Away from family for 15 years

SINGAPORE - She feels their absence keenly.

Every night, after her chores are done, her thoughts drift back to her husband and daughter in the Philippines.

She requests that we call her Maya instead of her real name as she is worried about the repercussions of talking to the media.

When she started working with her employer in 1999, her daughter was just two years old.

Being separated from her child is profoundly painful, Maya says quietly. For 15 years, she has missed all the milestones in her daughter's childhood.

She has tried to cope in the best way she knows how. During the first four years, she called home once or twice every day using her employer's landline.

That meant a hefty $100 phone bill every month for Maya, who earned $380 a month.

The maid, who is now 50, recalls: "The telephone was like a magnet. Every time I passed by the phone, I felt it calling out to me, telling me to call home."

Her resolve was further tested when she got news that her husband had developed a growth on his neck.

She wanted to drop everything and return home. But she was advised by her mother and another maid to remain here.

She recalls going to church each morning for a month to cry and pray for her husband. His cyst was eventually found to be benign.

About four years ago, Maya saved up enough to buy her family a laptop and has been using her employer's Wi-Fi to Skype them.

She still messages them three to four times a day, making sure that all is well.

Maya's initial plan was to work for two years and save up. But 15 years later, she is still working in the same household.

"I don't have enough savings," says Maya, who claims she has saved only around $5,000.

Her salary has gone towards putting her daughter through private school. The 17-year-old will be in college next year.

She has also spent close to $4,000 buying land back home as an investment.

Maya says she has got a great employer. She gets to see her family every six months in June and December. Her employer pays for her flights there and back.

"If I need to borrow money, I can get an advance of $5,000 from them. They are not stingy," she says.

She claims she has never had an argument with her employer.

But she still feels the longing to go home. She says she may quit five years later, when her daughter is done with school.

She suddenly realises she would be 55 by then.

"Oh God. I hope it will be earlier than that."

Get The New Paper for more stories.