Millie comforts the child she cares for. (Hannah Reyes)

Millie plays peek-a-boo with the child she cares for. (Hannah Reyes)

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.


Millie spends time with Ava, Reyes’s goddaughter, the child she cares for. (Hannah Reyes)

Iding sits quietly inside a car on the way to the home of a family she will care for. (Hannah Reyes)

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


A collage created by Iding with Teresita, the 84-year old she cares for in the clan home. (Hannah Reyes)

Millie, right, is seen in the living room of her employer’s home with the child she cares for, and her own son, who lives in the home as well. (Hannah Reyes)

Iding examines meat. She manages the food for a household of more than a dozen people. (Hannah Reyes)

A Filipina domestic worker sleeps on the floor of her employer’s home, refusing a bed as she is used to resting on the floor. (Hannah Reyes)

Elsie and her daughter Shai live in the home of their employer, and have been living there since Shai was born. (Hannah Reyes)

Iding cools herself with a fan in the summer heat. (Hannah Reyes)

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