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A Philippine girl shows their lives with photos

Reporter: Barnaby Lo 丨 CCTV.com

06-27-2016 04:08 BJT

Lots of Philippine women are living and working in HK, as domestic workers to help people who are struggling.

I came from a province, from a village. So it’s very different from where I came from. I’m really amazed with the lights, the people, the vibe of the city, it’s amazing. You know Hong Kong is very crowded, it’s always filled with people. So in a way my black and white photographs tend to tone down all this noise, all this craziness on the street, and it focuses more on the person and what’s happening within her.

It was this ability to tame the beast – so to speak – that had the world of photography turning its focus on 29-year old Xyza Cruz Bacani. Sooner than she can realize, her photos of Hong Kong’s streets had already landed on the pages of the New York Times. After US-based Filipino photographer Rick Rocamora found them on Facebook.

"It’s a shock when everyone was like, “Who. A Filipino woman is on the New York Times.” I was like, “What the big deal?” And then they told me, “It’s the New York Times. Every photographer wants to be in the New York Times," Photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani said.

Since then, life couldn’t be more different for Xyza. She was 19 when she first arrived in Hong Kong. Like many Filipinos here, and like her mother, she came to work as a domestic helper. She dropped out of college and took the job because her family needed more support, but she says she never felt burdened by it.

"It’s a moral job. I can eat three times a day. My salary is good. My boss is awesome, so it’s a job,"  Xyza said.

But art was something she always had a fondness for.

"I started when.. 2009 I think, I asked my mother if I can buy a camera, and she told me, this is her exact words actually, "cameras are only for rich people. photography is only for rich people ", and I understand her, because a camera back then cost around 12000 Hong Kong dollar and that’s like 3months salary. But I’m stubborn so I asked my boss, "can I borrow some money, I just want to buy a camera," Xyza said.

The answer was yes. And the rest as they say is history. After catching the world’s attention with photos of Hong Kong, the magnum foundation selected her to become one of its fellows under a scholarship program in New York University.
Now she travels the world doing what she loves.

Barnaby: You’ve been to New York, you’ve been to Abu Dhabi, Geneva I think, you know all these different places. Is this still your favorite city?

Xyza: Yes. Because my mom is still here. I think wherever my family is, that’s where my heart is.

Close to her heart is also how she describes the issues she’s documented so far. In the United States, she tackled human trafficking. Back in Hong Kong, she spent time with abused domestic workers.

In many ways, foreign domestic workers here in Hong Kong are better off than those working in the Middle East, for instance. They get certain benefits here like a minimum wage of about 4,000 Hong Kong dollars. They also get health insurance and they get days off. As you can see, they’re enjoying their day here.

Not everything is what it seems, however. Not everyone can find employers like Xyza’s.
Some of the most unfortunate ones end up here. At the bethune house, which has, for thirty years, been home to abused migrant workers.

37-year old Analyn Ninggala, who’s from the Philippines, ended up here after her employer allegedly cursed her, took her by the arm and dragged her. Before hitting her with a bucket. She didn’t think twice about leaving and reporting the incident to police.

"What if I just let him get away with it? If I didn’t tell the cops, he might have
killed me the next day. I might not be able to defend myself. So even though the case got dismissed, at least I know I did what I could. I proved that not all domestic
workers are stupid," Ninggala said.

Despite what she went thorugh, Analyn is still here, waiting. Until she can find another job in another household.

"If there were only enough jobs in the Philippines, we would not be working abroad, right? Not all people are the same. Not all employers are the same. So who knows? Maybe I’ll find a better one this time around," Ninggala said.

It’s something Indonesian domestic worker Tati isn’t willing to gamble anymore. The memory of her ordeal is etched on her skin. Still burning, still aching.

"She said she lost a bagful of her belongings, including gold. When I told her to ask her son or daughter," she said, “They are rich, they have everything.”

"Don’t talk too much," she said.
Then she poured something hot on me.

I couldn’t avoid it. Before I could stop her,
she’d already done it.

It wasn’t the first time the old lady she was looking after hurt her, she says.
She went to the police, but eventually settled the case with her employer.
"I didn’t want to further complicate things. My son is waiting for me," Tati said.

The woman is quite old.

They said they would pay for everything – my flight
back to Indonesia, medication, everything.

So I decided to take her offer.

It’s one of the reasons she’s asked us not to reveal her identity. She didn’t want her family back home to worry about her.
Because perhaps the most painful part of working away from home isn’t something the eyes can see.

"What if something happens to him and I’m not there? What if I lose him?  But if I did not leave, what kind of life would he have had? Uneducated?

It will be more difficult to see him like that.

So I text him all the time to tell him
how much I care about him,

to remind him to be good, that it’s not easy
for me to be working as a maid here.

Barns: It must be hard for him as well.

My son suffers too just like me.
He is not as well taken care of.

There were times money I sent for him
wasn’t used to buy what he wanted.

So I started sending money directly to him.

It’s something xyza knows all too well… Being the eldest daughter of a migrant worker. Before becoming one herself.

"It's hard to grow up without your mother, I mean without one of your parent. +
I’m the eldest so I need to grow up fast, because I need to take care of my siblings.

Barns: And upon seeing your mom?

There's huge adjustment and we've been through that stage - like I don’t know you, you don’t know me even though you're my mom, I’m your daughter, we don’t really know each other, because she left when I was 8 years old I think or 7.

They eventually got to know each other, and Xyza finally understood what it means to be a migrant worker.
It’s no wonder then that this early in her career, photojournalism took her to bethune house. Where she spent a year following, photographing, and getting to know them.

Barns: What did you learn from the women here, from the women you photographed here?

Xyza: I’ve learned that everyone is the same, we all have dreams, we all have hopes, we all feel sad, we all feel happy. and actually I feel really really, I’m proud of these girls because I don’t see them as victims, I see them as survivors. If you see them laughing, I mean it's amazing.

Amazing is how the project turned out. Just before 2015 ended, Xyza unveiled the photos in a solo exhibit in Hong Kong.
Among the crowd on opening night -- diplomats, academics, students, social workers, and the women of bethune house.

Barns: So what do you think needs to change after doing this documentary?

Xyza: I think the system should change. I know I cannot or we cannot change that tomorrow but slowly, we plant the seeds of awareness to people especially the younger ones. Slowly we change how they look at domestic workers, treat domestic workers as workers and as human beings.

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