to adapt, learn to be flexible, and we need to stay focused on our goal. Why did we leave our family? It’s to give them a better life. Stay on that. Of course even if we stay positive we will face a lot of obstacles and challenges but we still have to remain positive as whatever it is you’re facing it will not last. As what I always say to my students “Tough situations never last, tough people do.” So you just have to toughen up and you’ll definitely succeed. If we have the right mindset and positive attitude, being flexible and focused enough to your goal, only then we can make our migration successful.