Profile: Raising Others’ Children, a Nanny Misses Her Own

Women’s eNews put a human face on the plight of the 1.8 million domestic workers in the country who make $20,000 or less per year, with a profile of a Nepalese nanny who lives in Queens.

The 42-year-old woman, who did not want her real name used, was called Anju in the article, by Kamana Shrestha. She described inadequate meals, long hours, a lack of necessary medical care, and employers who ranged from inhumane to abusive. Still, even the low pay by American standards make the job worthwhile, Anju told Women’s eNews.

Anju said she has had difficulty finding an employer that treats her fairly. (Photo by Kamana Shrestha/Women's eNews)

In Nepal, Anju worked for a nonprofit that provided local training on child care. It was not a bad job, but she only earned around $350-$550 a month. She worried about not being able to afford a good education for her daughter Ayushma, now 9 years old.

When Anju visited the United States in 2005 on a training program for her employer, she realized she could earn the same amount she makes monthly in a week.

After leaving her daughter behind with relatives in 2006 to move to America, Anju has worked for six South Asian families and two Asian-American families. She now works as a live-in aide for an elderly Iranian woman during the week. As a nanny, she said, her living conditions were terrible.

The hours were long. She says she was often given insufficient meals. Like many immigrants, she suffered emotional and mental abuse from her employers.  Alone and struggling with the language, many workers stay in these demeaning jobs out of fear their employers will turn them in to immigration authorities for deportation if they complain about how they are being treated.

Most painful, Anju said, was being away from her daughter.

For many live-in child care providers, the job is a Catch-22. On one hand, they bond with the children they raise and earn money to send home to their families. On the other hand, someone else raises their own children. Many are wracked with guilt.

Anju sends between $1,500 and $1,800 each month to Nepal for her daughter, but still struggles with the separation. “I get upset when I think of my daughter and not seeing her grow up.”

At Adhikaar, a community center in Queens that serves Nepali-speaking residents, Anju found solace and companionship — as well as a common cause with other domestic workers.

At Adhikaar, Anju took English classes, attended seminars and went to Albany, the state capital, with a group of domestic workers in 2010 when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed New York’s Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, guaranteeing workers overtime pay, one day off per week and paid vacations.

Anju says Adhikaar gave her the courage to ask for more money when the work increased and to resist extra hours without pay or the pressure to work on her one day off and after her shift was done.

She continues to miss her family, but weekly phone calls to her daughter are reassuring. Anju believes she is doing the right thing.

“I don’t have to ask anyone for money for my daughter’s education,” she said. “I’m proud I’ve come this far and done it on my own as a woman.”

Post compiled by Justin Chan

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