Like hundreds of thousands of other women searching for ways to feed their families, Marie Alojera (not her real name) left her native Philippines to find work in the Gulf. She moved to Qatar when she was 23 years old to earn money to feed and educate her family after her father was murdered.
During periodic trips home, Marie eventually got married and had a baby in the Philippines in 2005. But shortly thereafter, Marie made the difficult decision to leave her daughter with relatives and return to Qatar to continue her job as a domestic worker.
This week, Marie spoke to Doha News’ Lesley Walker about what it’s like to leave your own child behind and travel thousands of miles to look after someone else’s family.
I was in the Philippines for nearly a month over Christmas and New Year this year, visiting my daughter who is growing up so quickly – she will be 11 next month. The last time I saw her, she was just eight.
At the end of the holiday, I had to leave our house very early in the morning, to catch the bus to the airport. It was 4:30am and my daughter was already up, sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for me to go.
I saw she wanted to talk to me, but she couldn’t. We said goodbye and she was crying.
It gets harder and harder every time to leave her. I want to close my eyes so I can’t see her when I go out the door.
She didn’t tell me at the time, but when I got back to Qatar and was unpacking my bag, I found a note from her. She’d hidden it inside the pocket of my bag.
It said: “I miss you mommy. I love you, I don’t want you to go.”
Now that she’s older, in a way it’s worse because she knows the hurt when I leave her. I almost feel that I don’t want to go to see her for another five years, because it’s too hard when I go.
‘Too small to leave’
I’ve been back home five times since I first had to leave my daughter in May 2005, when she was just three months old. I left her in the arms of my mother to come back to Qatar.
That was the saddest day. My body felt too heavy for me to walk. She was too small to leave.
After I got back, I would call my mother every day to find out how she was. I couldn’t sleep, I missed her too much.
The worst times were when she was sick and I was very far away. I didn’t know what was happening and I couldn’t be there to look after her.
I went home when she was one year old. She didn’t want to come to me. She didn’t know who I was, and she was scared.
When I visited her the next year, she was talking and she was calling me “mummy,” which was wonderful. But I would take her to places and she would say: “I want Lola.”
Lola means “grandma.” That made me feel very heavy. I wanted to cry.
I’ve been in Qatar 22 years now. I came when I was 23. One night my father was stabbed to death by one of our relatives in the little grocery store my parents ran in our town.
I had no choice. I knew I had to go outside of the Philippines to find work. I had my mother, two younger sisters and a younger brother to look after. They were still going to school, and my family really needed the money for food and school, because you have to pay for school in the Philippines.
Really, I wanted to stay, but although I had finished school, I didn’t go to college so I wouldn’t have gotten a good job – I would only have been able to work in a supermarket or as domestic staff in the Philippines.
The salaries there are low and I knew I could get triple if I went abroad. Although my salary in Qatar is modest, it’s the same as a professional teacher in the Philippines.
Through an agency, I found a job in Qatar working with a Qatari family. My mother cried when I left, and I was so homesick when I first got here. I had never left the Philippines. I cried every night at first, but my employer’s family was kind and I gradually got used to life here.
I worked with the Qatari family for nine years until I got married, then they said they would give me an NOC to find a European family because it wasn’t appropriate for my husband to come to visit me at their house.
I was very close to them, particularly the children. Now they are grown up and have their own children. I still see them every Eid – I go to have dinner at their house and they are like my own family.
Since then, the families I’ve worked for have all had young children in the house. Mostly, I feel so happy. The kids are like my own and when I am away or they go on holiday, l really miss them.
It makes me sad when I hear their parents getting angry with them, because I miss my daughter so much, I never get angry with her.
Christmas is hard. I see all the presents the children get and I wish I could afford to buy nice things like that for my daughter.
I don’t feel jealous, I just keep hoping for a blessing, that one day I will have some extra money to buy good presents like these.
It has been a very big sacrifice for me, being far away from my daughter while she is growing up. I haven’t been there to look after her every day – to make her food, run her bath or wake her up in the mornings. I can’t do these simple things for her that a mother should do for her child.
I’ve done this for her future. She’s one of the top students in her class. I want her to be the top two every year. I want her to go to college and get qualifications so she can get a good job.
She’s studying hard without me, she is good at sports and she is president of her class. I’m proud of her.
But I want to go home soon to be with her, maybe in a few years. My mother is old now – she’s 73 and she has health problems. When she gets sick, I worry. Who is making food for my daughter? Who is washing her clothes?
I am saving up to have some money to finish off my house in the Philippines and to buy a rice farm, so I will have a small income to support my daughter through college.
If I hadn’t come to Qatar, my family would have been very poor. Maybe I could have bought some basic food, but nothing extra.
This holiday, I saw one of our neighbors eating some bread and drinking Coca Cola for their Christmas meal. They couldn’t afford anything else. That would have been us too, if I had stayed in the Philippines.