Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Filipinas discouraged working as maids

By Nina Muslim, Staff Reporter

(gulfnews.com) Dubai: Filipina housemaids here and elsewhere may become a rarity under a Philippine government directive to reduce the number of its women working as domestic helpers overseas, in a bid to reduce labour problems.

A majority of labour problems the Philippine Overseas Labour Office (POLO) in Dubai handle, involve housemaids who have run away because of unpaid salary, physical abuse, overwork and contractual disputes.

The office is currently in the process of repatriating 30 women, all runaway maids, and 35 more in the future, under a government-sponsored mass repatriation programme.

Antonio Curameng, Philippine Consul General, told Gulf News that they were trying to discourage Filipinas from going abroad to work as domestic helpers as a protective measure.

"Domestic helpers are the most vulnerable to exploitation," he said.

"People are taking advantage of Filipinos' good nature and hard work. If they know how to value the Filipinos, then [the employers] would not mistreat them," he added. He said despite their efforts, the rate of labour complaints received at the POLO office has remained constant.

Substituted contracts

One of the problems related to domestic workers is some sponsors' attempts to cut corners by recruiting Filipinos to do professional and skilled jobs, but giving them a domestic worker's visa instead. Domestic worker's visa, plus expenses and fees, costs Dh2,000, about Dh1,500 less than a regular employment visa.

"Five in the [mass repatriation] batch suffer from substituted contracts, which is why they ran away," Curameng said.

The government is providing alternatives for the women, through the Overseas Workers' Welfare Administration (OWWA), by giving them skills-training to help them secure professional jobs and loans to help them start a business.

The move is the latest in a series of initiatives set by the Philippine government to protect its nationals who seek employment as domestic workers.

On April 1, the UAE and the Philippines agreed to a unified contract for domestic workers, including raising the minimum wage from $200 (Dh734) to $400 (Dh1,468).

Have your say
Do you agree with the new Philippine directive? Do you think it will help reduce labour problems or will only force desperate Filipinas to seek the help of unscrupulous employers?

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Filipina math teacher thrives in the U.S.


The Wichita Eagle

(kansas.com) - Maria Santiago traveled from the other side of the world to teach algebra to South High School student Jacob Hanks. One day last week, they covered midpoints and the Pythagorean theorem. She worked out problems on the board.

"She shows us how to do it, unlike other teachers," Jacob said. "And she's the nicest teacher."

Santiago's classroom is simple and clean, with students' work on the bulletin boards and inspirational mantras about attitudes and challenges hanging on the wall. But the most telling sign is taped on the door, written in marker:

"We the students welcome and thank you for coming to South High."

Santiago is one of 20 Filipino teachers the Wichita district hired last year for difficult-to-fill positions in math, science and special education.

Ed Raymond, the district's assistant superintendent of human resources, and Neil Guthrie, special education and support services division director, traveled to the Philippines in March 2006 to hire teachers as a way to counter the teacher shortage.

Most of the teachers they found had more than three years' experience in an education system similar to the one here.

It's been nine months since the first group of teachers stepped into Wichita classrooms, and for teachers like Santiago, the experience has been one of discovery -- of self and of a new culture.

"This has given me patience and acceptance for learning different types of personalities," she said.

The most significant discovery for Santiago is snow -- driving in it, walking in it and dressing for it.

There's no snow in Manila.

"To drive -- oh, my," she said.

Standing at 4 feet 11 inches, Santiago is shorter than most of her students. And she's shy and always smiling. But when class starts, she seems three times her size.

As a teacher, her biggest adjustment has been learning to take the kids in stride.

"Kids in the Philippines respect teachers a lot," she said. "Here, they speak their minds. I don't take it personally."

In Manila, Santiago was a college professor. She's also a mom of 12- and 9-year-old sons who share a birthday.

Santiago talks to them every day by Web camera. During her children's school year, she would wake up at 5 a.m. to talk with them. Now that they are on vacation, she talks to them at 7 in the evening, which is 8 a.m. here.

She hopes one day to be able to bring them to live with her in Wichita.

"It's just really hard to leave them behind," she said.

During her short time here, she's learned that American kids need attention. They need someone to care.

"If you want them to succeed, you have to show them you care and they do their work," she said.

Principal Cara Ledy said that Santiago's attachment to her students and her innovative way of teaching makes her an invaluable teacher.

"She's done a tremendous job connecting with the kids and showing the importance of math in their lives," she said. "She works hard to help kids be successful in math."

Santiago shares her culture with her students. For example, Dominique Williams didn't know she liked Philippine cookies until Santiago introduced them to her classroom.

She ate half the box.

"They were good," she said in her defense.

The cookies, which are wafers surrounded by chocolate, are a treat in the Philippines.

When she started, Santiago would show her students videos of her homeland that showed the weather and fashion, she said.

Santiago's students hold her in high regard. When she was out two days with a cold, they organized a get-well party.

"She's like the bomb teacher," said student Jessica Roeder.

Raymond said Santiago and the other teachers have been adjusting well. One of them earned the highest score in the state on a math test taken by teachers.

"Many have established strong relationships with faculty and students," Raymond said. "They teach about their culture and enrich the math and special education classes. They love Wichita but miss their families."

The teachers have done so well that Raymond returned to the Philippines in December and offered contracts to 52 teachers.

But as experience showed him last time, he only expects about 42 to make it through the process, which includes securing a visa and obtaining a teaching license from the state.

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