Poetry book to speak up for maids in Singapore

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MyVoice at HOME team meeting. Photo: MyVoice website

An anthology titled Our Homes, Our Stories, consisting of poetry written by foreign domestic workers in Singapore, is set to launch on International Women’s Day on March 8 next year. The writers aim to speak up for their compatriots who work in the city-state.

“If we fell asleep, ma’am would see it the next day on the CCTV and yell at us,” a domestic worker who uses the pseudonym “April Lin” told The Straits Times. She said she and another domestic worker had to stay up overnight to stand by with their employers’ children.

“Ma’am also said ‘I will kill you’ to me,” Lin said.

A total of 2,000 copies of the book will be published by the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME), a Singapore non-governmental organization dedicated to supporting migrant workers. The book features real-life accounts by maids in Singapore, some of whom had horrific experiences with sexual abuse and violence.

The poems in the book were first written by the domestic workers in their home languages and then translated into English by MyVoice, a team of HOME volunteers, including Karien van Ditzhuijzen, a Dutch expatriate freelance writer and creative-writing teacher.

Sheena Kanwar, HOME’s executive director, said she hoped more literary works would address how employers in Singapore dehumanize domestic workers, adding that there should be empathy and respect between them.

The new book follows a similar publication titled Songs from a Distance, which was published by Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), a migrant worker group.

The new publication includes works written by 15 domestic workers who were winners of two annual Migrant Worker Poetry Competitions.

Among the poems is “Ang Aking Kwento” (literally “My Story”) by Filipino Rolinda Espanola, who wrote it as she felt angry after reading an article about compatriot Thelma Oyasan Gawidan being starved by her employers. “I wanted to give justice to her,” Espanola said.

Rea Maac, another Filipino domestic worker, said she and her friends were continually belittled by their employers. “This is my chance to speak up for them,” she said.

Wiwik Triwinarsih, an Indonesian maid, wrote her poem titled “Rindu” (literally “Missing You”) in a bid to tell her daughter that she can achieve more than just being a domestic worker.

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