Growing up, I never knew what happiness was, or what it meant to be a child, all I knew was hard work. I wasn’t sure who were the people that set up the rules about how being the first born in the family means being a substitute of their parents, or it was just naturally within me to take charge of taking care of my siblings, while my parents were busy working from day to late evening. I wasn’t allowed to play around like regular children. A long time ago, I didn’t see anything was wrong with it, or maybe I was in denial, to think that it was okay. I never questioned my parents about why I should do all these things it was not normal that children should question their parents. I resented my parents so bad that I battled with depression and I feel so alone. But one thing is for sure, I won’t get out from this bad circle alone, I will bring my siblings out with my parents because I love them deeply.
Poverty is not a choice, it is more like a disease that kills us slowly. We need determination and willingness to not only survive, also to strive. I work so hard, I wake up at 5 in the morning knocking on my six neighbors doors, to collect their dirty laundry and use the earnings to pay the school fees. I had to work fast because I had to reach school by 7am. Way back than, I had only one pair of shoes that was worn by me in the morning, and my sister would then wear it in the afternoon. I often had to peddle my bike as fast as I could to be on time. I have books and pastries to sell in the basket, and for some reason my mother given me fix pocket money that never change since I was in primary school until I was in high school and I dared not to ask for more, because of the bad economy. After school I have no time to even say a word to my classmates, but I simply ran to my bike peddling as fast as I could, because I know my sister was waiting for me on the side of the road to take over the bike, and the shoes for her to turn to attend school. After eating lunch, I would go to the river to collect stones and the sands to sell to whoever needed them for extra money.
I was doing so well at school because of one goal and one goal only, to get a scholarship. In other words, I have to compete against all the students from class A to J to get the highest grade. By the grace of God, I did it. I never paid my school fees during my high school days, because I have siblings to taking care of. I was graduated in 2002 with grade A, then what? It was like being hit by giant wave when I realized how useless that grade meant at the moment. All I need is quick fix, money. I shed my tears heading to Singapore, keeping aside my dream to get my degree and focusing on money. I was struggling, with a language barrier and there lifestyle drove me crazy, but giving up was not an option. I went to the library, read newspaper, watched English programs and listened to English radio channel to learn English.
Seven years went by, I still had neither savings nor any days off, but I have paid off my parent’s debts. I also built a small house. Back in Indonesia, my sister was doing so well in her study too. She made me proud when she showed me her trophies from martial art competition to her four years degree achievement trophy and I’m grateful for that. In 2010 a friend of mine, introduced me to Indonesia Open University in Singapore. It was just like a dream come true and with Internet access, I was unstoppable. I thought to myself, I can fulfill my dream to get my degree too! As a domestic helper, juggling between work and study was not easy at all. My job as full time caregiver to an elderly with multiple health problems made it impossible for me to have regular day off like regular worker. My Ah Gong (grandfather that I taking care of since 2003 till he passed away on Dec 2015) is my pride and joy. I won’t survive in Singapore without his help and guidance. He taught me how to be strong and never stop to learn, he given me one magical word “ Dúshū” it means read book or study. Three and half year later, I attained my degree that took four year. At 31 years old with a degree…then what? Looking for a job is not an option because you are over 27, no office will hire you in Indonesia. So, my only option is to be my own boss. I need to start a business.. but how? I was confused, until I was introduced to Aidha by my cousin, I read and study her textbooks, by then I knew I have to enrol to this school.
Aidha given me the courage to be who I needed to be. Boosted my confidence that I can do anything if I put my mind into it. The mentors help me in term of believing in myself, they told me that it was OK to fail because success always start with failures. Domestic helper often looked down by society, stereotyped that maids are stupid that’s why we are become a maid is so disturbing to me. We’re not stupid, we just didn’t have the same opportunity like others. It’s hard to argue that poverty does not affect education. Children who came from poverty wanting food more than anything else is likely to attend schools that under resourced, understaffed and underfunded. Poverty affects economy, education and our future.
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”- Benjamin Franklin. Education is very important, it showed me that there is a different world out there. I can finally break the cycle, my sister has a permanent job as an official government school teacher which has come with many benefits for her as well as for my parents. She currently owns one acre of palm trees land and also a mini mart. As for myself, with my parents and sister’s support I will open my very first BBQ restaurant in 2018. I also intend to invest my money on properties and small cooperative in East Borneo Indonesia.
Maimunah Subagio Is Siti Maimunah, SS Pen Name. Born on September 18, 1983 as the first born of Mr & Mrs Subagio. Works as foreign domestic helper since 2003 and also featured on several books published by 2A publishing.