x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Family ties are my saving grace

After decades of making sacrifices, this housekeeper's prudence and dedication have improved the lives of loved ones in the Philippines.

Lily Matudan is keen to carry on working despite approaching retirement age.
Lily Matudan is keen to carry on working despite approaching retirement age.

When I graduated from high school in the Philippines my first job was as a cashier in a restaurant, earning about Dh9, or 120 pesos every month. But in 1970 that was enough to live on, and I even paid my way through secretarial college putting part of my wages towards the tuition fees. Luckily, my boss was understanding about giving me a bit of time off to study. The six-month course cost Dh45. Unfortunately, I was unable to finish it because I had to get a better paid job to help my family financially.

I managed to get a position as a sales representative in a department store in Manila. The job paid about Dh15 a month. I worked in the store for eight years and then I left to get married. My wedding was just a simple ceremony in Western Visayas (about 90 minutes flight time from Manila), my home village; we started living apart in 1991 after I began working abroad. In my village, it is the women who leave. The men stay at home with the children. I think this is because women finish high school and go to college, while the boys leave school early. That is why it is harder for them to find jobs abroad.

Like many Filipinos, I have spent much of my life away from my home country due to economic reasons. I have had to leave home for the future of my children, but it has been very hard to say goodbye, and I have missed watching them grow up. My husband's job simply did not pay enough to support a family with four daughters. They are now aged 22, 27, 30 and 31. My first job abroad was in Hong Kong as a housekeeper and nanny to a Chinese family. I moved to Hong Kong in 1989 and stayed for 11 years, moving to a second family after five years. My first salary there was Dh2,369 per year. The family I lived with included my food and accommodation in the package, so I was able to start saving money for my family, which I would bring with me when I visited home every two years. It's a hard life to live like that, and I have always had to save money. When I was in Hong Kong, I'd take home about Dh5,360 each time I returned home for a two-week holiday.

It might not seem like much money to some people, but that is quite a lot in the Philippines. We built a family house with the money I would bring back, and while it is not a big house, it is big enough to give us a better life. The house cost around Dh7,600, or 100,000 pesos, to build. I came to Dubai in 2002 to visit my niece and look for work as a housekeeper and nanny, because my job in Hong Kong ended as the family's children grew older. I was introduced to my sponsor in Dubai by a friend. They needed someone to look after their little daughter, so I got my job here. I have been with that family ever since, looking after their daughter from when she was a baby; she is now six. When I started, I was earning around Dh1,200 a month.

To earn a similar salary in the Philippines you might have to be the manager or assistant manager of a small company. I earn around Dh2,300 a month now, and I send around Dh1,000 home each month. My daughter and my three grandchildren are living in my house in the Philippines. Because my daughter doesn't have a job I send her the money each month. It costs around Dh15 to send the money directly to Manila, to the Banco Di Oro through a money transfer company. The rest of my earnings are for me. My other daughters are all grown up now and making their own money. One of them has just come to stay with me in Dubai - she is looking for a job as a store manager.

When it comes to money, I have always had control over my finances. I don't have a bank account - just the money in my wallet, but I always know exactly how much money I have. I know what I am going to spend money on and how much I need to save every month. The most important thing is to send money back home for my children. I don't often treat myself - just once in a while. For my birthday I bought myself a gold bracelet and a watch; the bracelet cost around Dh450 and the watch was about Dh280. That was in 2005.

I never spend money in restaurants or going to the cinema for myself. But I did take my daughter to dinner at KFC recently at Uptown Mirdif. I will try and save money for myself as well. Any money that is left over I may spend on food, although if I cook dinner for my sponsor family I usually just eat with them. The easiest way to save money is to tell yourself to wait. If you see clothes that you want, just say to yourself: "I already have a lot of clothes and I can wait a few more months. Saving must come first."

I would like to stay in the UAE for another year or two, but after the age of 60 I think the Government does not always allow you to work, so I will have to see if my sponsor can still get the visa for me, as I am now 59. Once I move back to the Philippines, I will probably still look for a job because if I stay at home I won't be as active. I want to keep myself busy, and work is good exercise. I am saving enough to retire in the Philippines. I think I need around Dh22,945, which I will put in a time-deposit account and collect the interest every six months. That's enough for bits and pieces, but I expect my children will support me then.

I believe that if there's a will there's a way. And so far I have never had any problems with my employers treating me unfairly. Honesty is very important. I still occasionally keep in touch with my Chinese family; I do miss them. * As told to Jola Chudy