A new article in British news and media website The Guardian focused on the hardships of domestic helpers from the Philippines in France, calling them “Les nouveaux Misérables” who work in the homes of the very rich.
The article provided particular insight to the lives of these Filipinas, since a French photographer Thomas Morel-Fort befriended some of the helpers, documented their lives, worked side by side with them, and even went to the Philippines to meet their families, over a period of six years.
There are around 50,000 Filipinos working in France. However, most of them are women working domestic jobs, undocumented workers who are unable to visit their families back home, and without any kind of stability or job security. Some have nowhere to turn for help. Others are unpaid for their work, with their official documents taken from them.
Mr Morel-Fort started seeing Filipina nannies in Paris’ cafes and parks in 2014, and began to befriend them, aiding them in their work and daily lives. He did not take photos of them until he had established their trust.
The photographer’s series, simply entitled ‘Filipinas’ can be found on his website, and is a tribute to their accomplishments. ‘Filipinas’ focuses specifically on two helpers, “Donna” and “Jhen.”
“They’ve left everything they know – their country, their children – to take care of other people’s families and houses. They have these hard lives for a reason: to send money home to improve their own families’ future,” he said.
On the photographer’s ‘Filipinas’ series, The Guardian writes, “Morel-Fort’s photographs – accumulated over the course of six years, documenting Filipinas at work, at home and in their community – are at their most powerful as an indictment of the human cost of globalisation. There is Jhen in her tiny maid’s room (which she will eventually leave as she can no longer afford the rent) juxtaposed with the huge mansion of her employer (a Saudi princess); Donna as she changes the nappy of one boss’s baby, contrasted with her blue-lit portrait as she video chats her own children, whom she has not seen in person in eight years.”
Mr Morel-Fort actually worked with Donna in the summer of 2016 on the housekeeping staff of a rich family from the Gulf, the lone Frenchman among the Filipino and north African employees, some of whom had not been paid for their work the year before.
This experience was an eye-opener for the photographer, who gained the trust of the staff before taking their photos, and for which he always obtained consent.
“The villa was a microcosm where the only rules that applied were those dictated by monsieur and madame. We were on call at all hours, we didn’t know when we would start or finish, or if we would ever be paid.
I had heard a lot of stories about what [life as a domestic employee] was like because I’d been working on this story for a year by then, but I really didn’t expect such behaviour in France. Seeing with my own eyes the working conditions of these Filipino women convinced me to continue documenting their lives.”
Mr Morel-Fort, whose work has been featured in Le Parisien, Le Monde, L’Express, Marie Claire International, Marianne, Paris Match, and other publications.
He travelled to the Philippines after winning the 2019 Camille Lepage Award for his photography, including the ‘Filipinas’ series, where he met the families of Donna and Jhen, including Donna’s mother, who had also worked as a domestic helper overseas when she was younger, as well as her daughter, the first tertiary-level graduate in the family, who also aspires to work abroad, but this time as a nurse.
Donna is quoted in The Guardian as saying, “I’m very proud of my daughter. It was my own dream to become a nurse, and now I finally did it with my daughter. It’s very hard being away from my children, but I am proud of my sacrifice. As Filipinas, we’re used to being far from our families because so many of us are working abroad […but] you are always thinking about your family.”—/TISG