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For Host Families

This section of the website was conceptualized as an output of a Babaylan Denmark project funded by Projekt Rådgivning‘s Oplysningspulje.  We realize that, even as au pairs have to go through a pre-departure seminar (now called a country familiarization seminar, or CFS) organized by the Philippine government,  and have access to different au pair information meetings and activities while in Denmark, host families do not have any equivalent system for finding out about the Philippines.  This is unfortunate, because the au pair scheme is supposed to be a cultural exchange endeavour, and the sharing should go both ways.  Even more worrisome is how the lack of information programmes for host families can lead to misunderstandings, stereotyping of Filipinas, and worse, abuse of the au pair scheme where young people from poor countries are treated as cheap domestic help.

A country takes stock of exported labour

Since 1 March 2012, au pairs are prepared for deployment through a seminar conducted by the Commission for Filipinos Overseas (CFO).  This is a unit of government that deals with international arts and culture exchange, surgical/medical misssions coordination, student exchange programs, establishment of Philippine schools overseas, and international programmes for volunteer teachers, among others.  Filipinos leaving the country as au pairs are seen as participants in a cultural exchange programme.  They are not hired abroad under overseas labour contracts.  For many years, the pre-departure seminars for au pairs were handled by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), and under this system, it was not difficult for au pairs to see themselves as being deployed as maids or domestic helpers under the same working conditions as their fellow-Filipinos deployed to Hong Kong, Singapore, or the Middle East, but hopefully with less work-hours in countries where labour standards are high, and there are very few cases of maltreatment and exploitation.

The shift from POEA to CFO signals a shift in policy from the top.  The POEA is an agency attached to the Department of Labor and Employment, while the CFO is a unit directly under the Office of the President of the Philippines.  Policies regarding au pairs are formulated with the Department of Foreign Affairs as the lead agency.  The Revised Guidelines for Au Pairs Bound for Norway and Denmark as of 27 February 2012 is published in the website of the Philippine Embassy to Norway, Denmark and Iceland.

The country familiarization seminar (CFS) is a four-hour activity held once a week, on Wednesdays, at the offices of the CFO in Manila.  It is a requirement before exit from the Philippines.  Registration for this event , where the au pair submits a copy of her passport, visa, identification card, passport photograph and contract of engagement, creates an official database for au pairs.  Read more about the Pre-departure Country Familiarization Seminar at the CFO website, or download a copy of the flyer.

Babaylan Demark fully supports this shift in policy and procedure.  First because it will help to dispel the misconception from many quarters (host families, au pairs, the au pairs’ own families, as well as the general public in both countries) that being an au pair is just another term for being a maid.  Secondly because it will allow better tracking/monitoring of the au pairs’ progress through the system.

Helping young people take stock of their options for the future

For many young Filipinos going abroad as au pairs, it is their first experience to be overseas, and they arrive with a mixture of excitement and a sense of adventure, but also fear, homesickness, insecurity about the future, and sometimes low self-esteem.  They have no sure plans, and prefer to think of the two-year stay as a breather before having to choose the next big step in their life plans – to study, get married, travel widely, start a career, have children. Like all young persons of any nationality, they find themselves at a crossroad. They are, at the same time looking out into the world hoping to find ways to realize their dreams, and looking inwards to figure out what it is they truly wish for.  Being an au pair in a foreign country gives them the opportunity to experience another way of living; to travel and explore new places.  They can do this from a safe home base: the home of a local family.  They have short work days and few responsibilities.  Perhaps best of all, they do not have to depend on their own families for personal expenses, and might even have some money left over from their allowance to send home to the Philippines and help out with expenses there.

Another motivation for going to another country as an au pair, is to start/continue along a career path as a caregiver for children.  From our conversations with au pairs, many of them see caregiving as a career.  They know they are very good with children, and deeply care for their welfare and development.  Many have also been to formal training in the caring professions, as teachers, nurses or midwives.  They treat the children they care for as their own younger siblings or cousins.  Household chores are an inevitable part of work in a domestic setting, but they do not see themselves as housemaids.  When asked about their future plans, they would like to find another au pairing ‘job’ in another country like Norway, Sweden or the Netherlands.

There are some au pairs who have the mistaken notion that they are deployed as domestic help.  Many feel the burden of having to send money to their families back home, or pay a personal debt.  Although the rules concerning au pairing are clear – that they are not inexpensive maids – they believe anyway that they are servants in the household, and can be made to do all kinds of household tasks.  This mindset might have come from previous experience with househelpers in the Philippines, or previous employment as a domestic helper in other countries in Asia or the Middle East.  Perhaps it comes from a pre-conceived notion of overseas work for unskilled labourers.  They see themselves as being employed in a workplace where the parents in the host family are bosses or masters (‘amo‘), and refer to the money received as ‘salary’ instead of ‘allowance’.  Because the money is not enough to reach a savings goal, or to support family back home, they engage in extra cleaning or household work, hoping to earn a little more.  The long work hours, and sometimes even ill-treatment, do not matter as long as they receive the money due.  Besides, compared to those deployed in many places in Asia or the Middle East, they feel lucky to be in the Scandinavian countries where there is less risk of maltreatment.

This article does not mean to put young Filipinos in Denmark in simple categories because motivations change over time, and arise from a combination of many different goals and circumstances.  What we would like point out is that it is important to talk to a prospective au pair about why they want to go overseas, how they see their responsibilities, and what they wish to accomplish for the future.  From these conversations, the parents/adults in host families can evaluate how they can best be guardians (not employers or supervisors), and plan for the task of relating to a young person as a guide, adviser or ‘vejleder‘.  These young people (mostly women) who have ambitions for a better life for themselves and their families should be encouraged to achieve their goals, and build their self-esteem and confidence.  The last thing they need is to be made to feel inadequate, downtrodden, discriminated, excluded, or exploited.

Read more about practical advice to host families in the Au Pair and Host Family Handbook.