Sara’s Story

I am from the Philippines and we are ten siblings. I am the eldest and I saw the hardness of my parents’ situation from the beginning. I saw how my siblings, even at a very young age – six or eight months – instead of drinking milk were drinking water with sugar in order to survive.

It came to my mind, early on, that I didn’t want this to happen again, to my future family. We could see our neighbours eating, and I could see my siblings just watching them eat. And even as children – we knew we were starved. It’s very hard to watch someone eating while you are starved.

We didn’t own our homelot, we just lived on it. And we lived in the mountains – with a rubber plant beside the house. We lived just in one room, just using one mattress. And one day the rubber plant died – I think because an animal had eaten it or something similar. But the owner of the homelot came to ask about it. At the time, my youngest sister, just nine years old, was the only one in the house and he asked her who had killed his rubber plant. She was innocent, she just said that she didn’t know. So the man came back with an axe, used to cut the wood, and he said to her: ‘Answer me or else I will bring out your intestines’.

We were all working at the farm at that time, so we weren’t around. But as soon as we got home, my sister told my father directly what had happened. I saw my father’s face at that moment, when he was told what that man had said to my sister. You know when you are tired, you are hungry, and then you hear how easy it is for someone to kill your child. So I saw his face. I saw the tears of my father, I saw them drop down and then I felt, I felt I must do something. I should do something.

You know when you are tired, you are hungry, and then you hear how easy it is for someone to kill your child…

Starting that day, we decided to move from that house. We decided we’d go somewhere else, even though we didn’t know where to go. And my father didn’t know. And I started that day to tell myself to study, so that at least my life – and my family’s standard of life – could maybe someday be changed.

So I studied. The high school I graduated from was two hours walk from our home and in that distance, you have to cross a river. And one time it happened that me and my auntie and my siblings – there were four of us – we crossed the river all together. We did that walk every day. But on this one day, the flow of the river seemed normal before suddenly it wasn’t, the flow became big and we began to sink. I threw myself every which way to catch my auntie and I saved the four-year-old, I caught her. And the other one – I caught her also. But the last one I didn’t catch and she died.

But it didn’t become a hindrance. I still wanted to struggle to study, because I had a dream. In that situation – going to school without lunch and pocket money, I didn’t mind it. I went to school and I didn’t have a notebook – the first day I went to school and I just borrowed from my classmates because my father couldn’t provide it. But I did graduate. I graduated from high school but my father wasn’t able to send me to college, so I applied as a saleslady, any job which I could get within a two hour drive by jeep from my home.

It didn’t become a hindrance. I still wanted to struggle to study, because I had a dream…

One time I worked as a saleslady in a bakery. But after about three or four days, they found out that I am Muslim. So that day, the manager of that bakery called me into the office and she accused me of stealing – that bakery was cash in hand and she said some of the cash was missing. So she calls me into the office, gives me my four or five days salary and tells me to leave. So I said that that was fine, that she could fire but could she please give me a reason? And she said she was sorry, the owner of the bakery is such and such and we never hire Muslims. So I said “okay, thank you so much” and I left.

I also applied to work in a grocery but they asked for my references and also found out I was a Muslim. So starting that day, I always tried to hide my religion.

And while I worked, I applied for a scholarship – because our government gives certain scholarships to indigenous people. You take an exam and if you pass the exam, you can get the scholarship and attend college. So after three years of working, luckily, I passed the exam and I was so happy. I told myself: ‘This is the best opportunity, I should do my best, this is my chance’. The money didn’t cover everything. So I also helped some of the students who were less high-level with their assignments and they gave me a little money each month in exchange.

It took me about four years but then I graduated. And of course, my parents were so proud of me. They expected so much of me after that. I was also confident of myself, to be honest in college, I had always been top of the class. I had promised myself that I would do my best so I always worked. And after I graduated, I confidently applied to a call center because I knew I was a degree holder then. But they simply replied to me that they were sorry but they weren’t hiring a Muslim. I said to myself: ‘I am a degree holder, if I can’t be accepted into a call centre, what about the others?’

It took me about four years but then I graduated. And of course, my parents were so proud of me. They expected so much of me after that…

So then, I plan. My course was in international relations, so at least I had some idea of the world. And my friend tells me which agency to apply to. I really didn’t want to go to the Middle East. I’d heard a lot of stories of how it was for girls like us there. I knew that if I applied as a domestic worker, everything would be free, all my travel and documents. But the agency was only deploying to Saudi Arabia.

They arranged everything for me. Like accomodation, transportation, my passport. I didn’t have to do anything. After everything was arranged, we went to Manila, which was the main centre of the agency. And we stayed there for three months living in accomodation provided by the agency. It was very crowded, there were no pillows, no mattresses, no anything. It was just a bunk bed. But there was free breakfast – one cup of rice and some fish. No lunch and you were expected to provide your own dinner. I hadn’t expected that – I hadn’t expected what happened to me in Manila.

I was in Manila for three months. And during that time, I removed my scarf. I didn’t want anyone to hear about where I was from – Mindanao. Because Mindanao is not a good place – there are bombs, killers – and if people hear you are from there, they won’t want to speak to you. Even though it is a generalization. So it’s terrible, especially if you’re a Muslim. If you are in Manila – Manila is the capital city – they will avoid you. So I removed my scarf. I looked like a normal Christian, wearing a T-shirt and things like that and there was no discrimination.

So after three months, I am so happy, because I receive the go-ahead. The agency told me the flight would be the next day. I was so excited. It was the first time and I didn’t know what to expect. I read my contract and I agreed to it. I expected, then, that what was on my contract, would happen. Before we flew to Saudi Arabia, the agency gave us orientation and they told us that if there were any problems while we were abroad, we shouldn’t call them because it wasn’t their obligation to look after us. But I thought that I had read and agreed on a contract and the contract was reasonable, so it should be okay.

It was the first time and I didn’t know what to expect. I read my contract and I agreed to it. I expected, then, that what was on my contract, would happen…

But when I got to Saudi Arabia, the contract didn’t really hold. I was servicing different families, all somewhat connected to my employers. I thought I would just be a domestic worker to my employer, but I was always being told to go to other families. ‘Oh you should give your services to her because she’s our sister or the the neice or the nephew’. My employer had ten siblings and each sibling had sons and daughter.

In that situation, you don’t know where you will start work, you don’t know what to do, there’s no instruction – you don’t know where your work will be coming from each day. That was my rotation every day. I didn’t know when I would get to eat or sleep.

But when my direct employer passed away, the situation became even worse. I would work 24 hours without sleep or food. In three years employment with that Saudi family, I didn’t get a half-day off. I forgot myself. I was alive but my soul was dead.

But I couldn’t back out. If I did, I would have to pay the agency back. I also worried that if I backed out, I would get deported and then I didn’t know what would happen to my family. What would happen to them? How would they afford enough to eat? So I tried to keep going, always to be polite, to do the best for myself because I really needed the money.

But the better I became, the more they abused me. If you do not stand up for yourself, it just gets worse. You are cleaning, you are taking care of the kids, and you are servicing up to ten families at a time. If they are watching TV and their phones are in front of them, even then, they will ask you to give their phones to them. You are doing everything, everything…

At that point, I was thinking to myself that I had to escape. I couldn’t survive there. I didn’t want to go mad because of how alone I was every day. I was upset and anxious every day because if I made a little mistake I worried they would get angry and attack me. I didn’t have any peace of mind.

You are cleaning, you are taking care of the kids, and you are servicing up to ten families at a time.

One day, when we were on vacation in Dubai, my employer asked me where her ring was. She told me I needed to find it. She said: ‘Do you know how much that ring is worth? It’s three million!’ And I thought, if I lost it, how could I ever pay three million back? After seven days, I am crying and praying that I will find the ring. And we simply found it in one of her bags.

My employer brought me everywhere with her. Once, we were in one of the many airports and I asked my manager if I could go to the bathroom. She let me go but she asked her son – her 20-year-old son – to come with me, to watch me, to make sure I wasn’t doing anything. He waited for me in front of the toilet. So I didn’t have any privacy, even going to the toilet. They didn’t trust me.

When we came on vacation to the UK, they hired a nanny to work with them. I was the only employee and the family was about nine and I was the only one working. So they hired a nanny. And one of my jobs was to order food for the nanny. She was Spanish. And she asked me if I’d eaten too and I said I hadn’t. I’d been in the UK by that time a few weeks and I had only eaten dinner twice. The hotel gave a packaged breakfast and I would save the muffin from breakfast and eat it for dinner later.

He waited for me in front of the toilet. So I didn’t have any privacy, even going to the toilet. They didn’t trust me…

They think they are paying you but to be honest, even if they had paid me three times my salary, I wouldn’t work for them again. Because you forget yourself, you just work. You’re afraid of how they will treat you if you are three minutes late to something. You don’t have a good day, it doesn’t happen. You will be depressed the whole day.

They didn’t think I needed rest or food. But even a machine needs gasoline.

To be honest, what I’ve experienced that kills the domestic worker is being alone and verbally abused. In terms of food, in terms of job, I’ve got to say I can survive. But without talking to someone – and they prohibited me from talking to my family…

The nanny helped me escape while we were both working for them in London. I had £20 in cash and the nanny told me where she would meet me. So I left the hotel and I used the cash on a taxi. As soon as I got inside the taxi, I laid down on the back of the taxi. I told the driver I was just really tired but I was pretending – I was afraid that if my employers saw me, they would catch me.

When I got to the place the nanny had told me to meet her, I was worried, because I didn’t have a UK sim card. We had just been chatting on whatsapp when I had the hotel’s wifi. But now I didn’t have any. So I went to a policeman who was there and I asked if I could please borrow his phone to call a friend. I was worried – maybe the nanny was just playing with me. Maybe she’d taken a screenshot of my messages and showed it to my employer? I didn’t know her – she didn’t know me! I decided I just had to trust her. What choice did I have?

I was worried – maybe the nanny was just playing with me…

The guard didn’t let me use his phone. So I asked him where there was a public phone I could use and he said there wasn’t one nearby. He could see then that I was panicking. So he relented and told me where to stand near him so I couldn’t run and he gave me his phone to borrow. But I didn’t know how to use it, I didn’t know how to call her so he gave me instructions: ‘It’s not like that, it’s like this’. In the end, I gave him the number of my friend and he called her for me. As I was calling her, she came up behind me and she gave me a hug. I was so thankful…

That was eight months ago – in September 2018. Since then, other domestic workers have helped me find places to stay and places to work. If I am honest with my heart, I really want to stay in London. It’s because if I will go home, I don’t know what will be happen to me there. I should say that even in a bakery, I am not acceptable, being a Muslim. So I’d like to stay here, but I don’t know what will be my future here, because it’s really hard to work – to find a job – especially because when they know that you are trafficked. To be honest, I encountered an employer here who found out that I am a traffic and then he abused me more. He didn’t pay my salary and I worried about becoming homeless without money.

Now my wish is to have work here and be able to support my family, especially the financial education of my siblings because I don’t want them to experience what I have experienced. I hope also that going forward, I will be able to act and think normally, as I did before, when I lived in my country and there were no fears, worries, or shocks and I had peace of mind.