Maids who write prose and poetry
Rolinda Espanola, a domestic worker, was so furious when she read an article about a fellow Filipina starved by her employers about two years ago. Ms. Thelma Oyasan Gawidan when her employers for 15 months restricted her meals to just slices of bread and instant noodles.
The 40-years-old Espanola poured her rage into the impassioned poem Ang Aking Kwento written in the first person what Ms. Gawidan went through. Saying “I wanted to give justice to her.”
She is one of the groups of foreign domestic workers striving to make their voices heard in the local literacy scene.
One of the 31 poems published in Songs From A Distance which is a new anthology of poems from two years of the annual Migrant Worker Poetry Competition is Ang Aking Kwento. Launched at the Singapore Writers Festival on Nov 12, the book includes works by 15 women.
Our Homes, Our Stories is another upcoming anthology with about 30 true-life experiences by maids in Singapore. Expected to be launched on International Women’s Day on March 8 next year, the Migrant worker advocacy group; Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) to produce 2,000 copies of the book is crowdfunding.
While some authors wrote on the horrendous stories of sexual abuse and violence others wrote about less terrific situations where there is need to stand in different corners of MRT train away from their migrant worker boyfriends. They fear locals will broadcast the pictures of them holding hands on social mediate to scorn them.
Ainum, as he would like to be named, is a 32-year-old Indonesian is reported to have been illegally sent to work in her employer’s egg factory to rewash and repackage expired eggs. She had to return to her employer’s house to clean it at the end of each day. Tired of this double life, she was prompted to ran to HOME and consequently returned to her family in Indonesia
Sheena Kanwar, the executive director of HOME, hopes more books on migrant workers’ issues in Singapore can address how badly these workers are treated.
She said, “Agencies see them as a stock that needs to be transported and monitored, and employers see them as machines without a voice, or feelings or presence.”
“We hope that more literature will create better empathy and respect among employers in Singapore towards domestic workers.”
33-years-old Wiwik Triwinarsih, an Indonesian maid, and poet whose book is published in Songs From A Distance said “I want to let my daughter see that her mother is not just a domestic helper. I want her to see that I am so much more.”
There are about 243,000 foreign domestic workers in Singapore as of June, they have had a regularly but greatly marginal presence in local literature, and this is, however, slowly changing.
The Long Road Home: Journeys Of Indonesian Migrant Workers (2011) by Photojournalist Sim Chi Yin is one of the non-fiction books on maids’ lives.
Crisanta Sampang is a notable maid writer who wrote a memoir that spent a week on The Straits Times bestseller list Maid In Singapore (2005). She is now a writer and film-maker in Canada; she is a Philipines who worked in Singapore in the 1980s.
Myrna Eneria and Belen Esposo Repollo who is Filipina just lately got their poetry published with the famous local poets such as Edwin Thumboo and Felix Cheong in “Get Lucky” an anthology about the Filipino community in Singapore.
More maids now have the opportunities to write their stories from the writing workshops at organizations like the Home to the Migrant Worker Poetry Competition whose fourth edition will be held on Dec 3.
A rise from the last year’s 74 entries, this year’s competition has a record entries of 107. And against the male construction and shipyard workers usually dominating, 80 percent of participants this year is women.
Some migrant poets including Espanola read their work as part of the Singapore Writers Festival launch for Songs From A Distance.
34-years-old Rea Maac from the Philippines who is claimed to have been writing poetry from high school was one of the readers. Using the Notes feature on Facebook she composes parts of verse on her phone between chores.
She said, “Some of my friends and neighbors are always being called idiots and belittled by their employers; this is my chance to speak up for them.”
Thanks to supportive employers most of these maids can achieve their aim of being a writer, such as the 52-years-old ship broker Channa Munasinghe, who allows his 25-years-old helper Windu Lestari to spend her days off to go for courses such as creative writing and scribbling stories about religion and love.
He said, “I think it’s fantastic that anyone should want to better herself” “she does all this, and she looks after her family. I’m very proud of her.”