Saturday, 3 October 2009


“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed.” - Mohandas K. Gandhi

Whenever I come to Singapore, if it is Sunday, I am always amazed by the large numbers of Filipinas that congregate on Orchard Road (after morning mass is over, of course). Most of them work here as maids, cleaners and service staff. They flock towards Lucky Plaza and rush to the upper floors where the money remittance offices are. They queue there for a long time until their turn comes and then they can send some money to their families back home. They wear their Sunday best and they smile, chatter to each other and dream. They queue again at the internet outlets where they can cheaply talk with their relatives over Skype. Then they can go and have a cheap meal with their friends or even a picnic lunch on one of the sidewalks in the streets off Orchard Rd, for which they get their comstibles in the cheap Filipino shops. And so it was today also…

They flocked around me as I walked down Orchard Rd, their happy voices twittering like the songs of tropical birds, their smiling faces full of Sunday happiness. Their day of rest dedicated to their family and their fellow Filipinas here in Singapore. The outing providing them with the opportunity to talk their language, share their stories, alleviate their homesickness, share a smile. I’ve heard that many of them have to work long hours for low wages and even have to cope with bad working conditions and perhaps even a cruel boss. The Filipina maid here in Singapore is an expendable commodity and if the one you have is not what you are looking for, there are many others willing to take her place. The placement agencies (many in Lucky Plaza once again) have hundreds of advertisements, photos upon photos of available service staff. To be placed in a household attracts a hefty fee for the agent, which the worker has to pay.

The same goes for Indonesians, Indians, other SE Asians who wish to come to Singapore and work, taking advantage of the buoyant economy. Indian workers are willing to be shipped here and work in construction sites and willing to pay their first 6-12 months of wages to the agent that places them. In return they get dormitory space to sleep in and their meals. If they then stay on, they will get the money in their pockets to send back home… One sees them by the truckload early every morning being taken to the site and returning late in the evening.

The haves and the have nots. The struggle for survival versus the greed of the rapacious egotistical society that rewards avarice and the search for status and endless luxury. The riches of our century are unimaginable, but the prices is that poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. Poverty in times before was the result of natural scarcity, however, nowadays poverty is the result of a set of priorities dictated by the rich. The modern poor are written off as rubbish. Our consumer economy views the poor with disdain and ignores them as no-hopers, idlers and as those who fail to take the opportunities given to them. They are not indeed social entrepreneurs as the conference I attended concluded…


  1. 'our consumer economy views the poor with disdain and ignores them as no-hopers, idlers and those who fail to take up the opportunities given to them'..hmmmm, reminds me a bit of Thatcherism and the like, with policies which take away the ordinary working man's job/business, home,, even...and then blame it on the individual concerned for 'not making the most of opportunities'.!!!!!

    Where there is money and greed, there'll always be someone who'll try to take advantage of others..the filipino maids, like others may be happy with their lot, but they should not be exploited.

  2. The problem you describe Nicholas is unfortunately common in many Western countries as economic refugees come in to find a better life for themselves and their families. It looks like the terrible life they live in these rich countries is better than the even more terrible one they live back home.

    I remember seeing a film called "El Norte" where some Guatemalan economic refugees go through Mexico to reach Los Angeles and make a better life for themselves in the magical land of riches in "the North". Tragedy ensues.