Today’s Labor Day. This year, activists and organizations rallied to recognize the illegal, inhuman and unethical working conditions of migrant workers in Lebanon as well as the Arab World. To counter what has become modern day slavery, the campaign Twenty-Four-Seven highlights the fact that migrant domestic workers in Lebanon work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!
One of the campaign’s initiatives is blogging and tweeting week, which calls upon bloggers, tweeters and Facebookers to write to raise awareness about the plight of migrant workers in our part of the world.
And so, as part of that component, I’d like to tell you the story of Sandra.
Sandra is a Sri Lankan migrant domestic worker I kind of grew up with. She used to come to our house once a week to help my mom with the cleaning when I was young. I remember her mostly in my late teenage years, when she’d be about to start working and I’d be off to school and later on to university. She’d always greet me and my siblings with a big, heartwarming smile. That was in the 1990s. My mom, who was very fond of Sandra, told me that she first started working at our home in the 1980s up until the Liberation War in 1989. After the war ended, Sandra came back to work with my mom. All in all, Sandra worked at our home for about 10 years.
Sandra had long fair black hair and an angelic smile. I distinctly remember the burn marks on her face and hands from what I presume was a fire accident. Sandra, who was in her late 30s, was married with two children, a boy and a girl. According to my mom, Sandra worked in Lebanon for about 24 years on and off. She lived with and worked for her sponsors, who also allowed her to put in hours on other cleaning jobs outside the house. With her savings, she tried to build a better life for herself and her family back in Sri Lanka. She built a house, supported her children, helped her daughter with her marriage expenses, and provided for her husband even, although they weren’t on good terms, my mom said. Every once in a while, Sandra would return to Sri Lanka to check up on things there. I remember one time, she came to visit us after returning from a recent trip to her native country. I was home alone. So I sat down with her and we talked about her trip. She’d brought us small wooden elephants as souvenirs. That was the only time I actually sat down with Sandra for a one-on-one talk. I wish I had the opportunity to do it more often.
I don’t know where Sandra is now. My mom told me hat things turned rough for her when she last saw her. She had some complications with her papers: her passport was stolen and her sponsor bailed on her. With her presence in Lebanon increasingly precarious, she left. And that was the last time we’d heard of or from her. My mom tried several times to get a phone number or an address from her then sponsor, but they weren’t cooperative at all.
My mom told me that the last few times she saw Sandra, she’d tell her how she was looking forward to retiring in a couple of years. She’d have saved enough money to just enjoy the life she’d worked so hard to build for a change.
Sandra, wherever you are, thank you and I hope you’re safe and happy.