One worker’s sad story
2018-03-01 16:20:00 -


Mariaam Bhatti: Tales of a Domestic Worker

If there is one controversial world leader among many others, even besides Donald Trump, it is President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. His stance on how to end criminal activity is cruel, considering how many young people who are poverty stricken have been widely affected by his shoot-to-kill orders for anyone suspected dealing in drugs. 


I don’t know the man but I take issue with anyone who doesn’t value another’s life and think they have a right to take it without addressing the root cause of the problem which seems, to me, to be poverty. 


It is not a crime to be poor, neither it is hereditary, but yes, poverty is mostly inherited unless an intervention happens. This doesn’t mean all poor people do or should resort to crime to earn a living. It simply means that desperate people, whether to get by or to put food on the table, are likely to be easy to exploit or to steer towards ‘other’ means of income.


However, one thing I liked about this president’s speech directed at Kuwait, after the body of a Filipino domestic worker was found in a freezer over a year after she was murdered, was the part that went: “Can I ask you now just to treat my countrymen as human beings with dignity?” He went on to ask what kind of an animal one has to be to kill another human like that, which I completely agree with. Who tortures their worker and stuffs them in the freezer like they are some meat? It is heartbreaking to comprehend.


I started reading different stories to try to understand this young woman who had such a horrific death. Her name was Joanna Daniela Demafelis; she was a young woman with dreams like all of us. Articles say she had started working as a domestic worker in Manila when she was 16, soon after she completed secondary school. It seems later when she found out from others that she could earn more money overseas, she convinced her family it was the right thing to do.


It made me even sadder to imagine what was said to be her last call home before she stopped making contact in 2016. Apparently her family assumed she had stopped sending money home because she was saving. It was also reported that her younger sister remembered her saying when they last spoke: “Just study hard, finish school so we can help mama and papa.” I found it hard to hold my tears back. Even more heartbreaking was to picture her family gathered “in the unfinished house she wanted to help them build,” as told by CNN.


Amid this entire sad end to a young hopeful life, the response by the Philippines government has been a blanket ban for Filipino domestic workers from going to Kuwait for work. While I understand this is an emotional decision and effort to send a strong message to the country involved, I just wonder how this will help many ordinary people who are living in poverty who see any job opportunity as a ticket out of poverty. It also takes away opportunity from those employers that are kind to their workers and want to see them succeed in life. 


We need to continue raising awareness that domestic workers and all others in low-paid work particularly should be treated with dignity and respect like everyone else.


My prayers are with Joanna’s family this International Women’s Day.


Mariaam Bhatti is a member of the Domestic Workers Action Group and Force Labour Action Group of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland.



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