In the Philippines, Filipina nannies often use the term ‘alaga’ for the child in their care. It also means ‘care,’ or ‘caring.’ Across the Philippines there are an estimated 600,000 to 2.5 million domestic workers. Within the country, women comprise an estimated 84 percent of domestic workers, reports the International Labor Organization. In contrast, women only make up 38 percent of the Philippines’s labor force.
Within this large scope of domestic workers, their well-being, rights and salary have been subjects of much discourse.
Photographer Hannah Reyes grew up with a Filipina nanny. Reyes’s intimate photo series “Alaga” documents the working lives of the domestic workers who lived with her family as she grew up, and who ultimately became part of it. Reyes explores the ambiguities and commonalities nannies must wade through while simultaneously navigating the complex relationships of ‘family’ and employment.
Below, Reyes shared her personal story of growing up with her nannies ‘Nanay’ and Millie.
I was raised by a domestic worker from the day I was born. I call her ‘Nanay,’ which is the Filipino word for mother. She and Millie, our other helper, turned my family’s home into their own home, and they became more than helpers, but also mothers to our family’s children. They left their homes in the province, traveled to work in worlds much different from their own. For ‘Nanay,’ this wasn’t a temporary assignment but a complete life change, moving to Manila to be a cook, and then to take care of a child that was not her own — me. They gave so much for so little in exchange, to care for the children and the elders in our family, long term.
This project to me is like a family history, but told through the eyes of our domestic workers, known in the Philippines as ‘Kasambahay,’ meaning ‘those with us at home.’
— Hannah Reyes
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