For self-confident Sister Pascale Le Thi Triu, women who work as housemaids in the bustling southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City are equal to those who do other jobs. The Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul nun believes they should not be treated as "lowly slaves." Sister Triu, 73, ensures that women who complete a course in housework skills gain employment and are treated with respect. The courses are conducted by her congregation. On Aug. 6, there were 33 young women who graduated from the year-long course.
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Sister Triu, an organizer, said many began their new jobs on Aug. 16 and the rest would start work in early September, with expected monthly salaries of between 4.7-5.5 million dong (US$208-$243). This year, some 100 households have registered with the nuns to have housemaids, but the sisters have not been able to meet demand. The nuns never advertise. However, employers appreciated the housemaids who had previously undertaken the training and introduced others wanting such services. Sister Triu's congregation launched the program in 2006 when they saw a growing requirement for housemaids in the economically booming Ho Chi Minh City, from both foreigners and working Vietnamese couples with children. The current labor market favors workers with vocational skills rather than degrees. Young women prepare food at the canteen of Phuoc Loc Vocational Training Center. (ucanews.com photo)
Sister Triu, head of the congregation's social service office, said women between the ages of 17 and 25 from respectable families were selected. The women often came from remote areas, many barely having finished secondary school. Those who could not afford fees were given part-scholarships or borrowed money from the nuns and then paid it back when they were employed. The students learn to do household chores, including to cook and serve food. Sister Triu said it was important they were also taught moral values such as honesty, self-respect and good behavior toward other people. The trainees study English and learn how to keep financial records as well as to save water and separate garbage for recycling or composting. Housemaids were only sent to employers agreeing to meet specific conditions, Sister Triu said. They were asked to provide contracts, with payment for over-time as well as proper accommodation and food, and to protect housemaids from sexual exploitation. She said the employees needed to have time to enjoy life and develop themselves. Housemaids in some places were still disrespected, did what employers asked at any time of the day or night and were poorly paid. They had no contracts and, in some cases, did not even have their own room. The nuns also aim to raise public awareness about housemaids, advocating fair treatment such as payment on time and working only five or six days a week for eight or nine hours per day. The nuns continue to act as mediators when employers and maids have problems with each other. Sister Pascale Le Thi Triu at a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of Housemaid Training Program in Ba Ria Vung Tau province on May 29, 2016.
Anna Bui Thi Mong Nhi, a housemaid who graduated from the first course in 2007, is now very proud of her job and says it changed her life. Nhi left her home city of Can Tho, in southern Vietnam, when she was in 10th grade, and looked for a job in Ho Chi Minh City to support her family. "I had to work hard at a small restaurant with a monthly salary of 500,000 dong (US$22)," she said. "I could not live on the money." Good fortune came her way when she met the nuns running the training course. Nhi, a mother of one, now works for an American family in Ho Chi Minh City and is paid US$500 a month plus accommodation. She also accompanies the family on holidays abroad. Nhi said what she learned from the nuns was very useful. "They taught me honesty and standards of humanity and care that brings success to my work," she said. "I look after the employer's two babies like my own children and work hard even when his family is away," she said. "My service is much appreciated." Nhi said the ability to do professional housework helped disadvantaged women like her. The housemaids met once a month at the nuns' convent. They attended Mass, learned ways to use new appliances and how to look after babies and elderly people as well as having an opportunity to share practical experiences. The graduates of the training give monthly savings to the nuns to be deposited into bank accounts. The housemaids get the money back when they return home to start other jobs. Y. Blong, 20, said she graduated from the course earlier this month and will start work next month. "I am grateful to the sisters who lent me money to attend the course," she said. "Without their help, I could not find jobs for a living because I am just a 10th grader." She will work hard to support her family, including seven poor siblings, and also save to study nursing in the future.