Tag: migrant worker

A self starter

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Meet Daniel. To the uninformed eye he appears to be an ordinary barista but looks can be deceiving.

He doesn’t just make coffee. He’s essentially a ‘one- man team.’ He has been trusted to run the entire branch with only an intern who has recently joined him. Duties include handling inventory, permits, licenses and anything else that the municipality requires; all on his own. Despite his humble demeanor, his talent is self-evident. He tells me how small the margin for error is. For example, selling a single item past its expiry date can result in the branch being closed. For a conglomerate to apportion this level of responsibility to a single employee is unheard of and the accountability never ceases. “I go home, take off my uniform and get back to work,” he jokes; but this is no exaggeration. For five days a week he works from early in the morning to well into the night, handling the everyday running of the shop. Following this he begins filling out the days paperwork which doesn’t end until 10pm. After waking up at 4 AM he repeats this process.

As he reveals this I can’t help but wonder how he is so relaxed. Not only does he have to navigate his stressful work life, his weekends are spent studying at university; and he enjoys it! He perceives the added workload as a recognition of his considerable value whilst his educational pursuits provide a personal challenge. I ask him what motivates him to be so industrious and his reply was short; “my parents.” Both his mother and father are retired in his native Philippines, where his siblings also reside. Every month he remits as much money as possible to support them. However, he feels no pressure to provide. He stresses that these monthly displays of generosity are completely voluntary. He uses these payments as a means of showing his “respect and love” to them. “Yesterday I made another payment, so I think they love me a little more right now!”

Daniel moved to Dubai after working in Saudi Arabia for 3 years. There he learned how to speak Arabic, how to run a coffee shop and how much Middle Eastern countries differ. He believes that the UAE is always “one step ahead” of their rivals and describes Dubai as “a work of art – it’s as if someone created this place with a paintbrush.” He gestures towards the skyline and marvels at the pace of development.

Clearly, his knack for shouldering responsibility is at the core of who he is. He accepts the burden of his work, education and providing for his family. His life choices are no different. He saw no reason why Dubai would be free of prejudice. Consequently, he refuses to begrudge any limited prospects he may face. It was his decision to come here. It is also his decision to leave.

He has passed his university exams, processed his paperwork and is imminently moving to Canada. There he will become the official manager of another coffee shop. His salary will increase and so will his generosity toward his family; but this is just the beginning.

Daniel’s grand ambition is to start his own company, perhaps a food service. There he can hire his siblings, support his parents and take complete ownership of his work ethic. He would finally be able to be his own boss. This vision of his becomes clearer and with each passing day and draws closer with each sleepless night. I have no doubt that soon it will be his reality.






A brighter future

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Meet Naveen and Rohan, two childhood friends who rolled the dice. At first glance, they seem like any other blue collar expats, working hard to support family back at home. However, Dubai wasn’t their first port of call when looking for employment outside their home country.

After spending most of his young life in India, Naveen moved to Singapore to finish his degree. Rohan followed suit by travelling to New Zealand for his education. They smile as they recall their experiences as first time expats in these developed, westernised countries. Studying and being away from family for the first time feels a lifetime away from their current position. They now work 12 hours a day and 6 days a week as security guards at a compound.

Whilst there is little time for fun in their current daily routine of work and sleep, both men draw strength from their families back home. They speak to them daily and remind themselves why they are doing the jobs they do.

After being denied a work visa in New Zealand, Rohan needed to find another job. He still had to support his parents but after enjoying the way of life in New Zealand, moving back to India was not an option. “Even though financially things have gotten better, life is too sad back home. All my friends want to leave;” and one of them had his eyes on Dubai. A recommendation from this trusted contact was all it took for Rohan to end his search. He knew little about the city and didn’t care. All he needed was a job and a work visa, something New Zealand refused to offer.

I find out that at the same time Rohan’s life was being uprooted, Naveen decided to spend all his savings on his sister’s wedding. He struggles to contain his joy when he tells me this, so the look of embarrassment that follows is puzzling. His family is his priority but his act of selflessness, though commendable, proved short sighted. Naveen’s father became ill. The expenses of his heart medication began to snowball. The cost of living in Singapore started to skyrocket. Naveen needed more money. And quickly. In desperation he turned to Rohan who offered him a ray of hope in the form of Dubai. Without hesitating, he spent his remaining 14,000 rupees on a one-way trip.

The difference between these two and other migrants is their perspectives. They had lived in first world countries, been educated at degree level and knew their worth. Sadly, great expectations often end in disappointment. At first glance, this is just another example. Both men are tired, frustrated and worst of all, underpaid. Despite moving across the world their salaries have barely improved. Their families are still struggling.

However, what happens next is unexpected. Rohan tells me that this is all going to change. He explains that they are pursuing new jobs. Rohan has previous management experience and is looking for a managerial role at a hotel, whilst Naveen is pursuing more lucrative security role. They make a point of referring to their future as “bright”, a complete contrast to the dim room we are currently in.  Nevertheless, they remain resolute.  Neither of them has given up on reclaiming the lives they used to lead.

They admit it will not be easy. Meaningful opportunities are scarce, they have little time or energy to pursue them and their Indian passports have proven to be a stumbling block. The odds are stacked against them. However, bad odds didn’t deter them in the past. They are willing to bet on themselves yet again and I hope their luck will change. After all, this is Dubai, the city where dreams are made.





Trials, tribulations and training

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Meet Ishara. He currently runs the café at the heart of a fantastic martial arts gym in the UAE. He is not hard to miss. His large frame and imposing physique is in complete contrast to his ever-present smile and friendly nature. He moved to Dubai from his native Sri Lanka in 2016 for an unsurprising reason; to improve his salary and support his family. However, what is unconventional is his lifestyle.

He may be a passionate bodybuilder, but he has absolutely no interest in martial arts. “Martial arts just look too hard”, he jokes. However, his daily routine is all that is needed to show his mental strength. For 6 days a week he works 9 ½ hour days. Where most people would consider another pastime, he persists. From 11 PM until 12:30 AM he lifts weights. When he gets home he sets his alarm for 6 AM to repeat the day. He acknowledges that his habit of sleeping 5 hours a night is nowhere near enough time to recover from his intense workouts, yet he looks well rested with youthful features. I am shocked to find out he is 30. “Do you want to know my secret for looking young?” he asks me. “Well this is it” he says as he gestures towards his large bag. It contains the food he has prepared days in advance. I find his dedication remarkable. In the two hours between finishing work and going to the gym, the only time that he can relax, he spends cooking.

Training clearly means more to him than just physical fitness. It seems to be the only way he can cope with the stress at work. “I need some help”, he confesses. Currently the gym is understaffed, and few have been affected more than Ishara. It is 5 pm, the only time we can talk. As soon as 6 pm arrives the gym becomes swarmed by the regulars and his services are in high demand. Whether it be preparing food, making shakes or cleaning the kitchen, he is almost always occupied. Furthermore, there’s currently no one to share these responsibilities; and he doesn’t have time to take a break.

His honesty pierces through during this conversation, yet he reveals that he is often untruthful to those who matter most. He compensates for not being able to see his family by speaking to them often; but he ensures that the details of his personal struggles remain hidden. “I don’t want them to worry about me” he explains. Although his fibs are out of character, they are completely understandable. Having his family worry about him is apparently the one form of anxiety that overcomes his resilience. I can’t help but wonder whether he feels a sense of relief by being unable to go home. He may be sleep-deprived and overworked but his parents feel proud of his fruitful move. As the oldest of four children, he tries to support his family by remitting as much as possible, but lately payments have been less frequent. He explains that his living expenses such as travel, housing and food are taking its toll. “I try to send as much as I can but sometimes it’s just not possible.”

His determination to continue his hectic days is a must to fulfil his long-term ambition; starting his own business in Sri Lanka. His work ethic and tenacity are undeniable. What he lacks is management experience; a shortfall he is looking to perfect in his next job. I have no doubt that any future employer would be overjoyed with his effort and enthusiasm.



Working 7am-7pm, what a way to make a living

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In the second blog post of the Real Life Stories series, we hear Third’s story.

Why is he in Dubai? How does he spend a typical day? What does he do with his money?

Life isn’t always easy, but with an end goal to focus on, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Third’s story

Danilo III, or “Third” as he likes to be known, has lived in Dubai for four months, where he moved to from the Philippines. He works as a concierge for a building management company.

Just like most migrant workers in the UAE, Third works six days a week for 12 hours a day, 7am until 7pm. A typical day starts with an instant coffee before the bus ride into work. He lives in Al Quoz, and his accommodation is a long distance from the metro, so he has to share a bus with the colleagues he lives with (he shares a room with several other men). Work is 10km away so walking isn’t an option, especially in the summer when the temperature is known to reach 50 degrees Celsius.

After the bus journey, Third gets to work where he spends the day dealing with the visitors, tradesmen, and office workers in the building. He enjoys his job, there’s lots to do so he’s always busy and especially enjoys getting to know the residents of the building and hearing their stories every morning. He greets everyone with a warm smile, which is bound to brighten up even the dustiest of days!

In the evenings, Third generally does some grocery shopping or his laundry or other household tasks. When possible, he meets up with his wife, which is usually around three times a week. He met her in the Philippines, and they moved over to Dubai together, however they have to live in separate accommodation because they work for separate companies. She works and lives at the airport, which is 25km away from where Third lives in Al Quoz. As you can imagine, being newly weds and living such a distance away from each other with minimal public transport isn’t ideal. They both have the same day off each week, which they spend wandering around Deira City Centre Mall (but not buying anything…).

Third and his wife moved to Dubai to save money and make a better life for themselves, as well as to send money to their friends and family back home. Their first goal is to save enough for a proper Church wedding, as they only had a small affair at home. Then they would like to rent a flat together, so they can settle down and end the current separation. Third is also putting away a little bit of money each month for when they decide to have a baby.

Access to an online account means they could manage their finances and keep their money securely in an account (rather than in cash format stored in shared accommodation). The life Third and his wife wish for is within reach. The money to be made in Dubai is far more than they can earn back in the Philippines, which will in turn open up more opportunities for their future family. Giving Third and his wife access to banking and cheaper remittance could bring their dream wedding and life as a family one step closer.

What does it take to be Dubai’s most requested beautician?

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In this new “day in the life” series we have interviewed low-income migrant workers around Dubai to understand about their lifestyle, why they’re here and their prospects for the future. Today we speak to a beautician from India.

How did you hear about working in Dubai?

My sister and I both trained to be beauticians in India. My sister heard you could earn more doing the same things in Dubai, and her friend helped her to get a job working for one of the best salons here. A year later, I followed her to work for the same company.  Eight years later, my sister and I are still here.

What’s your schedule like each day?

I work 12 hours a day, usually 10am to 10pm. I’m the top requested person in the salon so I usually have a full day of appointments, mostly waxing. I can do all treatments but people say it’s not painful when I wax them, so that’s the top thing I get booked for! My clients are very loyal- I know them well and enjoy chatting to them, so the day passes quickly.

Do you get to see your sister much? How do you spend your time?

We share an apartment in Al Quoz provided by our company. We work in different salons but the company makes sure we get the same day off, and we travel to work on the same bus. We’re usually tired by our day off, so we’ll sleep in for a while! We try to go to church every other week, and we go to the mall, or the cinema.

What’s your company like to work for?

We work hard but we are loyal to the company because they are loyal to us. Like tomorrow we have a party, which is Great Gatsby theme. We’ve all got new shiny dresses. There will be around 500 people, which will be a lot of fun.

How often do you go back to India to see your family?

We get 30 days of leave each summer, sometimes more if you worked overtime in busy times like Eid, Christmas and New Year. Usually my sister and I go back to India, but this year, we brought our parents to see Dubai instead. It was hot but they loved it. We went to Dubai Parks, saw the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall. They’ll come back.

Do you send money back to your family every month? Can you afford to save money for yourself as well?

Yes, we’re supporting our parents and younger brothers through university. One of our brothers might come to Dubai if he can get an IT job when he graduates. I don’t always save for long things like a house…. I have paid for myself to get other things I wanted though, like orthodontic braces! Haha.

Will you move back to India eventually and settle down?

When I first came to Dubai, I thought it would just be for two or three years, but now I’m not sure. It’s lovely to visit home, but the people there haven’t left or explored the world much. I think I’d get bored living at home now I’ve been independent in Dubai all this time; I’ve changed. My parents want me to choose the person I’ll marry and I don’t think the right guy is there at home for me. My sister met a guy in Dubai and I think they’ll get married and stay here. Maybe one day I will too!