we are not slaves

Listen in Hyde Park

Listen in Hyde Park


Sound by Phoebe

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Listen in Hyde Park. The nearest underground station with step-free access is Green Park, and buses with ramps stop at Hyde Park. The park has flat paths and benches.

Alternatively, listen when you need help.

This soundwalk contains descriptions of labour abuse including sexual harassment, and family separation.

The Filipino Domestic Workers Association is a volunteer-run, grassroots organisation of migrant domestic workers already in the UK which aim to support, uphold and campaign for the rights, welfare and dignity of MDWs. Kalayaan provides information and support for overseas domestic workers who have experienced exploitation, modern slavery and human trafficking.


Sound of birds singing

 Phoebe exhales.


I chose Hyde Park because when I first arrived in London, my employers used to bring us here with the kids. And I met a group of Filipinos who helped me to run  away from my employers. So it’s quite memorable to me, because I met them here, and that’s why I left my abusive employers. And also, there are a lot of Filipinas who – especially during summer – that are always in this area, in Hyde Park. And we rescued people from this place. So you could find abused Filipinas, you know, talking to them in this area. So, yeah. It is very memorable – not only for me, but to most of the domestic workers that are here in the UK.

Every day, we took the kids here in Hyde Park, near the pond – there. And they were playing, and there was another family, an Arab family with a Filipina maid, behind us. And these Filipinas who lived in London talked to them, and asked how’s the situation – if she’s fine, if she’s alright. And those Filipinas gave her the number to contact if she wanted to run away from her employer. So I also asked them if I could have the number, and if they could help me run away from my employers. So these two Filipinas asked me to go to the toilet, because I wasn’t allowed to talk to people. Every time we are outside, I walked in front of my boss: the boss is at my back so that she could see if I’m talking to people that I met, if I smile to people that I met, especially to Filipinos – so she could see what I am doing. She’s like my bodyguard! She would watch my movements.

So, when these Filipinas asked me to go to the toilet and gave the number, I couldn’t talk to them with eye contact, because the kids would know that I am talking to them, and they would tell their mummy that I am talking to other Filipinos. So I am talking, like, very loudly. They were very far from me. And I said, in our language, “Ok, let’s go to the toilet.” And then they moved – the two Filipinas moved, going to the toilet. So the child that I was looking after asked me “Oh Phoebe, are you talking to them?” and I said, “No, I’m just singing!”

What I did was – because, my employers were in the house when I left – I have to put on my clothes. I have to put on five bras, five underwears, three trousers. I put on five shirts, and a jacket on top of it. That was summer; that was July and it was very hot. Because I couldn’t bring things in a bag, because the receptionist will notice. Because they knew that we are not allowed to go outside. So I was just pretending, I was holding a card, I was waving it to the receptionist that I’m posting it in the nearby mailbox. I only have a handbag, I don’t even have my passport with me by then. I just only have the pen, and that contact number that I’m going to use to call these Filipinos.

As soon as I was out from the apartment, I don’t know which way to go: if I’m going to the right, or to the left, or straight, or back. I don’t know very well – it was like my second week here in London. And we’re not allowed to go out on our own, and we’re not allowed to focus on the streets – so I don’t know where to go. As soon as I found a taxi, I asked the taxi to send me to Bayswater.

I wasn’t given the wages that I had the month before we came here and the month that we stayed here, so I have two months wages left to my employers. The reason is, they don’t want us to run away. They thought that if we’re not given the two months wages then we would stay with them.

Before we came here, I asked my employers if I could get my wages, because my father had a stroke. And they didn’t give me the money. So I didn’t manage to help my family back home. They really needed it badly in the Philippines, and they didn’t give it to me. So, yeah. That’s why I decided to run away.

So what I did, there was another Filipina with me in the family. So every time –every day we went out, we have something to buy for ice cream, or for chips, for our snacks. What we did is, I don’t use the money, I don’t buy anything for me to eat. And if we found like pennies on the road, I kept it. And the lady that worked with me – which is Filipina as well – every time she goes food shopping she will nick like 50p, 25p, she will give it to me. So I earned sort of like £15. So I had money to pay for the taxi.

When I went to Saudi Arabia, I was already 35 years old. And I got married when I was 21 [laughter]. So, I already have four kids when I went to Saudi Arabia. It is because life is so hard in the Philippines, and I couldn’t find a better job with better money so that I could send them to school, or provide everything for them. Before I went to Saudi Arabia, we were poor. So I worked as a street sweeper, and at the same time I continue my studies. So I have my kids then, and I carry on with my studies, working during the day and studying in the evening. So it was quite a struggle, because the money was really, really bad.

So we decided to apply for Japan. Japan, the entertainers were like boom during those days. So I applied for entertainer, and my father disagreed, because there was a Filipina who was killed in Japan by then – she was chop chop by this man in Japan, yakuza and things. So, he disagreed. And then we applied for Saudi Arabia. We have a neighbour – we could see that the life is really good. You know, they have this gold and jewellery and things, so we thought that it would be better, our lives would be better, if we go abroad.

It was hard. First, my father don’t want us to be separated with our children. He believes that we should be living together, even if we don’t eat any more. We are eleven in the family, eleven siblings. But it’s like, I’m a hard-headed person, and my sister. We decided to apply. It was only going to the Middle East that you don’t need to pay for the placement fee. If you wanted to go to Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, you have to have money for the placement fee. And because we don’t have money, and the only countries that don’t ask for placement fee is in the Middle East, so we decided to apply for Saudi Arabia.

So the plan really is, my sister and I applied in one employer. We told the agency that we wanted to be together: just in case something will happen, there’s the two of us, so we can help each other. But it didn’t happen. So, I was given to another employer, and my sister was given to another employer. We can’t do anything.

I arrived in Saudi 2001, 2nd of February. In the beginning, when I was new, the second to the youngest child was really naughty. So I was cleaning – because the house was with glass wall. So I was kneeling on the floor and I was cleaning, and when he saw me cleaning, he just kicked me. So my face was like, on this glass. So I just cried. The mother just said, “Oh, Nayif, that’s bad,” but she didn’t even do anything. She didn’t even scold the child.

My lady boss is always, when we’re in the garden, playing with the kids, she would come up in the house – because it’s one-way glass, so she could see us outside. We couldn’t see her, and she’s watching us. The father, in the house, he’s very formal. He wouldn’t get near to you. But when we are on our holiday, like when we were in Lebanon, the kids, him and I in the lift – so it was like a very small lift in the hotel. So he was like, touching my bum. I just moved slowly, and I didn’t… I was scared. I didn’t scream, I didn’t tell him off, because I was scared, because it was my first time to go abroad.

Your employers would not allow you to be friends with their friends’ maids. Because they don’t… well, in Saudi Arabia you wouldn’t want to run away because you have nowhere to go. But even my employer and her friend’s maids, they don’t want us to chat in one corner. I don’t know, maybe they’re thinking that if we were chatting we would be talking about them, because if they’re talking, they would be talking about us as well! [Laughter]. But, if you see – we call it kababayan. Kabayan! Like, compatriot. So, if you are in the shops, if you say “Hey kabayan, how are you?”, we couldn’t greet them. Especially if the employer is with us. You have to hide, and [whispers] “How are you?”. When you see someone, especially in Saudi Arabia, especially if you came from one place, you thought that you’re very close to each other – it’s like a family. But they don’t want you to be close to anybody.

When I was there in Saudi Arabia, our main communication with the family is writing. And because it’s Saudi Arabia, it would take the reply two weeks. And it’s like three months for the reply to arrive. And they would only allow us to call once a month, for three minutes. Three minutes! And I have my mother, my father, my kids, you know – what can you say with three minutes? Every month, it’s only three minutes. So what we do is, it’s like regular writing. And we took pictures. If we wanted to take pictures, we will wake up really early: like four o’clock in the morning, while they’re still sleeping. Because we couldn’t go outside, we couldn’t take pictures outside! We just go to different parts of the house. We take our clothes and, you know, jewellery and things. And in the sitting room, we change! And pose in the sofa, or on the floor. And then move to another part of the house, we change again. We put on make up! [Laughter]. Just to have pictures. We couldn’t have pictures outside, especially not in the garden, because we were not allowed.

And what we even do, because we were three Filipinas in the family, we borrow the clothes! It’s like, “I’ll wear it, I’ll wear it! And take a picture of me!” and then she will wear mine. And then we will wear high heels. Inside the house! Four o’clock in the morning, while they’re still sleeping. Because we couldn’t do that when they’re awake.

We don’t want them to worry about us. So, we pretend that we’re ok. You know, I still have those pictures of mine. And my kids. Because this time, we don’t send pictures anymore because they can see us on Facebook, Instagram and things. But before, they would make an album. And my youngest daughter would put it under the pillow: “This is my mother!”

I remember, every time I go home, when my mother was still alive, we sit outside. We put the table outside – you know these plastic table and chairs – we put it outside, and people are passing by. They come and bless my mother and my father. And then we sit outside, we eat meriyenda [snacks] outside. Everyone that pass by, my mother knew their story. I told my mother before, when I go home for good, I wanted to sit with you outside, and I know everybody’s story. You know, the village, everybody in the village, she knew their story! [Laughter].

London is my temporary home. It’s temporary. I never call our, where we stay, “home.” House, we call it house. I just realised it now, when you asked about that. I’m just here because I need to work. And I will go home, back to the Philippines, when everything is settled.

I wanted to repay what they’ve done to me, so I wanted to help others as well. Every summer, I took my kids here, in the park. We will sit near the family with a Filipina. And my kids will play with the children, and I’ll talk to the Filipina. The main problem of rescuing is the shelter. And when we moved to a bigger house, and we have space for someone to sleep, even on the floor, sometimes I have three in the house. And then when they’ve got a job they move out, and then we rescue another. There was a time that we rescued three in one day.

But it became better and more organised when we had the organisation, the FDWA [Filipino Domestic Workers’ Association]. Because, before when I helped, and my friends helped rescuing, we don’t know what to do next. Not like this time, we know that after rescuing them we have to channel them to Kalayaan to process their papers, we have to help them find a job, we have to… you know, there is a channeling.

It’s hard to find a job, because you don’t have the visa. And it’s not only the job which is hard to find: it’s hard to rent a room, because they would ask for your passport, for your documentation. It is hard to apply for GP, because they will ask for the visa, and you won’t have free NHS [National Health Service] if you don’t have the visa. So it’s quite hard. So those are the things that we wanted them to understand.

Some people who are… they thought that they were victims of trafficking. But the Home Office wanted to see physical evidence. If you have something they could see on your body that you’ve been abused. They wanted to leave the employer because they don’t want the abuse to happen again when they get back to the country where they came from. But if they don’t have the evidence, the physical evidence, then they will be subject… subject for deportation.

The ILO Convention 189 is the recognition of domestic work as work. Because at the moment, we are not classified as workers. We are classified as part of the family. Other countries ratified the ILO Convention, so we, the domestic workers, wanted to be recognised as workers. So we have the same rights as other workers. Because we don’t, at the moment. Domestic workers who arrived in the UK [since] April 2012 are not allowed to change employers. And we wanted the UK government to bring back the concession, reinstate the concession, because people are coming here to work.

We as domestic workers, we work. And we know that our work is really important. Because how could they go to their jobs if we are not doing their jobs in the house? If nobody is looking after their children, if nobody is washing their clothes, if nobody is looking after their houses. How could you run a house if you are not skilled? How could you look after a child if you are not skilled? There’s always love in whatever you do. So it is skilled work!

So a call to the public, to support our campaign, to support the calls that we wanted to be legal in this country. Domestic workers, we don’t want to be treated as slaves. We want to be treated as human beings.

The sound of the park fades away.