At 5 a.m. every day, Caren walks 300 meters from her rooming-house in Thao Dien Ward, HCMC, to her employers’ home to prepare breakfast and take their child girl to school.
The 43-year-old Filipino woman has been working as a domestic helper in Vietnam for eight years. For the first two years, she worked for a foreign family. After that, she started working for Vietnamese families.
“Excluding living costs, I save around VND12 million ($511) every month. I send the money to my husband in the Philippines so he can use it to raise our children,” Caren said.
According to Caren, there are so many Filipino housekeepers in her neighborhood, Thao Dien, that it’s nicknamed “foreign help ward.” Their career patterns are more or less the same, as the majority of them started as domestic helpers for foreigners’ families, and after these families returned to their home countries, these Filipino women started working in Vietnamese families.
“Vietnamese families pay me between VND15-20 million a month, which is almost as high as foreign families. Some families have paid me even higher,” Caren said.
Her tasks are mainly taking care of her employer’s three-year-old girl and cleaning the house. She does not have to cook.
“My employer wants to cook as their family prefers Vietnamese dishes, so I only assist them in the kitchen,” she explained.
In addition to house cleaning and child caretaking, Caren also teaches her employer’s daughter English, hygiene, safety, manners, and she also supervises the child’s homework. Every night, before sending the child to sleep, Caren reads English books to the girl or tells bedtime stories.
“She is only three, but she talks to me in English every day. She likes to call me ‘Caren’ before running to me to hug me,” she said.
Caren said domestic helpers’ incomes in Vietnam are generally lower than that in the Philippines. In compensation for that, Vietnamese employers are generous, as they often pay full salaries even when helpers take leave. The cost of living in Vietnam is lower than the Philippines, so she is able to save more money compared to living in her home country.
Nguyen Thanh Nhat, 35, resides near Caren’s neighborhood.
He said that he’s observed the number of foreign housekeepers in Vietnam rise over the past five years. According to Nhat, although there are many different nationalities living nearby, most of the nannies, housekeepers and other domestic help are Filipino.
“Every afternoon, when I stroll Quoc Huong Street, I see a lot of [Filipino nannies] shopping or taking their employers’ children for a walk,” he said.
Tran Thanh Phuong, 30, a resident of Thao Dien ward, said she used to hire Vietnamese domestic helpers. But after giving birth, her employees demanded raises that she couldn’t afford, so she had to let them go.
“Most Vietnamese domestic helpers are under the management of agencies, so they quit easily. Every time it happened, I had to pay the agency VND 1 million to find a new one,” Phuong said.
After encountering the same problem with Vietnamese helpers over and over again, Phuong decided to try hiring foreigners instead.
Phuong said foreign domestic helpers are self-conscious and she has never had to remind them about anything. They often voluntarily do things out of their own sense of duty as well.
“For example, if I ask them to do the laundry, they filter the clothes in terms of colors, wash dark-colored clothes and light-colored clothes separately, and also carefully iron everything, from clothes and bedsheets, to underwear,” she said.
Another benefit, according to Phuong, is that foreign helpers can also help their employers’ children learn English. “The thing that makes me most satisfied with them is how professional they are. They stay until they finish their tasks instead of staying until their shift is up,” she added.
Nguyen Thu Trang, 35, resident of the Phu My Hung neighborhood in District 7, has had similar experiences to Phuong’s.
“Vietnamese helpers, who are under management of agencies, don’t work hard. They frequently quit as they think they can easily come back to the agency looking for a new employer,” she said.
Trang’s family employs a Filipino helper for VND 20 million a month. She thinks this amount of money makes sense, as her helper doesn’t only do house errands, cook well, take care of her children and teach them English, but also knows how to perform first-aid and drive a car.
“It normally takes them only two to three hours to finish all of the house chores. If there’s anything they don’t know how to do, they learn from the Internet,” she said.
According to a VnExpress survey, foreigners working as domestic helpers in HCMC mainly live in District 7 and Thu Duc municipality. They often live in clusters of rentals that include 20 to 30 people.
Tran Phuong Nam, deputy head of Thao Dien ward, said there are currently over 8,600 foreigners from 109 different countries and regions living in the neighborhood. Among them, 376 are Filipino nationality holders, all of which have authorized residence permits and work permits.
“There are 84 Filipinos registered as full-time domestic helpers,” he said.
A 59-year-old Filipino woman Rosemarie attributed the popularity of Filipino helpers in HCMC to the fact that they have to complete a nearly-one-year training course before working here.
After her husband passed away in 2011, Rosemarie needed money. A relative of hers suggested that she should try relocating to Vietnam. When she first came to Vietnam, she worked as a teaching assistant at an English teaching center in District 7, HCMC, and received $300 a month as her salary. She struggled getting by with this salary. After knowing that working as domestic helpers could bring higher incomes, she decided to change her career.
Currently, she is working as a helper for a Vietnamese family in Thao Dien ward, HCMC, for VND 15 million a month.
“I feel fortunate after coming to and working in Vietnam. I have a stable job, with a good income. Thanks to my job here, my children in the Philippines have a better quality of life,” she said.