We are reposting this article published by Development Magazine (Udvikling Magazine- A Global Magazine about Danish and International Development politics and International Relations.)
Many thanks to Mr. Tonny Pedersen for the translation of the article from Danish to English.
Not just for the money
When young Filipinos go to Denmark to work as au pairs, the goal is then first and foremost to earn money in order to provide for the family at home. Or is it? If you ask the au pairs themselves, it is just as much about independence, status, and to experience the world.
BY METTE DAMGAARD SØRENSEN
PHOTOS: SOFIE AMALIE KLOUGART
MA. BLESSIE BUHIAN LIVES IN FREDERIKSBERG WITH THE HOST FAMILY, WHERE SHE BEGAN AS AN AU PAIR FIVE YEARS AGO.
When Ma. Blessie Buhian came from the Philippines to Frederiksberg five years ago to work as an au pair she had several motives. To move out was one of them.
“I was an au pair because I was curious and I wanted to experience something. I had always lived at home with my parents, I was 25 yearsold, and as one example I couldn’t cook. I wanted to learn to be independent. I also wanted to help my family which was in debt . It was my own decision to leave, “says Ma. Blessie Buhian.
After two years as an au pair in Denmark and thereafter two years in Norway, she is now back with her first host family in Frederiksberg, and studying at CBS (Copenhagen Business School, ed.).
Ma. Blessie Buhian’s words are taken out of anthropologist Karina Dalgas’ doctoral thesis. For more than a year, the anthropologist has done fieldwork among past, present, and future Filipino au pairs, their families, and their host families. The doctoral thesis is in a quiet way opposing the prevalent opinion that the poor au pairs are merely in Denmark to work. According to the thesis, the girls are also here to experience the world and to achieve independence – in the
“When I asked young girls in the Philippines, what they dream of, then it is to be successful. It is associated with going abroad. There is a type of glamour over it. Many of the young girls have girlfriends, sisters or neighbours who are, or who have been away as au pairs, and they too would like to go out in order to experience the world,” explains Karina Dalgas.
The young Filipinos often emphasize that gaining independence is an
important factor for their choice, says the anthropologist.
“It’s an independence that relates to the local Filipino understanding of adulthood: That you are able to make decisions for yourself and can stand on your own feet. That you can budget your own money, and can help others.”
Ana Lindenhann, President of Babaylan-Denmark – an organization of
Filipino women in Denmark – is herself a Filipino, and she agrees that
for the young Filipino women it is not just about making money, but it is
also about breaking loose from the family.
“The young people in the Philippines do not move out as 18-year-olds, and even when they are working, they are still under the wings of their father and mother. Here in Denmark, they can do what they want. They decide over their own money, and whether they want to send money home, and how much. If they want to buy an expensive mobile phone, then they can just do so. After a year in
Denmark they have changed a lot,”says Ana Lindenhann.
Filipinos in DENMARK
Karina Märcher Dalgas’ PhD thesis entitled “Au Pair Trajectories – family relations, self-making and migratory endeavors among Filipinas in Denmark” is based upon ten months of fieldwork in Copenhagen, and ten weeks in the Philippines. The thesis contains interviews, observations, etc. The anthropologist has made a total of 76 interviews with a wide range of people – including 17 former au pairs,17 current au-pairs and four au pairs soon coming to Denmark.
The au pairs are very much aware that they are in Denmark at the host family’s grace, and this fact makes it difficult for them to talk about possible problems.
Many of the au pairs change host family, among others, because of bad chemistry between the au pair and the host family, of loneliness, and/or unreasonable demands from the host family.
In accordance with the intention of the au pair scheme many au pairs expect and appreciate some form of caring, and to be accepted as a member of the host family.
Only a few rich au pairs
The au pairs can partly control what the money they are sending home is being
used for: For example, that so and so much money is to be used on the mother’s new store, on a younger sister’s school fee, or on grandmother’s medicine. Or that the money should not go to paying for father’s cigarettes.
Karina Dalgas has only met a few au pairs, who didn’t send money home.
“However, it is not the very poor who become au pairs, it costs money to travel. Those I’ve talked with are from families who can put food on the table everyday. Then it may be that the grandmother is admitted to the hospital, and money is needed for that, or for a sister going to college, “explains Karina Dalgas.
However, it is not the family’s direct appeal to those girls, whom Karina Dalgas met, that they travel to Denmark in order to become au pairs.
“The girls I’ve talked to tell that it was their own idea. But at the same time there is a pride and gratitude from the families of the young people who travel abroad. The same is found at the state level. Filipinos who work abroad are officially designated as ‘heroes of the nation’. They have a number of advantages, which are widely known. For example, the Filipinos who work ‘overseas’ have their own lounge at the airport, and have their own ticket queues, “says Karina Dalgas.
Ana Lindenhann, from Babaylan-Denmark, tells that some girls – in
particular older sisters – probably, may feel pressured by the family
to go abroad in order to become providers.
“But they are typically from the poorest families, and then the option is rather to become a maid in the Middle East.”
The young people in the Philippines do not move out as 18-year-olds, and even when they are working they are still under the wings of their father and mother. Here in Denmark, they can do what they want.
Earlier studies of the Filipino au pair’s motivation to come to Denmark have shown that the au pairs are first and foremost in the country in order to earn money, and that the au pairs are talking about that they sacrifice themselves for the family. But according to Karina Dalgas, this has to be seen in the context that it is considered heroic to work abroad, and that it at the same time gives a social status to be able to contribute financially to the family at home.
“I visited a former au pair – now married and living in Denmark – who was on vacation in her village in the Philippines. Many came to her with their problems, and asked her for small amounts to be used on cream for eczema, for shampoo, or cigarettes. She sponsored a party in the village, and a dress for the local beauty contest. She was clearly looked upon with admiration – many wanted to be like her, and to have the opportunity to put such a responsibility on themselves,” says
Ana Lindenhann agrees that the girls gain respect by being able to provide for their family. She points out, however, that the family’s dependence on the money also has a negative side.
“Many au pairs are sending money home to pay for the education of siblings, so that they can get a brighter future and a good job. And therein lies of course a dependency which can become a pressure,” she says.
Ma. Blessie Buhian has experienced that people came and asked her for gifts when she was back home in the Philippines. But she also experienced to be seen as something special.
“Europe is a big deal for those at home. They believe that you are very rich because they see pictures of you here, and they think it looks very luxurious. They can not quite understand that it as well is a hard work to be here,” she says.
It is most certainly related with the fact that the Filipino au pairs, according to Karina Dalgas’ doctoral thesis, are very active on Facebook, and they share selfies of smiling faces and of smart clothes, and often posing in front of an expensive store or an attraction. All this signals a lifetime of experiences and success
rather than a life of hard work.
Migration – without a plan
Actual migration, that is to be able to stay in, for example Europe, on a long term, this is a dream for many au pairs. But according to Karina Dalgas it is impossible for the au pairs to make a long-term plan, because they see that the rules of staying, studying opportunities, etc. are constantly changing. Instead the au pairs navigate after whatever the options are while they are abroad.
“They live on a ‘God’s will’ standpoint. Not fatalistic and passive, but they are waiting to see whatever luck Europe brings. It may be that, after having been in Denmark, they then travel to Norway to be an au pair, and later study; or it may be that they can come to Canada – they could in the past – or perhaps find a boyfriend and stay here,” says Karina Dalgas.
And European men are attractive in the eyes of the Filipinos – not only because of the economic security they can provide.
“The Filipinos find that children of mixed races are some of the most beautiful. At the same time there are some stereotypical beliefs that European men are less unfaithful, gamble less, and are more trustworthy. The au pairs are usually in the middle of their 20s, when they are here, so why not find a boyfriend?” says Karina Dalgas.
Ma. Blessie Buhian has herself been navigating by the opportunities in Europe – although it is without involving any boyfriend. She studies at the CBS in Copenhagen, and in agreement with her mother, she doesn’t send money home anymore.
“I am studying a bachelor degree now, and I would like to study at the masteral level. But it is too expensive, so maybe I will go to Dubai afterwards, where I know many who work there. Maybe I can use my education there.”
She does not reject the idea of going back to her home country – at least not completely:
“But what would I do? I have no possibilities to make a career there,” she says.
AU PAIR IN DENMARK
The most common au pair in Denmark is a woman from the Philippines at the age of 24-30 years.
In 2014, 1,908 au pairs were allowed entry to Denmark – of which 1,559 came from the Philippines.
According to statistics from the Philippine authorities, most of the au pairs were unemployed before their departure as au pairs, while the majority had also studied some years at the university level.
Denmark has numerous rules for the au pair stay, the basic principle is that the stay must have “a natural connection to the applicant’s
Basically an au pair should not be married, nor have children, and can be rejected if he or she has an education ,and has been employed for a number of years. Basically, one may also only have had one other au pair stay in a Western country.
In the summer of 2015 new regulations for the au pair scheme were implemented. This meant, among other things, that the au pairs got more pocket money, and that there should be a clear division between household tasks and leisure time.
The au pairs are allowed to work up to 30 hours per week, and may be terminated at short notice. ( According to the new rule as per 2016 : Termination of the au pair contract must be done in writing. You can terminate the contract with two weeks’ notice, and your host family can terminate the contract with one month’s notice.)
Source: Danmarks Statistik, Udlændingestyrelsen og cfo.org
This article on Au Pair has been published on Udvikling Magazin Nr. 6 – December -2015 -Year 6. You can read the article in Danish in the pdf file in this link.
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