March 8th marks International Women’s Day around the world, with millions of women taking the time to shine a light on themselves and their achievements, as well as the women around them.
A time for reflection, celebrations, and also calls to action, many voices are heard, sharing powerful thoughts and experiences.
On this day, the world often looks on at female politicians, athletes, academics, and personalities, however it is also vital to celebrate the women that are often working tirelessly behind the scenes.
Helping with everything from cleaning to raising children, domestic workers can often be found at the heart of homes in Dubai.
Assisting with the running of thousands of households across the UAE, many of these women have worked for the same family for a decade, often longer, becoming an integral pillar of their home.
Speaking to three families who have all seen their nannies stay for over 10 years, each urged that empowering their worker, treating them with dignity and respect, and listening to their voice, saw them create a unique and special relationship that deserves to be celebrated. Here are their stories:
Moving to the UAE from India in 2006, Mrs. Shuchita B. Mathur and her husband welcomed triplets to their family five years later in 2011.
Her first time as a mother, a few months later Mrs. Mathur shared how she had begun to look for a nanny in Dubai to help care for her three beautiful girls.
Speaking about her experience on what is now her daughters’ twelfth birthday, the mother of three was eager to share the incredible impact her nanny, Shova, has had on their lives.
Arriving from another family she had been working for in Delhi, Shova, originally from Nepal, had been working to support her four children at home. Recently widowed at the time, the then 36-year-old was determined to work hard away from home to provide for her own family.
With both parties believing the contract would probably only last a couple of years, Mrs. Mathur explained that that quickly changed, and Shova remains part of their family 11 years later.
She said: “She (Shova), was a widow at the time with four kids to take care of and alone, as her husband died at a young age.
“She came here with the idea of coming here for two years and paying off her loan, but things worked out between us, we needed her, and she needed the job and so she stayed with us.”
Helping with housekeeping and caring for the girls, Shova quickly became part of the family, with her hard-working ethic and kindhearted traits making her a perfect fit.
Allowing at first what is essentially a stranger into your home, and private family life behind closed doors, it’s clear that mutual trust plays a major role in what makes this solid relationship work between both parties.
Discussing what made and continues to build the relationship between her family and Shova, Mrs. Mathur praised her honesty and transparency.
From speaking to the family, it was clear that their love for Shova was very apparent, with the girls clearly adoring their nanny.
She continued: “She is very honest, I have never kept my things under lock and key, even money and jewelry even when I am at the office or on holiday.
“She is very sincere, very faithful, and hardworking, and whatever I tell her she remembers the first time I don’t have to repeat it, I never have to tell her for a second time.
“My kids love her, when she goes on holiday to her home, they really miss her.”
Now firmly established in their routine as a family unit, Mrs. Mathur shared she believes it is just that, treating Shova as a member of the family, that has seen the relationship stand the test of time.
She said: “I would say when you hire a maid you have to treat her as a human being first and a family member, and only then you can live happily.
“Unless the person you have hired is happy, they cannot work for you with that sincerity and affection with your kids.
“You have to treat them as human beings, not like they are servants, that’s what we try to do, and I don’t know if what we did is right or wrong but for me, she is a human being she is part of our family and she has lived the way we have.”
Reflecting on the ten years they employed their nanny, Mrs. S White said she was more than happy to shed some light on the impact Filipina worker, Elnora, had on her family.
Living in Abu Dhabi at the time, Mrs. White, now 51, had two young boys at school aged three and six, and had started seeking out a full-time maid after being told by friends that it would “change their lives.”
It was then that Elnora moved into their home, a 32-year-old nanny that had taken the job as her first ever overseas work.
Instantly forming a connection with the family, Elnora began to care for the two young boys, as well as dealing with other domestic duties.
“She just got on with it and was very thorough, but there were things that made us all laugh like her struggling with the microwave and toaster”, the family joked.
“But in the summer, we sent her back to the Philippines for a holiday because we were going to the UK and I remember when I gave her the ticket she was in floods of tears because she didn’t think she would go home for at least two years.
“She was delighted, and I gave her an old camera. It was only when she came back and I put the photos on a stick for her that I realized she lived in a bamboo shelter in a really remote area, and I realized why some things that we take for granted she struggled with.”
Staying with the family for ten years, Elnora continued to be part of their unit during their move from Abu Dhabi to Hong Kong, before returning to Dubai.
When her sons had become older teenagers, Mrs. White explained that they chose to end Elnora’s time with them so they could learn to take care of themselves, however they have remained close.
During their time in Hong Kong, Mrs. White was also able to study for and gain her teaching PTSE degree, an achievement that she said would never have been possible without Elnora’s support.
She continued: “She was able to use her initiative, her cleaning was always immaculate and very thorough, and her cooking was incredible.
“Once she knew the rhythm and habits of our family she would think ahead of time. She was more than just a cleaner, she was integral to our family. They help us so much, but they’re often overlooked.
“We will always have that connection now, I was in tears when we most recently saw her, it’s that connection of spending that time living with someone, she’s part of our extended family.”
Although not having any children of her own, Elnora had adopted her nephew while working away from the Philippines and has since gone on to adopt another little girl.
With the children being cared for by family members, Elnora’s hard work away from home has provided huge support for her family in the Philippines, and continues to do so.
“She is still working now and supports not only the two children, but also three generations back in the Philippines on her salary from here”, Mrs. White explained.
“She is very responsible, and even her mum has set up a shop from the salary that we were paying, which is lovely.”
When it comes to standing the test of time, one family definitely hit the jackpot, with their talented and caring nanny Aurelia staying for 29 years.
First arriving in Dubai over three decades ago, Ms. Diana Tattarakis hired Aurelia, in 1991, initially as a live-in maid to take on some additional work alongside her existing housekeeper.
With both of her sons very young at the time, aged one month and three years respectively, the then 42-year-old maid began to care for them, and continued to do so until they reached adulthood.
Forming an incredible bond, Ms. Tattarakis said:” At first, she was working part time for us but then our previous housekeeper went back to the Philippines, and we got Aurelia from then onwards.
“She raised my kids basically because I’ve always worked, she cooked for us, did the sewing, cared for them, they came to look at her I guess like a second mother in a way.
“I tried to be there as much as I could, but I was always working. My kids are grown now, they’re in their 30s and they came out well. That’s a credit to her, she had a lot to do with it.
“She spoke her mind because she was with me for so long, and I liked that she gave me her opinion on things, she wasn’t afraid to speak what she thought about something.”
Over the years, Aurelia became part of the furniture when it came to their household, and watched as Chris and Jean Michel grew from toddlers to adults.
Spending a huge part of her life with the family, Aurelia had no children of her own, but had supported her nieces and nephews back in the Philippines.
Ms. Tattarakis explained: “She was always focused on providing for her family back in the Philippines, all her money basically went back to them.
“She had no children of her own, but she had a lot of cousins and a lot of relatives that she helped go to school, have operations, she even bought property.”
A part of the family for a huge amount of time, in 2019 Aurelia made the decision to retire home in order to spend time with her relatives and enjoy her old age.
Working as a housekeeper for most of her adult life, her plan had been to spend her golden years surrounded by family and enjoying the life she had provided for them all by living overseas.
Following an emotional farewell, the family and Aurelia had remained in touch, however they were hit with further heartbreak just one year later during the pandemic, when they received the news 72-year-old Aurelia had passed away.
Leaving them just months earlier, the news was devastating to hear, but Ms. Tattarakis added that their relationship with Aurelia’s family has continued in her wake.
She said: “After she moved, she really did stay in touch, she would message me and my kids. The pictures I saw showed she seemed to be enjoying life as a regular person, not serving somebody. It was good for her to make a change and live what was left of her life as a senior and respected by her family.
“When she left and when she passed away, I received so many messages, everyone from the dry-cleaning guy to the Spinneys staff, they all knew her.
“Her nephew has been with us as a houseboy since she left, he came a few weeks before she went back to the Philippines. I’m now fostering cats, I have about 40 at the moment, and he’s great with them. He has family here and he has friends here and he has some of her friends and a decent life here too.”