In March 2014, Ross Taylor, President of the Perth-based Indonesian Institute, suggested that Indonesia could provide nannies for Australians and relieve some of the issues surrounding childcare in Australia. A huge problem in this country which every mother has experienced and to which there does not seemed to be a well thought out solution in place. It is a dilemma, and it seems that leaders think if we just talk about the problem and then sort of ignore it well it might just go away. Probably more to the point, they will get elected looking like they care and then do nothing and no one will be all that surprised. The wonders of democracy around the world!
There was almost nothing said in the media about the fact the Indonesian Institute had suggested it. No one was leaping at it as a possible solution. Overseas Foreign Workers send back $5 billion a year to the Philippines and have been called heroes by one of the country’s former presidents. Has The Nanny Diaries scared us all off? Are we scared of Asian immigrants stealing day-care jobs? I find the non-reaction funny because if by some miracle Indonesia did start sending nannies over and, big if, we could afford it, then we would be running over people to invite an Indonesian nanny to come work for us.
Let me tell you why. We had a Helper in China. A Helper is a person who is employed by the family to well… help. She did, so much. She helped me by teaching me language for everyday things. She made delicious Chinese food for us. She laughed with me on my days when I didn’t seem to be able to figure out how to do even the simplest things in China. She cleaned our house. She became a loved auntie to our children. She spoiled them…rotten. We ate at her house and her daughter played with our children. She hugged me and cried with me when my grandmother died. She was and remains to this day, a friend.
Is it possible for some people who are employed in these types of positions to be exploited? No one would like to hear this, but yes and it happens more frequently than we would like to know. It is hard work and when the employer is from a different culture then there is the possibility that every day will mean culture shock or, in the worst scenarios, abuse for the employee. They can be asked to do too much. We can blame them for mistakes we made ourselves. I have done that. I would rant to my husband about a sweater that was lost and claim that she must have put it somewhere strange only to find a that I had lent it to a friend. If you can think of a mistake to make with someone working in your house, chances are I did it because I am flawed like that.
There were plenty of friends and family living in other countries who would make judgments about our lifestyle based on the fact we had a Helper. I was teased many times about my “high on the hog” lifestyle. To those who teased me I laugh and say, “Yes and I loved it!” I have a friend who nicknamed her Helper the “Dinner Fairy”. They both got a good kick out it. She was charmingly overboard in her gratefulness and amazement at the wonder of a dinner which magically appeared without the need for her to slave over it. I don’t blame anyone for being green with envy over that lifestyle and if the employee is happy and fairly treated then I don’t see any reason to apologize out of a silly sense of misplaced guilt.
We kept it as fair as we could by paying a decent wage, fairly allocating sick days and holidays, making friends with her, and providing training. Our helper learned to cook many western dishes to sell to others.
She always made them better on her first try than I made them after a lifetime of practice. She would make tortillas once a week for our youngest child. All he ever had to say was, “I am hungry” in Chinese and he had tortillas. Spoiled rotten! One of our friends tutored her Helper in English and she became a teacher’s assistant. This was not something our Helper desired but I think it is important to provide opportunities to learn new skills.
It doesn’t always work well and I wouldn’t want the job of figuring how to legislate this for the best of everyone involved, but the cultural enrichment and relationship is fabulous. It must be free and fair. I have no interest in a program which abuses people. I would love to make a new friend. Maybe I would make a fewer mistakes than I did before.
Our helper didn’t live in our home, which is a whole other ball of wax. So, would you hire an overseas nannie if you could?
*I have omitted our Helper’s name and have not included photos of her out of respect for her privacy.