Marifel: The Woman Who Left Her Children Behind to Look After Mine

Women who sacrifice a lifetime with their families to find work overseas deserve respect, but they don’t often get it.

Domestic workers keep Singapore ticking and in return,
they get very little back.

Getting Daen and Juno ready for a swim. Marifel has worked for 11 years in Singapore and is moving to Hong Kong in August. (Photo by Tom White)

This trip is slightly different in that Marifel is travelling back with her employer: me.

We lived in a condo in Singapore called The Aberdeen, which is in Boon Keng, just off Serangoon Road. (Photo by Tom White)

I have asked myself this many times over the last few years: how do you tell your children that you’re going away when you don’t know when you’ll be coming back?

Paper planes in flat No.11 (Photo by Tom White)

The agent we dealt with to bring Marifel into our home was, in some small way, responsible for shaping that attitude. “To some local families, domestic workers are treated like furniture,” she told us, “but the years they spend with them are good training… and eventually they will ‘graduate’ to an expat family like you.”

In the age of Lean In and the global movement to empower women, how does Singapore — the wealthiest nation on earth, where they are currently trialling driverless car technology — still justify its approach to labour rights
for women like Marifel?

How can a government so rigidly focused on building a city of the future, be so obtuse towards the people who work to support that growth?

“The sufferings and afflictions that we encounter are not signs that everything is over, they are signs that God has prepared something better for us and he was just giving us a choice on which path to take. There are no impossible dreams, there’s nothing that we can’t achieve. All things are possible to those who trust and believe.”

Writer & producer based in Amsterdam. Stories for NYT, Independent & Penthouse. I write about people, life experiences, the everyday. Twitter: @robwriting