Wednesday, March 12, 2003

pale shelter

Last night, we gave shelter to Jeanne.

We know Jeanne because Sage plays with her charges almost everyday at the playroom on the roofdeck.

Jeanne is the nanny to 3 children ages 1, 2 and 4, as well as the all-around maid for a family that lives in the condo we stay in. Their unit is a studio-type, with less than 30 sqm. A total of 9 people live there - 2 grandparents, 2 parents, an uncle, 3 children and Jeanne. Apart from taking care of the 3 children, Jeanne does everything else, including feeding the grandparents and cooking for everyone. For all this, she is paid P1,000 a month (around US$20). She just turned 17.

Last night, she knocked at our door, weeping, with her single bag of possessions in hand. She was trembling and inarticulate, and my first angry thought was that she'd been harmed. She managed to say that she'd decided to leave because of how they treated her - with words like whips - and how the small sum of money that was her monthly salary was conistenly "borrowed" from her by her employers and paid back in small increments. Of how she slept on the floor with a blanket she bought herself. And how she hardly ate anything, subsisting on water, crackers and air.

Appalled, we took her in for the night, persuaded her to eat and gave her the comfort we could (Sage wanted to wipe her tears away). When I learned that she had absolutely no money, I gave her half her salary - to help her go home to the province or just to have some security against the uncertain tomorrow - which she tried to refuse, horrified by generosity (what a world we live in where such acts can be alien!).

I wish I could hire her myself, but we cannot afford to. So today, one of my helpers will accompany her to the credible and safe agency we patronize, with the hope that she can find new employment. If not, she has to go home.


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