From the Philippines to the Middle East: The Story of Amaya

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This purple abaya is one of Amaya’s prized possessions.

Moving for the sake of her family, Amaya came to the Middle East to work.

By Zehra Qureshi

Sharjah, UAE – Amaya unloads the laundry, mops and sweeps the floors and wipes the dining table. 

This entire time, she never breaks a sweat. She turns to look at me. She is wearing a mustard yellow shirt, striped pants and light blue flip flops.

“Okay,” she said, “I will try to answer your questions the best I can.”

Amaya is a single mother of three children from the City of Pagadian. She is from the Zamboanga del Sur province. According to travel guides, this place is well-known for its mountainous terrain. Additionally, the city is referred to as “Little Hong Kong of the South.” 

The Pagadian mother said that she misses her bond with her family the most. They would often go to the beach together, play music and sing.

“As the saying goes, there’s no place like home,” Amaya said.

According to her, the United Arab Emirates was the best possible option. 

She said, “It is not only an open country, but it’s not the same as others that have high cases of mistreatment and abusing maids.”

“I hoped that by moving here I could give my family a better living, especially in finishing my children’s studies,” she said.

Amaya added, “My family’s needs are increasing, and my income is not sufficient.”

According to the website of Migration Policy Institute in the United States, the UAE is a sought-after place for migrants who want a greater standard of living and employment possibilities. Additionally, the UAE has laws in place to protect migrant workers. 

Leaving her kids and family behind is one of the hardest decisions Amaya made. She said that it is difficult for her to be away from her children and watch them grow up. Also, she is raising them on her own as the father is not present. She dealt with a miscarriage of one of her daughters on her own and had a painful time recovering.

“It is hard because the full responsibility is up to me,” she said. 

In 2016, she converted to Islam. Before that, she explains that she had been a part of several other religions, but she never felt content with any of them. She took an interest in Islam, and after studying it for two months, she decided to convert. The religion made her feel complete.

When she became a Muslim, several relatives and friends of hers did not accept it. She was ostracized and bullied relentlessly. 

Despite this, she said, “There is no greater source of joy for me than Allah.”

“The most difficult part of being here is being a stranger, alone with no family and friends,” Amaya said.

“My journey to this country was beautiful although my life is not as smooth as I expected.”

However, she believes that moving has created a difference. She is able to support her family and also manage her finances. Moving here has also helped her grow and become self-confident. Amaya encourages others to work in this country as there are many opportunities. She included that it is also a privilege.

“I feel overwhelmed because this country has a higher value and respect for women that I have not experienced in my own country, ” she said. 

“This country is beautiful and amazing,” she added, “the safest place to go to work and on vacation.”

She advises people who are planning to move here to “explore the beauty of the UAE.”

She paused when asked how the move here has changed her as a person. 

Finally, she said, “I have been in Dubai for almost three years. I have had many hard and challenging days before finding good people. I considered these hard days as learning days. This motivated me instead of making me feel like giving up. These experiences have helped me become a stronger person.”

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Her name has been changed to protect her identity.