Indonesian migrant workers in Taiwan won a literary contest for foreign workers last month which was sponsored by the Taipei city government (The Jakarta Post, Oct. 2).
The words from one winning piece were; “Please forgive me, time has buried my longing for your love, and I hope you find true love somewhere else”. This is a sample sentence from a first-prize-winning essay titled Kinanthi, which was written by Sri Jumitai, an Indonesian migrant worker in Taiwan. Anik Krisnawati, another Indonesian migrant worker, won first prize in the poetry category for her poem titled Happiness Terminal.
There are reasons why these works of literature are special and were chosen as winners.
First, Sri Junitai and Anik Krisnawati won after beating participants from other countries; migrant workers from the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.
Second, Kinanthi and Happiness Terminal were two of the best works of literature from a total 2,063 pieces submitted to the judging committee. After a three-stage review process, 20 winners were selected, which included 14 poems and six essays.
The winning pieces were all produced by migrant domestic workers who said they wrote in their leisure and rest time from their daily chores.
They did so with limited facilities, too; writing by hand on pieces of paper, which they sent to the competition committee. They also found difficulties in accessing great literature works that could increase their knowledge and writing skills. Their works were based on their experiences, either as domestic workers or as women in love.
Indonesian migrant workers have had their literary works published in newspapers in both Hong Kong and Indonesia. Some of their pieces have even been printed as books, including Nyanyian Imigran (a compilation of short stories), Ranting Sakura (a novel), Memoar of Kungyan (written by Maria Bo Niok), Penari Naga Kecil (a compilation of short stories by Tarini Sorrita) and Catatan Harian Seorang Pramuwisma (written by Rini Widyawati).
How is it that Indonesian migrant workers in Hong Kong could write such literary works? Maybe it is because they work under better conditions than Indonesian migrant workers in other countries. Hong Kong foreign labor regulations are better than those of other governments. One such regulation is the compulsory day off per week (every Sunday) for migrant workers in Hong Kong.
Migrant workers use the holiday to do their own activities, including to produce works of literature. There are also some literature communities that have been established by Indonesian Migrant Workers in Hong Kong, like: Parantau Nusantara Community, Cafi de Kossta and Forum Lingkar Pena (Hong Kong branch). The communities each have their own activities and programs.
Good literary works have come from these writers and their love for the literary world. In creating literature, they have found the right place and media to express their thoughts, wishes and identities. They can freely express their problems, duties and futures as domestic workers.
This kind of activity among migrant workers needs support from all stakeholders, especially the government, which refers to Indonesian migrant workers as national foreign exchange heroes.
What do they need? First, they need better working conditions abroad. This means their workplaces should be free from violence and their rights should be adhered to so they can express themselves freely. One of the most important rights is the compulsory day off work every week. As domestic workers, they have the right to a day off duty for rest and leisure time.
Second, the government needs to sponsor literary activities and other cultural competitions for Indonesian migrant workers in countries where Indonesian migrant worker numbers are high, like in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and Saudi Arabia. Such activities are very important, as they give workers the opportunity to develop their talent. That way, our workers are not only sent home with their salary but can also show the world that even housemaids can produce quality literary works.
The writer is an alumnus of the Arabic literature department at Gadjah Mada University and is a former advocacy program coordinator at Migrant CARE in Jakarta. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by: Faishol Adib