Sat, 27 Sep 2003

School produces professional domestic workers

Singgir Kartana, Contributor, Yogyakarta

"Come on, take my picture. I can drive now," Sukati, a 22-year- old housemaid, said. Her hands were on the steering wheel of a minivan. Several other young women, who were in the vehicle, also made the same request and started to pose for pictures.

The young women were all cheerful and proud of their new skill, thanks to the Household Workers' School, which teaches them many new things, including English and computer operating programs.

Suprapti, a 19-year-old villager from Gunungkidul, said that she was thrilled after being able to operate the computer.

"It's much easier to type on a computer than a typewriter. If you make a mistake, you can just delete it. I can now write a letter on the computer," said the housemaid, who had never touched a computer before.

The Household Workers' School was established in July by a non-government organization (NGO) called Tjoet Njak Dien Women Forum with help from the Ford Foundation and several women's groups concerned with domestic workers.

The activists rent a 600-square-meter building on Jl. Nitikan Baru 25, Yogyakarta, for the school. It has several classrooms and a student dormitory.

The school has the three majors of householding, which teaches students about cooking and the skills to handle other household chores, babysitting and nursing of the elderly.

A total of 50 students are currently studying at the school. They are between 15 and 35-years old and come from various areas in the provinces of Yogyakarta and Central Java, like Magelang, Surakarta and Sragen.

The students are poor villagers and mostly are only elementary school graduates. Some have no work experiences at all.

The NGO set up the school due to their concerns for the domestic workers who are marginalized and looked down on by society.

Since they usually work long hours -- from early in the morning before the employers wake up until after the family have eaten dinner -- the workers do not have spare time for themselves to develop their interests and learn new things.

The fact that many of the workers are not professional has resulted in their low bargaining power. Not only do they earn little, most of the time they are also treated poorly by their employers -- mentally and physically.

"Therefore we try to improve their skills and broaden their minds. We also encourage them to care about their colleagues and to organize," NGO director Lita Anggraini said.

The Union of Domestic Helpers in Yogyakarta was established in April to help them overcome problems related to their profession.

The school, the first of its kind, empowers the students and teaches them to be gender sensitive. They also learn about solidarity and pluralism.

Besides the main lessons, like cooking and housekeeping, the school also has reproduction and human rights classes. In addition, students learn about traditional treatment, including how to make traditional medicines or jamu.

The program lasts seven months. Two months for the theory and five months for the practice. They learn three times a week and each session lasts for 90 minutes.

The teaching staff are professionals from different institutions, like the Yogyakarta Language Institute, the Tarakanita Academy of Social Welfare, and also from the Tjoet Njak Dien Women Forum.

The NGO also changed the term for PRT, which stands for Pembantu Rumah Tangga, from the Household Helpers to the Household Workers because they do not only help but they do all the work.

The school recruits students by spreading the information through the media and brochures. Courses and also the dormitory for those coming outside Yogyakarta are free.

"We prioritize accepting the poor, especially graduates of elementary schools or junior high schools who cannot afford higher education. But we also accept those who have already worked," Zainuddin, the school principal and activist of Tjoet Njak Dien Women Forum, said.

The students will receive a certificate upon graduation. Tjoet Njak Dien Women Forum also offers job placements for its graduates. Unlike domestic worker agencies, the NGO does not charge any fee. However, the graduates are also free to find any job by themselves.

Zainuddin said the school aimed to produce professional household workers so the graduates would have a better bargaining position. They are also expected to have the ability to organize their colleagues.

"We do not mean to encourage them to change the profession," he said.

But some students had another idea. They hoped their new skills would enable them to get better jobs.

"Who wants to be a housemaid for life? After I get married, I will find another job," said Heni, chairwoman of the Yogyakarta Household Workers Union.