My youngest sister bought a set of children’s books from Unicef recently. The series is called “Children First!”, and the goal is to share about children’s rights.
It’s Sunday again, and you know what that means: I’m posting another Asian book for my 52 Children’s Books by Asian Authors challenge. This week, I’d like to share about Yaya Niya, Nanay Ko, which in English means His/Her Nanny, My Mom.
As the title implies, this story is about a child whose mother is someone else’s nanny. So what is it like to be a full-time nanny’s daughter?
The story begins with a young girl looking outward, and on the next page is her mother tending to another little girl.
It’s easy to see the dissatisfaction in the face of the narrator, a young girl, who despises the fact that her mother has to tend to another little girl, most likely her own age, instead of her.
The other little girl’s name is Anne May, and her mother basically does everything for this little girl that she should be doing for her.
Her mother has been taking care of Anne May since she was a baby. They not only share the same bed in the same air-conditioned room, but do practically everything else together. She lives, breathes and raises Anne May while her daughter is at home, without a mother. This has been going on for five years.
In those five years, the daughter has only seen her mother thrice. But whenever she comes home, her mother comes home bearing lots of gifts for her and her grandmother, her guardian.
But her mother cannot stay long. And when it’s time to go back to her employer, she returns to Anne May and leaves the narrator with her grandmother, who has been taking care of her.
In the time that her mother has gone, she has learned to take care of herself. But when her mother finally comes home for good, she shares that even after learning to do everything by herself, she still needs her mother.
I mean, really, who doesn’t?
A Nanny’s Story
On our previous trips here to Manila, I hired a nanny to help me care for my kids. On my previous trip here, my nanny shared with me a story.
I had hired her through an agency, and when she heard my voice from the other end of the line she had assumed that I was a Filipino. So right after arriving at my house she was very surprised to discover I was actually Chinese. She had heard negative stories about Chinese employers, but I’d like to believe that at the end of our month together that I had changed her mind.
My nanny had a lot of stories to share: from her experiences with the kids she used to take care of, her former employers, and even her love life. Listening to her stories were sometimes amusing, and she had a lot of funny stories to share. But it was sad how she had to sacrifice much of her life because of her job.
And I use the word sacrifice because I know that there is some general truth to what she had shared. In Manila, stay-in nannies earn between 100 USD to under 300 USD per month. In Beijing, they earn between 130 USD to 600 USD, depending on their skill level. Personally, I think that the situation in Beijing is much better because stay-in nannies are allowed to go home during special holidays. Depending on the employer, this isn’t always the situation in the Philippines, and even then helpers and nannies don’t get overtime pay when they work on holidays. Sometimes they are not even allowed to return home during those special occasions.
One sad story that my previous nanny had shared was how she is almost 40 and will probably never marry. She is what we call a career yaya (nanny), which means she has spent so much time being a nanny that she never really had the opportunity to have a love life. It is generally highly discouraged for yaya’s to have a boyfriend, and since they don’t go home often enough anyway (usually one or two days off a month) there’s really little to no chance to meet other people. The general rule is to not hire a yaya who’s too old, or one who’s too young. Yaya’s are also sometimes expected to take care of the children round-the-clock without a fixed break, and when they do take a break they are sometimes called “lazy”.
And so the nanny raises someone else’s child and pours all the love she has into that child. For a monthly pay that probably costs just as much or even less than one big birthday party, the nanny continues to raise someone else’s child only to be dismissed one day when she’s not needed anymore.
By that time, it’s no surprise if the nanny is too old to date, have children or have anyone else to rely on but herself.
But if no one takes her in again, then where does the nanny go?
In that sense I admire China for making many holidays mandatory, or if not mandatory at least helpers here have more inklings of their rights. I hope that one day, our government can also protect the Philippine-based nannies who lose the chance to have their own families or raise their own children just because of a “job.” And for the moms who work to the bone for the future of the children they rarely see, I hope that one day, the rights of all children—including poor ones—can also be respected and given a fighting chance. I hope for a more progressive Philippines, not just for those who can afford but also for the rest of the people.
P.S. I’ve been looking for a children’s book about nannies for a while, but haven’t been able to find one. So I was naturally surprised to discover this book today, on exactly Labor Day. The rights of helpers is something I’ve been wanting to discuss for awhile, but haven’t really had the time and opportunity. So, I’m calling this serendipity.
Thank you very much for reading my story. This Labor Day, please remember as well those who were not born into wealth but still work hard in the hope of a better future for their loved ones and themselves. 🙂
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