Between Raquel Crisostomo and Thelma Nullar is more than 30 years of experience in domestic work.
Both women worked as au pairs, nannies and cleaners for different ambassadors in Brussels, Belgium, including the Danish and British ambassadors. Diplomats from NATO also hired them to clean their homes.
The two would always bump into each other during Filipino community events and later, while working as real estate agents, they became friends.
Two years ago, Crisostomo and Nullar finally ventured into creating a business out of something they knew best -domestic work. In October 2012, they officially launched FilBelge Titre Services in Brussels.
Crisostomo and Nullar did not quit their jobs right away after they secured their permit to operate. They worked on their business at night, contracting workers, and collecting dienstencheques (service tickets). Administrative work were done after their regular jobs. They managed their workers even until midnight.
Nuller, who at that time was studying business management, had an extra difficult time because of her two children. She would put them on their school outfits when they go to bed so that she can bring them to their school right away in the morning. All these with barely a couple of hours of sleep.
Operating without an office at the beginning forced them to meet their workers at train stations, canteens and even garages. This caused many raised eyebrows in the Filipino community. Even some friends and family did not believe that their business would succeed.
“I told Raquel, don’t mind those criticisms, our time will come. And now they are seeing that the business is real and operating,” said Nullar.
Both also had to learn how the business system in Belgium works. So they also had difficulties with most of the government requirements and documents.
The two persevered and ignored their naysayers, believing that they are offering quality service. They come highly recommended by the diplomats whom they’ve worked for in the past.
“The diplomats are telling us that they would not be able to do their jobs without us nannies and helpers taking care of their houses and children. We are an integral part of the international community here.”
In June 2013, they were able to move to their office in Etterbeek in Brussels.
PRIDE IN DOMESTIC WORK
Domestic work is one of the industries where majority of Filipinos abroad, women especially, are employed.
The wave of Filipinos going abroad to work began in the 70s. The 90s saw another wave of Filipino women going to Hong Kong to work as domestic helpers. This diaspora continues up to this day.
Being a domestic helper is looked down upon in many cultures, including the Philippines.
For the owners of FilBelge, domestic work is a decent and professional job just like any other. And in this kind of work, Filipinos excel.
“Once na sinabi mong Pilipino, 95 percent of clients know that we are very good in this kind of job. And when you say FilBelge, they already know that the workers are Filipinos because the owners are Filipinos,” said Nullar.
Because of their good track record, FilBelge is the only domestic manpower agency advertised in the Danish, British and American embassies. They managed to maintain their good relationship with their former employers who are now their friends.
“Filipinos are very honest workers. Despite the hard work, domestic helpers are well compensated here,” added Crisostomo.
In FilBelge, workers are earning €11.25 per hour with holiday pay, sick leave and separate transportation, clothing and meal allowances.
There was a time that the two were ready to give up their domestic jobs and look for a less labor-intensive environment. But during the recent economic crisis, jobs were scarce so they decided to venture into business.
For Crisostomo, she decided that it was the right time for her to stop with the rigorous schedule of cleaning a house and taking care of children. The backbreaking work was taking its toll on her. Besides, she already reached her self-imposed deadline on working for others.
“When I came here, I gave myself a deadline – from when I am going to get my residence permit to how long I am going to do domestic job and when I am going to get out of manual labor. If Filipinos want to achieve something else for themselves, they have to set a deadline for themselves.”
Crisostomo advises domestic helpers not to be complacent especially when they are already earning enough to feed their families. She emphasizes that more than the financial gain, going into business will also benefit the Filipino communities in Europe and maybe even at home.
“When you go into business, the effect would be a chain reaction. So if a Filipino opens a business, who will they employ? Filipinos as well,” explained Crisostomo.
She adds that the Filipino “diskarte” helps a lot. In the beginning, Crisostomo, who was formerly a marketing manager at Filipino fastfood chain, had to pretend to be a client in other manpower agencies to find out their rates and their ways of doing business as a form of market research.
Nullar feels fortunate that she can give back to her fellow Filipinos. She would help employees of FilBelge with their personal problems even if it is not part of her job anymore.
“I feel privileged that I am the one giving instead of the one receiving. And because we came from the same sector, we care for our workers more than the other agencies. We know how it is like to do domestic work.”
According to Nullar, those who want to make a difference in their lives, have to start now. Not later. They should be determined to push hard no matter how tough it becomes. She said that the Filipino characteristic of being a ningas kugon will not help if they want to achieve bigger dreams.
“It is difficult. But if you are motivated and determined with what you want to achieve, you will eventually succeed. Nothing is impossible,” she said.
FilBelge Titre-Service now employs 80 workers. Majority of them are Filipinos together with other nationalities like Belgians, Moroccans and Spanish. Crisostomo and Nullar have also branch out to other forms of businesses.
This article was first published in our Expat Students Issue. Read more issues in Issuu.com.