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When The Filipino Immigrant Trail Arrives In Poland

Like generations before who'd set off for North America, Asia and Western Europe, emigrants from the Philippines have arrived over the past decade in a growing Poland to find work.

Warsaw, new land of promise for Filipino immigrants?
Warsaw, new land of promise for Filipino immigrants?
Iwona Glowacka

WARSAW — Riza, 45, is dressed elegantly in a knee-length black fur coat and a pair of leather trousers. She wears a copper shade of lipstick and neatly pinned hair. “Back in the Philippines we are heroes, women of success,” she says. “Children are grateful for what we do for them.”

I meet Riza in front of the Warsaw Immaculate Conception Chapel. The Sunday mass has just ended, and she is among the 20 women gathered around Sister Yolanda, who like them is a Filipina.

“I nurse this girls club,” says the nun, who has lived in Warsaw for the last three years and helps bind together this group of women from the Philippines.

After decades of similar emigration to the U.S., Asia and Western Europe, Filipino immigration to Poland started 12 years ago, when one of the Polish banks recruited accountants and IT specialists from the islands country. As time passed by, some of them sent their children to the American School of Warsaw and settled down. Soon after, chauffeurs, cooks and cleaning personnel for a few diplomatic sites in Warsaw joined the community. Today, it counts about 500 people, including the Filipino wives of Polish citizens, seasonal workers, nannies and household helpers.

At just 34 years old, Rona has an impressive work history. She could withstand Hong Kong for only two weeks. “Bad employers,” she explains. In Dubai, she tended and gave injections to an elderly lady for two years. She did not have the right to a day off or to a mobile phone, and she was forbidden to leave the house alone. For five years in Cyprus she spent a fortune on phone calls to her son. And now in Warsaw, her three-year contract is coming to an end.

In fact, Rona has never worked in her home country of the Philippines. She studied teaching but ultimately failed the final exams.

“If you are over 30 and you do not have a university degree, you will not find any job in the Philippines,” Riza explains.

She used to work in a restaurant, but the family budget became tight when her children grew older and went to school. In search of a better income, she left for Vietnam where she worked as a nanny for a French family. Before going back to France, the family recommended Riza to a friend in Poland. “If you decide to work abroad, you cannot be picky about the country,” Riza says.

For Imee, 43, moving to Poland was a conscious decision. “Maybe it sounds stupid, but I really wanted to be in the homeland of Pope John Paul II,” she says. “I had my job interview on Sunday and I was told to start on Monday.”

“I said during the first interview that I do not know how to cook because back home it was my husband’s responsibility,” recalls Riza. “Madame replied, ’I do know, so it is not a problem.’ ”

Riza’s many tasks include cleaning the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, the TV room, the playroom, four bedrooms, the cloakroom and three bathrooms. She also walks the dog and takes care of a cat, a rabbit and two hamsters. Four older children go to school by taxi, so she walks only the youngest child to preschool. “I wash and iron for eight people,” she says.

While fulfilling her duties, Riza teaches the children English, the language of instruction in the Philippines.

According to Imee, Filipino domestic workers have earned a good reputation thanks to their humility. “I don’t know any girl who would complain to her employers. Whatever happens, we will nod with a smile,” she says.

Enviable benefits

A standard contract for a Filipino domestic worker guarantees Sundays and holidays off. The monthly salary is about $500 after tax, and the employer provides food, a room and pays social security premiums.

While earning one-fifth better then her compatriots elsewhere, Riza also brags also about a month of paid leave every year and a ticket both ways to the Philippines.

Imee too feels lucky. She works for a family with three children, but she does not have as much work as some of her peers. “Five days a week, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. a Polish woman takes care of the house. I share all my duties with her. God has really blessed me.”

Nevertheless, she would not like to be a domestic worker for her entire life. “I give myself three to five years in this profession,” she says. “Now I am looking for a job in a preschool because I already know how to deal with children. We discipline them differently in the Philippines. When I first came here, I was afraid that if I shout to a child, he or she would shout back.”

“I tell my children, "You have to finish your studies so that in the future you do not have to work abroad,’ ” says Riza. Two of her four daughters are married, and one is a teacher in Singapore. “My youngest child is still in high school. It means for me eight more years as a maid.”

When her daughter graduates, Riza will be 54.

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