On helping hands and how we hold them…


I wrote this almost two months ago in response to a well-written article by my cousin, Nicole, on “Living At Home With Inequality” (which was in turn inspired by The New Yorker’s “Cost of Caring” piece about lives of overseas domestic helpers from the Philippines, leaving their families behind to care for someone else’s). Having moved back to my “expat” life in Indonesia with a new baby in tow, a larger apartment, and full-time work (for us both) looming in the horizon, I was forced to seek more help for my household. Up until this point, my husband and I had a one bedroom flat, and a cleaner we paid to come twice a week to help a little here and there. Now, we suddenly needed more: someone to help us out, and somebody to provide governess/nannying duties for our infant. In our search for a nanny, I came across 2 shocking truths:

1. Expat VS Local: On every forum, I heard time and again about the “Expat” vs “Local” rates. That is to say, the expat rate is at or above minimum wage, and the local rate is below it. *Note: This doesn’t mean locals never pay the minimum wage, and expats always pay above, this is just what it is called. A stereotype, if you will.

2. The loosely thrown around “diva” term: Domestic helpers who know their rights and demand they be honored are seen not as empowered or educated, but “spoiled” and “difficult.” A lot of people call them “divas” with superiority complexes. On one forum, I saw someone explain this away saying “maids get different rules than what’s written”. And in one conversation, I had a fellow mom tell me “maids these days are so entitled. They actually want weekends off. And overtime too.”

I write this not to shame anyone, but to genuinely ask: Have we really become so desensitized so as not to see these people as equals? And if the laws really are different and the rights afforded really are fewer, WHY? Our nanny receives just pay, weekends and public holidays off, and overtime. When an expat stay-at-home mom heard this, she scoffed at the “spoiled” behavior, lamenting the loss of the “way it used to be”. Her reaction felt like a rude awakening to me. Though this nanny is my employee, I see her as an expert in her field. She’s had 15 years of work experience with babies, and has 3 children of her own. When I am away at work all day, or when my husband and I have calls that go beyond dinner time, we can rest assured knowing our baby is well-fed, and well-cared for with her around. From her I have learned how to change a pull-up diaper, cut and file my baby’s nails, and preserve heated breast milk so it doesn’t go bad in case he doesn’t want to finish the whole bottle in one go — all of which are skills I, these days, hold in equal to or higher regard than those I need to complete my tasks in the office. In the corporate world, the equivalent version of her resume might earn her travel allowances, stock bonuses, and a six-figure salary, and in reality no work I have ever done can compare to the challenge of mothering. So how can we possibly see those we leave at home with our babies as lesser than those a company chooses to tend to their marketing campaigns?

I understand there are some differences here: a corporate worker generally has invested X amount in education, seminars, and a plethora of other accolades to “beef up” that resume. So I’m not saying nannies need the same salary. What I’m saying is, beyond the money (which is dictated by the market) why do we balk at at least affording the same amount of respect?  And why don’t we feel comfortable when they expect fair wages, fair hours, and fair treatment?


Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3 ESV)

This is honestly just the tip of the iceberg. Though we may employ our help as such now, I am not myself exempted from the side effects of being shielded from living in the daily duality of my environment and circumstance versus that of those who help us live comfortably. This is an uncomfortable truth that perhaps there is no clear solution to, as the circumstances in which one is born or raised happen not by choice. However, I think small steps of progress can be made in humanizing the people who serve us daily, empowering them and valuing their work justly. We can start by paying them fair wages, honoring their rights as people, and acknowledging them as equals.

Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach wellIf God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. (Romans 12:3-10 NLT)

One thought on “On helping hands and how we hold them…

  1. Pingback: 2016 In Review – foster & fit

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