These powerful essays were written by students from TASOK (The American School of Kinshasa, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo) after reading and analysing Almaz’s story
Solving Modern Exploitation
The graphic novel “Almaz’s Story” opened my understanding of abuse and helped me realize that there is no uniform for exploitation, it can take place anywhere. Almaz’s story not only, but also shocked me for I have never heard of such cruelty towards a maid; other than Seba’s story which was presented to us earlier on this school year. By reflecting on Almaz’s Story I have come up with three possible solutions, or measures we could possibly take in order to insure the safety of other “maids.” In order to take action to protect those from exploitations in global terms one of the three projects could take place. The first measure we could take could be to have globally government approved organizations that employ jobless, a global system in which undeveloped societies are educated on possible risks of domestic jobs reference to safer alternatives for these people, or by spreading the message in techniques just as Positive Negatives just did we can inform all people of the world of this global matter.
In the development of a global organization that attacks the initial conflict faced by Almaz throughout “Almaz’s Story.” Which was a need to make money, we may not even need to stress with the other needed measures. However, the only set back in this organization would be its rate of employment. Despite the fact that this organization would be government funded, meaning its funds would hopefully come in great measures, I do not think it will develop fast enough throughout deprived or developing societies for there are too many for this organization to handle efficiently. Other than this with the establishment of this organization the deprived such as Almza could find a safer and protected alternative to accumulating money for family.
Despite the fact that an organization that employs those in need with safe alternative jobs rather than dangerous jobs will certainly benefit those in need for a source of income. I cannot come to imagine that there will not be left one region unemployed. Therefore another measure we can take in order to protect the vulnerable from these exploitations is by forming a global organizations established in largely deprived regions, and having terms reach out to these areas and inform them of the dangers of domestic labour. However, this doesn’t solve the root of the problem; it will be able to warn and quicken the phase of work compared to the previous method. This may in fact save a person from experiencing the painful circumstances faced by Almaz.
The Positive Negatives foundation in my opinion is truly a great one. For not only does it inform the public, and spread the word of the injustice that occurs on our planet such as domestic violence, abuse, rape, and exploitation, but it informs readers in a way that scars their mind and leaves them thinking. What if someone was there to tell her before, or if Almaz had found a fair job? With that being said I believe by funding more organizations such as Negative Positives we may be able to get information about Almaz, and other victims of the public to see and hear.
These three measures have only been developed keeping in mind the outcome of the domestic worker, or possible victims. The first Government funded organization would allow money to come into the hands of those that may have been looking towards the job of a domestic helper that could have experienced exploitation. The second organization that focuses on the information’s being spread out throughout deprived societies would insure knowledge of being passed down as to the possible conditions of domestic work or other labour required employment. However, this option would also reference to the first option and give societies a chance to join an abuse free money making system. The final project which is based around forming groups such as the one responsible for writing and illustrating “Almaz’s Story” allows the information on abuse and exploitation to be passed throughout more privileged classes. Informing them of tragedies, and actions to take. All three of these goals are set to limit the chances of less privileged people to get into the wrong hands, but still trying to supply them with income to support they’re families.
Women domestic workers in Ethiopia
Ethiopia is located in east-central Africa, and the population is about 99.4 million. The GDP of the country is about $121.4 billion (CIA, 2016), ranking 69th out of 288 countries in the world. In Ethiopia, around 200,000 Ethiopian female workers of 248,600 Ethiopian domestic workers migrated to the Middle East for employment in domestic work according to the figures from Ethiopian’s Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (2012). Almaz story illustrates the life as an Ethiopian woman domestic worker in a foreign country, and in fact, society itself has encouraged the workforce to work abroad. They face many hardships that they need an urgent development in their working conditions.
“Almaz’s story” is a comic book about the true story of an Ethiopian girl who was abused as a migrant housemaid in Saudi Arabia. In the story, she was treated as a slave who overworked, frequently experienced sexual harassment by the employer. When my family lived in Indonesia, we hired several maids. However, I haven’t heard any of these abusive working situations in my life. When I realized that Almaz was of a similar age with me, it made me feel sympathetic about her conditions. She worked abroad for money and was treated as if she was a slave. If I was born in Ethiopia, I could have been one of the girls who migrated to work all day in a foreign country at an early age.
In Ethiopia, women domestic workers like Almaz exist on account of poor households, discrimination based on gender, and high unemployment rate. Ethiopia is one of the world’s poorest countries. About 44 percent of the population lives under the poverty line (Finance Maps of the World, 2015). The workers get wages in range of $US 100 to 150 a month (MOLSA, 2009), which is 35% to 52% of the monthly average salary in the country (Average monthly salary in Ethiopia: 6,085 ETB). Despite the low income, Ethiopian women prefer to work abroad to raise money for their households due to poverty and lack of employment opportunities at home. The female workers share 91 percent of the migrant domestic employment (ILO, 1999) because cleaning, cooking, and caring children and the elderly are most universally regarded as women’s work. Moreover, the unemployment rate of women is about 25.3%, compared to 11.4% among males (UEUS, 2011). Compared to the world’s average women unemployment rate of 6.4% (ILO, 2015), it has remained relatively high.
In addition to their poor living conditions, many of Ethiopian female domestic workers face more hardships and abuse abroad. To ensure their rights, they need protection from the government, education about their rights, and public attention to this issue. A significant number of the workers in the Middle East experience low wages, poor working and living conditions, and virtual absence of social protection. In many cases, they even have physical, sexual, and psychological abuses that sometimes lead to death. In order to improve their conditions, the government should revise labour laws for migrant domestic workers until they gain equal rights to local citizens. This law should be in international standards. Abused workers should be aware that they can have legal assistance from the government for their rights. And most importantly, public should raise national awareness and attention to the workers. Employers must know that domestic workers engaging in their houses have human rights to maintain at least standard working conditions.
Ethiopian women domestic workers must be protected from the society. Almaz’s story has shown how the workers are generally treated by foreign employers. The reason many women workers work comes from gender inequality, high poverty, and unemployment rate of the country. They work in a condition that is vulnerable to abuses. The human rights for Ethiopian domestic workers in the Middle East are essential. Thus the government regulation must have them under legal protection.
The Disturbing Truth
The graphic novel Almaz’s Story was written and published by Positive Negatives which is a social action organization. The graphic novel is based on a true story of an Ethiopian girl getting sent to a foreign country to work as a domestic. Throughout the story they describe the hardships of working as a domestic in a foreign country. Being a vulnerable women from Ethiopia her bosses have decided to abuse their power over her by forcing to do extra hours, paying nothing, and also rape. To me these issues that we face today are just completely unacceptable and atrocious. I believe that all human beings no matter from where and in which social class deserve a minimum of basic human rights. In this graphic novel Almaz did not have access to these rights and she could not fight back because she depends on these horrible, insignificant people to pay her. Almaz’s main objective is to receive money in order to send it to her mother back home in Ethiopia who is unable to even afford basic needs such as food.
One of the main themes and issue that kept being displayed in this graphic novel is the constant abuse and disregard for Almaz. When she had arrived she was forced to sleep in a small tight room. She had to start work around six in the morning meaning she had to wake up around five every day in order to complete her prayers before work. During the day of work she felt hardships coming from her boss which was physical and verbal abuse when Almaz did something wrong. I think that the abuse of an underclass person working for you is just wrong and awful to do. The maximum that can be done to the person is getting fired. When I was reading this I was not just shocked by the events taking place but I was also horrified, and disturbed on how such atrocious acts exist in the first place.
The second issue that was faced along the story in the graphic novel is the payment. Despite abusing and forcing Almaz to work as hard as she can with limiting her freedom, Almaz still did not receive payment. This clearly indicates signs of slavery, and not of a regular domestic job. The main problem I had with this was whenever she demanded her payment she was either shutdown or beat for such a proposal in the first place. Which is just wrong and awful to do and it makes me feel so bad because there is nothing I can do to eradicate this ongoing problem. Despite societies raising awareness on the issue not a lot of people put the time and effort to help the people who are trapped in hell with no possible escape.
The third and most disturbing issue in this graphic novel was the constant rape from a man who was her boss’s husband. This is going over and beyond of the abuse and taking advantage of a young girl not knowing the world seeking to help her mother. She is defenseless as a middle aged man grabs her and forces her to do non deserved or wanted acts. This situation she is put in is just absolutely unforgivable and just disappointing to see in our day and age. Honestly I did not expect our population being the human population faced issues such as these in the modern day. I believed that issues like these that should have never happened in the first place are meant for prehistoric people. And I am ashamed to call myself a human in a world where there are others who are recognized by the same name and perform such horrifying acts.
After reading this moving and mind changing graphic novel I have now realized that our world has not yet eradicated slavery. Instead of our progress as the human race we are degrading as wild and savage beasts who Rome the earth. This just absolutely breaks and utterly massacres my heart and makes me wonder why and how these events have happened in the first place. I believe that we shall never know but I believe that there is no justification for acts of that nature, and these people need to get arrested and put in jail without trial just a testimony from Almaz. I hope that one day we can completely, officially, unofficially wipe out this hell on earth vulnerable people have to face every day. I ask one question and one question only are we not all the same species.
Almaz: A Story of Migrant Labour
When you think of global problems, what’s the first issue that comes to mind? Terrorism? Global climate change? Human rights? Even when human right’s is considered as a global problem, modern day slavery is not a pressing concern. Well, Almaz is a mere example of the millions of women, children and even men who are currently going through forms of slavery today. According to the International Labor Organization, about 52 million men and women work as domestic workers across the globe. Majority of these domestic laborers are either migrants like Almaz or have moved from rural areas in their country. These workers are generally not even considered as proper workers in most countries, which helps prove that they do not have the same rights or laws applied compared to other workers, such as minimal wages. These domestic workers lack basic human rights. Not only does awareness need to be raised relating to this enormous and important issue but something needs to be done. How can over 52 million lives be affected everyday by this and not even be heard of?
You, yes you, there is something you can do about it. There is something each one of us can do about it no matter how small it may be, as long as we’re all working towards one common goal. That common goal should be living in a world of peace, where you know people are not dying in wars or poor domestic workers are being mistreated and exploited. You can do so much for this cause just by being your normal self. You may decide to raise awareness by just uploading a tweet with a quote. Or you may talk to your friends, parents and others about how they should be treating their domestic workers, as well as asking if they have heard any such stories. Awareness is key to this because not many people know about this form of modern day slavery, and many do not even know modern day slavery exists today. The way the media addresses these issues are either not focused on gravely or present it as a smaller issue. However, the truth is that it is a large issue and is affecting millions of lives daily. Normally, you would not expect such a situation to be present in the 21st century, humans deserve to have basic human rights and every nation should be supporting human rights. History has shown us so much, and has proved to us that no life is greater than another; equality is what we are fighting towards. What happened to Almaz should not happen to others. Therefore, I encourage you to find a way to fight against this issue; everyone should have the privilege to basic human rights.
Almaz: A Story of Migrant Labour
The story of Almaz, the story of migrant labour, really reminded me of domestic helpers in specifically in the Middle East. Particularly, in Dubai, as it is a place I often go. There is a large population of Philippines, where lots of them are nannies. Typically, Arab families are quite large, in the sense that they usually have 4 to 6 children, if not more. When going to the mall, I see the nannies taking care of the children, sometimes carrying shopping bags, just like in the story. To be honest as I was reading this story about Almaz flying for the first time to Riyadh, I had tears falling from my eyes, onto my cheeks. I feel terrible to think that I might have witnessed part of what is domestic exploitation without even know it. And now that I actually take the time to relate to the story, it breaks my heart to think that I might have witnessed such an act without even realizing what was right in front of my eyes.
The worse thing is not even the abusing, it is the way sir and mama treated Almaz. Always shutting her up, disrespecting her, cutting her off. Where are the manners and respectful human acts towards a helpful guest? Treating someone with respect is the basic manner required to treat someone mannerly. Pointing out, that just because someone is working for someone else that doesn’t make the worker any less important. It is not because they are from a different “social” class that they should be treated any differently, at all. All humans have the right to basic needs, food and water are just as valuable as respect.
After reading articles and stories on these issues, or even learning about slavery in history class, it really made me wonder. Sometimes I try imagining myself in their situation to think about what I could do, how I could report it, but I haven’t been through such situations so it is really hard to compare the feelings that may be going through someone’s mind.
Having lived in Congo my whole life, and having adapted to the mindset, living and growing up with a nanny, a cook, and a driver, is how things function inside a household. I think about how hard living is for them because they are quite poor, and usually have a family to support. Waking up early in the morning to come to their jobs and going back late at night due to long distances; being a domestic helper is one of the toughest jobs. I find it very interesting and sad how most cases of domestic exploitation could occur right in front of your eyes, whether in the country you live in, or even your neighborhood. Sometimes I wonder if such acts occur in surrounding near me. Which I believe is possible, it could be happening in the house near mine and I would never know. That is why domestic exploitation is the worst, because it is so isolated, and discrete that people suffer in silence, and they have no other option than to persevere through it. Nevertheless, no human being should go through such difficulties, these acts are inhumane, and are so unethical of the people committing the crime.
A friend of my parents was once explaining the story of how she found out her nanny was stealing from her. She had found it odd how suddenly her perfume and creams were finishing so quickly while she wasn’t using them. As well as when she realized a few of her shirts were actually missing. She had the idea to set up cameras in her house, so she actually did so. She actually caught her nanny on camera trying on her clothes, putting on cream and perfume, and even putting a shirt inside her bag. I guess that might be because some people are so poor and they do not have all of the luxury we own. However, invading someone’s privacy gets to the point it become uncomfortable, and stealing becomes a different issue. My parents friend ended up showing the video to her nanny, and the nanny eventually got fired. That was a very calm way of handling things, because you cannot trust that it wont stop happening again. In some cases, just like in the cartoon of Almaz, things got extremely out of hand where she was abused and beaten. That however is an inhumane act that should not occur. But the way my parent’s friend handled the issue was direct and not hurtful at all, the nanny did something wrong, didn’t want to apologize for it, so she got fired. It was somewhat of a fair cost.
Domestic exploitation is considered a type of slavery, and is categorized somewhat under forced labour too. In these type of situations, the helpers are foreigners; coming from a different country, which is one of the reason they get taken advantage of. These nannies are “private” meaning they live, and are on full time duty inside someone’s home. The isolation that this environment provides makes it harder for authorities to inspect home rather than actual work environments. Exploitation occurs because domestic helpers are taken advantage of, as they are not familiar with the country or language, the employer may take their documents away, or even add costs as their housing fees. Eventual this leads to sexual abuse, forced marriage, forced labour, all because these people are vulnerable and often poor. They don’t want to loose their job so they keep up with all sorts of circumstances, even the worst ones where they are being physically abused.
I am aware that it is not possible to end this problem over night, as it is an ongoing issue that has been happening for centuries. However, it is possible to make the biggest difference, by acting now, even if it could only help a single human being. That could be the beginning of the end of domestic exploitation. Educating people about this issue is probably one of the most important things to do. We have to make sure that people are aware that such matter are actually going on, that exploitation could be going on right in front of their eyes, and that there is a way to take action about this suffering. We have making sure people are aware that it is indeed possible for them to do something about it, to take action now. Writing about it on social media, or news papers, reporting such acts, starting campaigns, making posters, donating, volunteering; the smallest acts could make the biggest differences.
End Slavery Now is a charitable organization based in the United States that specifically deals with domestic exploitation. It provides history on slavery, shares difficult stories that people have gone through, proposes solutions on what anybody can do to help out. This organization has partnerships with antislavery organizations around the United States, they take action right away, and make sure to educate the public about this issue. The following link provides more information about End Slavery Now: http://www.endslaverynow.org/act
Almaz: A Story of Migrant Labour
Violence has always been humanity’s most troubling problem. We often think that people often resort to violence for the possession of something or maybe because of a misunderstanding, but we do not take into consideration that some resort to violence just because they can or because they want to. The world’s vulnerable have been subjected to for centuries and unfortunately still are. In the Almaz story, the Saudi Arabian women she works for pushes Almaz out the window with no valid reasons what so ever, only racist and illogical reasons. Domestic violence might never be completely eradicated but there are measures that could be taken that could better living conditions of domestic workers as well as ensure their safety when working abroad.
Just like most problems around the world, domestic violence can be resolved with the use of education. Children need to be raised to understand and accept the idea of equality of all human beings no matter their race or class or gender or sexual orientation. Injustice and cruelty that domestic workers go through is unacceptable and that needs to be understood by all humans which can be achieved with the use of worldwide education. Worldwide educations is a task that would take decades to achieve, partly because of the amount of wars that are currently taking place. Some people who live in harsh conditions do not have access to education, for example many of the Syrians who fled their homes due to ISIS attacks are not receiving the education they need. Another reason that many people do not get an education is money. Most people cannot receive a primary and secondary education because they can’t afford it (the Congo is a good example), this is why education needs to be free or fairly cheap. Governments of all countries should be obliged to make sure their inhabitants have access to education. When I mention education I am not simply referring to the basics of an education, I am referring to an education that can transform a child’s mindset into realizing that we are all equals. Such an education could end the racism and sexism that still exists in many Middle Eastern countries. Schools all around the world should teach on a universal level, students should learn about different cultures in order to accept different perspectives and ideas round the world.
What I find most surprising is that there are no laws that protect domestic workers in some of the countries they go to. It is quiet disturbing to know that the people who abuse these workers go uncharged for their crimes and could possibly repeat their crimes as well. These helpers are so vulnerable to the point that they have their passports taken away. All governments need to set basic human rights for all domestic helpers, human rights such as the ability to keep your passport!
The Saudi Arabian family that Almaz worked with believed that they had the right to treat her they way they did, that could be because she was poor, maybe because she was African or because she was a girl. I know for a fact that a large amount of racism and sexism still exists in Arab counties in the Middle East as I have witnessed it myself. In the south of Lebanon, in my hometown for example, I have heard people refer to Africans as abeed. Although the people who use the word do not mean it in literal way, they still use the word just because that is how they were thought to refer to black people. The literal meaning of abeed is ‘’slave’’. I myself have heard a story from an Ethiopian helper herself of how she was abducted in Saudi Arabia. I can’t seem to remember her name but every time I would go to my aunt’s house I would notice a large scar above her chest. She would complain that the scar still keeps her up at night due to the pain. We ended up taking her to a pharmacy for pain relievers and the pharmacist asked her to explain how she got the scar. She worked for Saudi Arabian family that had a teenage son who stole money from his parents when they were not home. The domestic helper, the only person who knew about the child’s wrong doings, decided to confront the child and threatened to inform his parents. The son who was furious at the idea of an Ethiopian helper trying to threaten him ended up stabbing her with a knife. The wound was infected. Just like the woman who pushed Almaz out a window I believe that this teenage boy stabbed the Ethiopia helper because he didn’t think that her life was of any value, he did not think that stabbing a poor Ethiopian should be a problem, he did it just because he wanted to. This boy did what he did because he was raised and educated to believe that he is of more value than a domestic helper.
I have mainly focused on education as being “the answer” because I think that over the long run, education is what will solve problems such as domestic violence along with many others. There are of coarse other possible solutions to ensuring the security of domestic helpers such as laws that could be used to penalize any individual who abuses a domestic helper.
Almaz: A Story of Migrant Labour
Leaving her mother in Ethiopia, Almaz flies to Saudi Arabia and begins work as a maid for a wealthy family. As she lives with them, she is treated like a slave and is made to work long hours with little rest. Verbally abused by the matriarch and sexually abused by the patriarch of the family, Almaz soon learns her place as the atrocious behavior continues. Eventually, the family leaves her with some relatives because they are traveling. During her stay Almaz continues to be abused and when she continues questioning the relatives she is pushed out a window. The events that occur during Almaz’s brief stay in Saudi Arabia paint a disturbing picture about the world we live in. One where the distinction between rich and poor is exceptionally evident. We see it as we drive down the street in new, expensive cars and watch others shamble down the sides begging for money. As long as there are people with money who only care about making a profit and have no regard for other human lives, the explosion of people will persist. While reading Almaz’s story, I realized that exploitation occurs all over the world in various forms, such as; child labor, human trafficking (both for sex and labor), modern slavery and sweatshops.
Exploitation makes workers dependent on their jobs as they become stuck in the poverty cycle and so in order to afford anything they have to work in awful conditions for long periods of time. By fixating on this one type of exploitation we become blind to the others that happen all the time, like Almaz’s experience. At the moment, there are many organizations with the goal of rescuing and helping those being exploited. This leads me to the question, what is exploitation? The definition of exploit from the New Oxford American Dictionary is “[to] make full use of and derive benefit from (a resource)”. Do some individuals think so little of those with less than them that they reduce them to resources? All people have basic rights and to exploit someone is to violate these rights. I believe that the reason exploitation exists is because some individuals care only for profit and are willing to go to extreme lengths to obtain it. By exploiting people, these individuals are able to make the profit they so desire. Amnesty International, The Wyndham Charitable Trust, and the World Confederation of Labour are all agencies and programs working towards ending the exploitation of vulnerable peoples.
The type of exploitation described in Almaz’s story is quite specific as it is exploitation that occurs in a home and is therefore probably not seen by many people. Behind closed doors, one might act entirely differently from when they have an audience. For this reason, people are often not willing to believe horrific occurrences from behind closed doors as they may have difficulties alining the occurrence with the person they believe they know. Additionally, in the privacy of one’s home, we may think our actions will go unpunished as there is no one to see them. Thus, Almaz’s employers probably believed their actions were okay as long as no one else was there to see them.
In order to protect those vulnerable to exploitation, we can educate them about the dangers of exploitation as well as giving people a basic education so they can look for stable jobs. By providing other basic support such as food, water, shelter, and healthcare, we can give those susceptible to exploitation a fighting chance against it. We as the future generation of the world need work towards educating and providing support for those unable to afford it. By laying the foundations of a better world, we can build a better world.
Almaz’s Story – Reflection
Almaz’s story is one of great tragedy, yet one that is sadly not uncommon. I have heard many stories of the abuse of migrant domestic workers, an issue that I consider of great importance. Many of these stories are brought to our attention but are quickly forgotten. Abuse of migrant workers and helpers are seldom reported as they oppose some of the wealthiest people on this earth. I deeply care about human rights and like most people; I believe that all lives are equal. I have also had many positive personal experiences with domestic workers, as they have surrounded me for the entirety of my life. Even though I have workers or helpers that work for my family, I was always taught to treat them with the utmost respect. The issue of the abuse and exploitation of migrant workers and domestic helpers is one that deeply affects me and one that is in desperate need of being resolved. I am not sure how this issue can be solved and I know it will take time, yet I believe it is one of the most pressing issues of the 21-century, which sadly does not get much attention.
Ever since I can remember, I have had a cook, a maid, a gardener, and a guard. I was raised around these people, and I have a close relationship with them. Unlike a lot of children raised around domestic helpers, I was taught not to be dependent on them, and I understood that they were not there to serve me or anybody else, they were there to help. More importantly I was drilled to respect them. I was never let to believe that I was in any way superior or in control. If I asked them anything, I did it in a polite way and I always said please and thank you. I was a child that needed to obey adults. A lot of children and adolescents however, treat their helpers as their servants, as they command them and even hit them. I would never in my right mind and I am so thankful my parents taught me to treat all humans with dignity and respect, the way all humans should be treated.
While reading Almaz’s story I could not help but think of our recent MUN trip to Qatar. Qatar is a country in the Middle East, where issues relating to migrant workers are prevalent, and where Almaz experienced her abuse. When boarding the plane from Addis Ababa to Doha, I could not help but notice that a large majority of people on the flight were domestic laborers, and in the back of my head I knew they were in for a fate similar to Almaz’s. I pushed these thoughts to the back of my head and did not think of them, because ignoring humanity’s problems is easier than having to face them. While in Qatar, I noticed that the small country is one large and never ending construction site. The country is experiencing rapid economic growth due to its oil and is thus hiring a large amount of migrant workers. Migrant laborers build the city’s skyscrapers and the stadiums of the FIFA World Cup scheduled to be held in 2022, in which 1,200 have died. It is a disgrace that the world lets this happen, but when there is money to me made, the quality of the lives of poor foreign workers are of least concern.
I believe the main reason exploitation of humans exists is because of money. This also relates to Leopold exploiting and abusing the Congolese people. It was money that caused him to exploit the people, the same as it is with modern human exploitation. Most people that have ambition to be wealthy will choose the quickest path with least resistance. Add that to a person with low morals and ethics and there you have it. A person motivated to maximize wealth gain, who does not care at all about a worker or helper’s life. I think that in order to solve the issue of human trafficking, exploitation, slavery, and abuse, we have to teach all people that it is absolutely not ok to exploit and abuse another person and that we are all equal. Along with awareness and education, stricter laws must be passed in order to make it way harder to exploit humans. In most cases however, it is a question of how to successfully implement these laws. Nevertheless I honestly believe it is fully possible to eradicate modern day exploitation and abuse of humans and close this dark chapter of human history. One day, hopefully in the near future, all humans will be regarded as completely equal and stories like Almaz’s will be a thing of the past.
Exploitation of Indentured Servants in the 21st Century
The story of Almaz is a common reality for far too many people who have moved from their respective countries to foreign lands in hopes of gaining sustainable wages. Over thousands of people like Almaz sign contracts for work abroad and leave their homelands in promise of good pay, only to be tricked into a life of an indentured servant and face day to day forced labor. Employers assume legal responsibility for their employers and also are to provide a wage, work visa, housing, and often food in terms of the contract. In exchange, the foreign employee agrees to work a fixed amount of time. In most conditions, the employer does not respect the terms of contract and abuse these workers as their personal servants in ways that deprive them of basic human respect.
These workers are often at the mercy of their employers since they are not allowed to change jobs, leave the country, rent a home or open any type of banking account without the permission of their respective employer and in most cases the employer holds the workers’ passport, their sole piece of identity in the country. To make things more inhumane, the employees are subjected to live under pitiful conditions with passable excuses for basic needs that often led to them being malnourished, dehydrated, and fatigued. This makes them susceptible to various diseases that their employers, would never pay for their treatment. The employers mostly see these workers as lesser human beings and treat them accordingly. The indentured workers are also prone to facing abuse such as beating, harassment, and rape on top of performing manual labor for extended periods of them. The real question to ask one self is why these human beings are willing to leave their homes and families behind to work abroad and face these unlivable and abusive conditions? The real cause behind this is most of them come from lesser-economically developed countries and the promise of a salary is the bait that lures in these people.
In present day, indentured servitude is highly common in the Persian Gulf especially oil-rich states including Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia where often the population of foreign laborers exceeds those of locals. The exploitation of these workers in such country happen because their employers abuse the control they have over them and the workers as a whole feel reluctant to do anything about it because they are in a foreign country and rely on their employers for their livelihood. The economic power the bosses have on their workers is also a main factor of this exploitation. They see themselves as greater beings because they have more resources and wealth. For the employers, having more money is valid reason to treat anybody who works under them as insignificant people who do not deserve any right or say and should be subjected to their every will with compliance. Some of the workers coming from Islamic countries to the Persian Gulf feel as though it’s their duty and reasonability to help their Arabic brothers; in a sense you could say that cultural and religious backgrounds impact and may even enhance the abuse these poor souls face. Although some efforts have been made to aid and stop the exploitation of these workers, we still face long-term problems that are key to the problem that is indentured servitude.
Indentured servitude primarily results from people who earn little to no money willingly to work in foreign countries due to lack of jobs in their home countries. Often coming from poverty-stricken countries, they workers have no other solution but to be at their mercy of their employers since they are the ones signing their nonexistent paychecks. Also an overlooked factor in this problem is that many of the Persian Gulf countries with high influxes of foreign workers is that they are zero to few federal laws guaranteeing decent wages are to be paid and needs the employers are to required to provide for their workers. Qatar is one of the few countries where such laws have been implemented. Workers have access to an anonymous phone line to report abuses and employers are obliged to provide paycheck details to the Ministry of Labour. Sadly, these new laws do not bring much change due to the right flow of workers and many Qatari’s against the kafala system (“sponsorship” system) to be weakened. As organizations such as the Humans Right Watch and Positive Negative make news aware of these abuses there is hope for these foreigners, but until major reforms are made, exploitation of indentured servants will live on and stories like Almaz will forever be lost in the crowd.
Reflection on Almaz’s Story
After reading Almaz’s Story, quite a lot of though popped in my head. The first though being that exploitation of migrant labor such as the one Almaz’s went through are a reality in this world. That in countries like Lebanon, according to the international political forum, 99% of migrants laborers are denied freedom, 65% work more than 11 hours per day, 52% are verbally abused, 34% are not given time off. That no matter how many times I hear or read similar testimonial stories, feelings of empathy and disgust crawls their way into my head. Almaz’s Story brought thoughts of human rights and innocence, and feelings of empathy and disgust.
Almaz is just one of the many people on this planet who had their universal right denied for the simple reason that she is not even aware of her rights. She was not informed of her right to freedom of movement, equality, security, liberty, recognition before the law, and so forth. Her employers were conscience of her ignorance, using it to the best of their advantages. This is where my thoughts of ignorance and disgust intertwined. Who in their right mind would exploit anyone’s, not just Almaz’s ignorance, to fulfill their needs? Who gave her employers the right to keep her away from her own right and use her to justify their mean? More importantly, how is such large scale abusive exploitation of migrant labor is taken place in the 21st century?
Succeeding disgust was a deep-seated feeling of empathy. From the third page of the graphic novel to the last, empathy grew within me; I couldn’t help but relate. Just imagining myself in her place gave me goose bumps. She knew that what was going on around her was not normal but she took it all in. Actually, I am more awed by Almaz courage and unshakable motives than anything. She managed to keep this routine going on for I don’t know how many months without complaining and her motives not changing through it all. She worked day and night with the conviction of sending back money to her mom. Even when I thought she would give up or runaway because that is what I would have done, she pushed through and came back for more. Not only did she fight all the way, she survived to tell her story.
In the end, I couldn’t help but also relate her story to my experience with domestic workers. I kid you not; I even started questioning whether or not I might have “exploited” the domestic workers at home. Thankfully, I do not. Initially, my mother always taught my siblings and I to respect our elders. No matter their social status in life or if their domestic workers, everyone is entitled to respect. We did not know how exactly to respect domestic workers without putting emphasize on the employee and employer labels. As a result, my siblings and I ended up developing a relationship with each domestic worker. The moment we started treating each of the domestic workers as one of our parents, respect came naturally. Nonetheless not everyone treats domestic workers the way my sibling and I do. For example, the Filipino maid Mr. Zieger talked about last week. She and Almaz had their passport taken away from them and freedom restricted to an area. Both had parts of their human rights taken or denied.
As a final point, migrant labor is as much as a reality as slavery in the 21st century. The statistics, testimonials, evidences, and facts are clear. Furthermore, stories like Almaz help remind me that there is more to the world than my teenage existential crisis.