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Out of the Shadows: 1982-1998: Angie

There comes a point in our lives when we just take the plunge. I was 24 when I left the Philippines for the Middle East, out of sheer curiosity. The opportunities that the “desert life” was offering during that time were very tempting. The Kuwaiti Dinar was at an all-time high, and that was more than enough for anyone to give in.

With the help of my friend’s colleague, I was able to land a job in Kuwait as a nanny. I got there in a breeze, with my visa arriving in less than a month. I came during the sweltering summer in the season of Ramadan. I was completely culture shocked. I had with me my hopes and fears. I must say this woman who helped me get to Kuwait with her all support and kindness, she’s more like a family to me. And up to now, we’re still working together. In due time, I managed to learn the Arab ways – their culture, styles, way of living and even the climate. I worked there for almost a decade. Things were working out fine – or at least that’s what I thought.

August 1990. The horrifying news of Iraq invading Kuwait broke out. It didn’t sink in to me at first, with my boss’ family insisting that things would simmer down in a week. They had complete trust with the government, with money doing the talks to end the conflict. Then came the American forces and joined in the fray.

Days passed by and soon after a month, all hell broke loose. Iraq started bombing Kuwait, launching airstrikes side by side. People were taken from their houses and slaughtered mercilessly. Our neighbour suffered an ill-fate with the whole family getting butchered. I feared for my life. You cannot afford to go out because Saddam’s forces were lurking around the area. It was getting more tragic each day. Besides the fear and the panic, food was getting scarce. We were lucky enough to eat at least once a day.

I cannot imagine the trauma I’ve gotten myself into. So me and my Filipino friends decided to flee, with the Philippine Embassy being the safest place that could salvage our survival. I was fortunate that my boss was able to take me there.

We spent the whole night at the embassy; waiting for a ride that will take us to the Iraqi border, from there we can cross to Jordan and hopefully get out of the war zone. I heard news of women getting raped, foreigners getting snatched and many others getting killed. I believe that was the darkest times of my life. But through the ordeal, I knew that my prayers were my most powerful protection. Thank God I was able to escape.

I left Kuwait via Jordan during the last week of October in 1990. It was a total struggle for me. There was no food with little water at the campsites. My thinking was that I had a 50/50 chance of making it alive. Luckily, the Red Cross was there to spare us some food, water and blanket. From Jordan, I boarded a commercial flight for Singapore. And from Singapore, I had to wait for a private airline to take me home to the Philippines because our government just could not afford sending another jumbo plane to fetch all those who were stranded.

When I finally returned home my family was completely and utterly shocked. They had no idea that I was coming home. But I also got the biggest shock of my life because I learned that my father had died. I did not have a clue about it because I was fighting for my own life in the desert, with no communication whatsoever from them. My world came crashing down at that point, with all the trauma and emotion running its peak.

After a year, when the war finally cooled down, my boss wanted me to go back. And in 1991 I decided to return even if the takeaway was small. I was in total disbelief seeing how the war had ravaged Kuwait.

During that time my employers decided to spend the holidays on a European trip, myself included. With domestic workers receiving measly salaries and getting maltreated by most employers, that’s when I decided to bail out. Besides, it’s been ten years and I still hadn’t received any increase in my salary. So I decided to take the risk. I packed my bags and left my employers. But they had my passport so it was a big gamble for me to escape. It was a bittersweet decision because I had grown to love the kids that I was looking after…

I found myself in the streets of London with brand new fears for my life. Luckily, I got to know some Filipinos who were helping fellow Filipino escapees mostly from where I came from. I registered and joined Kalayaan. At the same time I landed a job in a private household even without a work permit.

Every Sunday I would visit the Commission For Filipino Migrant Workers Centre to offer assistance to unauthorised migrant domestic workers. We campaigned to have our rights upheld and coordinated with other organisations to push forward with the same goal. It took us many years of struggle to fight for what we believed in regarding the rights of migrant workers.

I served as one of the officers of the Waling-Waling organisation. I worked devotedly for the campaign and even rallied in Downing Street together with six people. When I received my papers, I was sent to Belgium to attend an important meeting on migrant domestic workers.

In 1997, after years of countless struggles and with the support of dedicated people, the UK government finally granted domestic workers like us the right to change employer and the right to settle in the UK. It served as one of the biggest highlights of my life.

I also got my legal papers in the process. From then on, I worked to improve myself. I attended trainings, worked for a hospital, did further studies and paid my taxes. Simultaneously, I was doing some voluntary work for an elderly friend. I pushed myself and was able to improve my life. I was then able to go home to the Philippines to spend my vacations. I was finally seeing the fruits of all my hard work.

Currently, I’m a British citizen working in a private clinic in London with well-known celebrities as clients. I am the lead for clinical preparation and standard in the nursing department. I pay my own taxes and do not rely on the government for any financial support.

Indeed, Filipinos have a tremendous work ethic. We are truly hardworking and dedicated to our craft. That’s the secret of our survival and success.

This is my story, from terror to hope.

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