Welcome to my blog! I want to give you a brief introduction to my experience in Quezon City, the Philippines, and my work at Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA).
My plane touched down in the Philippines two months ago at 12:00 a.m., Manila time. During the first couple of hours going through customs, stressing over my luggage, finding my coworker who so graciously waited for me to find my way out of the terminal, and riding in a taxi to my accommodations, I started to form an impression of the landscape unfolding before my eyes. Like any impression formed at two in the morning after a trans-Pacific flight, it was unreliable at best. As my imagination dreamt up the contents of the unlit buildings passing by, I watched as the streets bustled… at 2:00 a.m.! This wasn’t sleepy old Victoria anymore.
When I look back on that night, I am struck by how surprised I was by everything. A new country, a new city, a new part of the world, one would expect to be shocked. But I had traveled before, and had even lived for extended periods in foreign countries before; seconds before arrival, I had the composure of a travel veteran. However, once in that taxi, shock rolled over me like the hot, night air. My composure vanished. Perhaps the best indicator of my surprise was how my body reacted. Among other unmentionable things, jet lag kept me up at night until 1:00 a.m., only to wake me up again at 3:00 a.m.. Heat stroke floored me for a couple days.
Fast-forwarding two months, there is nothing particular shocking about my day-to-day life here in Quezon City. I have gotten used to seeing roosters instead of squirrels or deer (perhaps hearing roosters at all hours of the day is more appropriate), riding jeepneys instead of Victoria’s Double-Decker buses, and feeling the hot hot heat, instead of listening to Hot Hot Heat. Despite the apparent normalcy of the day-to-day, I am still slowly forming a proper impression of my surroundings. Work in particular has taken time to adjust to. Like any new job, the work comes with unfamiliar faces, tasks, and challenges, all required to be made familiar. It is in this space, where I cherish the initial system shock I suffered stepping off my plane into Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Why? That moment of surprise contextualized my role here at MFA as an intern. Day-to-day work, such as writing, researching, and emailing are all familiar to me through past work experience/school. During my undergrad, I studied and wrote papers on labour migration in East Asia. However, like my self-assured travel savvy, these skills deserve the same jolt of situational unfamiliarity. In my intern position at MFA I aim to contribute and learn new things on the topic of migrant rights, but also to engage with unfamiliar modes of migrant worker advocacy. For example, one of MFA’s activities centers on lobbying for country by country ratification of ILO C189 Domestic Worker Convention, the convention concerning decent work for domestic workers. The convention’s text may be read here.
The main goal of the convention is to recognize the status of the domestic worker as not simply a helper around the house, but rather someone engaged in an employment relationship with their employer. Such recognition ensures that both the domestic worker and the employer are subject to rights and obligations under the labour laws of their host country. MFA engages with ILO C189 and with domestic worker advocacy on multiple levels, ranging from case advocacy to developing policy briefs. MFA has also started working with its partners in West Asia to discuss possibility of lobbying for reform of the Kafala system to positively affect migrant workers. The Kafala system is a Visa-entry system employed by various Gulf and Middle East countries, which pairs incoming migrant workers to their employers. Because the system does not allow migrant workers to change employment without the consent of their sponsor/current employer, the system has the possibility to precipitate employment rights violations through limiting the migrant workers mobility. Taking part in such discussions and advocacy requires me to take on new modes of thoughts and advocacy. It would be trite to say I am learning new things here; however, it is the manner in which I view those “things” is what will continue to make my experience here in Quezon City fulfilling.
So sure, I may have already adapted to my physical surroundings (one of my loves is to work out on the rooftop of my building in the evening heat; another would be the endless supply of fresh mangoes). However, physical comfort does not allow for mental complacency. The experience, worldview, and knowledge of my coworkers here at MFA remain to be a wonderful avenue to challenge my own perspectives. When I step into the office every morning, I will remember that wave of hot air that greeted me at the airport (it helps that I work in an AC-less office). Embracing that uncertainty, I hope to make the most of remainder of my internship!