Filipina maid Cherry Pie Antaban is training for her new role in order to find a job as a domestic helper in Singapore. Sometimes though, the training feels like sweating through an engineering degree.
Like all women in the Philippines wanting to work overseas as maids, Antaban has to go through a government-mandated crash course in domestic duties that can be bewildering, daunting and occasionally humiliating.
Advertisement"I didn't know there would be so many different techniques just for cleaning. It isn't just sweeping and mopping," Antaban, 30, said during a break recently from Domestic Duties 101.
"We have to know the different types of vacuum cleaners, the different kinds of air-conditioners and how to clean them: the window type, the box-type, the split-type."
Nearly 100,000 women in the impoverished Philippines head overseas each year to toil as maids, many of whom come from homes where washing clothes is done by hand and dishes are cleaned in a bucket.
For Antaban, passing the month-long training course in Manila is the final step in landing a job in Singapore for US$400 a month, nearly six times more than she had been earning as a maid in her hometown in the northern Philippines.
"I want to help my mother and younger sister. They need me to support them," said Antaban, who is unmarried. She said her mother had no work and her sister earnt the equivalent of US$2.70 a day as a waitress.
There is no guarantee Antaban will graduate, with six percent of all students across the country failing the domestic training courses each year, according to the national government's vocational training department.
"Some of the candidates fail the assessment because they cannot operate the vacuum cleaners, the washing machines, the driers," said Lenny Carreon, who is in charge of the department's training courses in two districts of Manila.
"These are women from poor rural areas. They are not familiar with these state-of-the-art household appliances."
A spike in the numbers of Filipinas going abroad to work as maids in 2005 prompted the government to order that prospective maids undergo training before being certified to work abroad.
This was to address concerns that many poorly educated, unprepared women were not able to cope in foreign environments, and Carreon said that the programme had largely been a success.
"The people who undergo training, there is an improvement in their skills and level of confidence. They are more competitive," Carreon said, adding students were taught about foreign cultures as well as domestic duties.
At the training centre attended by Antaban, an instructor devoted half a day to teaching the 50 students how to use a washing machine.
"Separate the whites and the colours. Be very careful. Don't be in a hurry and don't let them mix," the instructor, Charibel Barrios, called out, inspecting each woman's basin to make sure they got it right.
In other parts of the course, the women were taught to cook Chinese meals, clean the house and set tables in a style suitable to the culture of Hong Kong and Singapore, their planned future destinations.
Windows were also wiped clean with squeegees, while beds were made like in a hotel with blankets and even the edges of pillow cases elaborately folded.
On another day, the women were taught to polish the floors on their hands and knees, rather than simply by mopping as Filipinos typically do.
"When we make you kneel down and wipe the floor, we are not punishing you. We are doing this so your employer will not be angry at you," explained Barrios.
Some of the students said the lessons were humiliating, although this too offered an important lesson about their future careers.
"It is painful to have a college degree and then apply as a domestic helper. But I think about my family. I am the one sending my brother and sister to school," said Janet Quiron, 25, a former school teacher.
Quiron said she earnt just 5,200 pesos (US$120) a month as a school teacher, but would make four times that in Hong Kong as a domestic helper.
Quiron's plight is depressingly common in the Philippines, where many give up careers in better-skilled jobs locally to earn more overseas. Over nine million Filipinos, about 10 percent of the population, work abroad.
With more than 96,000 women leaving the Philippines last year to work abroad as maids, domestic helpers are the second largest overseas Filipino workforce behind merchant seamen, according to government statistics.
The top 10 destinations for Filipina maids are Hong Kong, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Singapore, Bahrain, Oman, Cyprus, and Italy.
Annaliza Ambrocio, a former secretary who was attending the Manila training course, said she was planning to join thousands of other Filipinas working in Hong Kong for a second stint overseas after spending two years in Libya.
Ambrocio, 38, said she had to go abroad again because her husband's salary as a gunsmith could not support their family, but she was heartbroken at the prospect of leaving her nine-year-old son.
"He is sad I am leaving him again. But I told him not to cry. I told him when I get back, I can buy all the things he wants," she said, holding back her tears.
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