VIDEO: Ester, a Filipino domestic worker, makes a splash in literature and inspires others

Poet Ester Vargas-Castillo with her employers Viacheslev Elissev and Inaye Brito and their daughter, and fellow housekeeper Robelyn Tamayo Valdez at the recent ‘Bireterang Makata’ book launch at Studio M Arabian Plaza Hotel in Dubai. Photo: John Varughese/Gulf Today

Mariecar Jara Puyod, Senior Reporter

Poetry is one of those literatures that only the gifted can create and a Filipino domestic worker, given the right environment to define her own hobbies and interests, did. Five years in the United Arab Emirates, Ester Vargas-Castillo, who obtained her Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the main government-run city Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (City University of Manila), rose through the ranks and became an accountant at appliance parts supplier Sharp Philippines Corporation in a decade, and had honed entrepreneurial skills in the restaurant business at home, recently launched its “Bireterang Makata”.


Like any Filipino from the central Visayan province of Cebu who could naturally sing a song, wife of Christopher-Lee Castillo and mother of 21-year-old Lester; Abegail, 18; Chloe, 12; and Gideon, 10, is a soprano referred to as a “biretera,” a woman who can sing ultra-high notes. She has a huge following on the Smule app. She successfully passed the admissions to the choir of the Filipino Social Club (FilSoc). It was Leni Antonio, a culinary arts classmate at FilBrit School in Dubai, the institution where she also completed a certificate course in Caregiving, who introduced her to choir general manager Matilyn Bagunu and to musical director Marc Gamil, ahead of the historic Expo2020 Dubai. .


Like countless Filipino literary geniuses who have thrived even in modern times thanks to digital media, Castillo has become a “makata” (poet). Founders and Page Members Bigkis ng Panitik (Bundle of Literature), Self Published X Movement, Kapanulat/Kapatid sa Panulat (Sibling in Writing), Septon Poetry, Poetic Hearts, Sari-Saring Tulang Tagalog (Assortment of Tagalog Poems), Diwang Malaya (Spirit of Freedom), the passion for poetry and the Baybayin-Philippine national writing system, continuously frame and encourage it.


Thus, the recent publication of “Bireterang Makata” in Dubai through the Atlas Print, given the document authorized to do so by the Philippine company McKinley Publishing House. Permission was granted by the UAE National Media Council. It is a cornucopia of 48 English and 90 Filipino poems in either sonnet (14 lines with a complex rhyme scheme), villanelle (19-line lyric/pastoral poetry with two rhymes and repeated lines), sexina (six stanzas six lines with non-rhyming words that end in different sequences), septon (nine lines and 35 words) and haiku (three non-rhyming lines). That’s Castillo’s pen name.


The 30-word “Addition” is a Silver Award from the “Ode/Rhyme Mnemonics Competition”, conceptualized by fellow Filipino poets/authors Don Luman-ag Document & Data Control, Dexter Amoroso, who stated in the book: ” Mnemonics help the brain encode and recall information by associating it with an easy-to-remember image, phrase, or word. We hope that through this activity, fellow members can creatively create mnemonic poems that parents can teach to their children. Let’s leave something useful and practical as a collective literary heritage for this generation and generations to come. Let’s make learning fun!


“Kapatawaran” (“Forgiveness”) and “Sukdulan” (“Extreme”) are among Castillo’s creations in the Baybayin (an ancient alphasyllabary of Indian and Indonesian influence).


Considered full of zest for life, the 50-year-old’s orientation towards journalism and writing began during her high school years at Torres High School in the slums of Tondo, Manila, through her friend Ruth Saavedra: “We became staff members (of the campus newspaper The Torres Torch). I did not know how to write. I was the typist and proofreader. I finally edited what I typed before submitting it to our (advisor).

Ester-friends Poet Ester Vargas-Castillo with her family, friends and other members of the Filipino Social Club Choir at the Studio M Arabian Plaza Hotel in Dubai. Photo: John Varughese/Gulf Today

It was one of her sisters who grew up in their native province who encouraged her to take up poetry: “Imagine, she was writing poems in Tagalog while she was in Cebu (where the modes of communication were Cebuano and English). grew up in Manila but couldn’t write in Tagalog!


Stunned, Castillo began to quibble about her thoughts and emotions in poetry. It went through the multiple phases of his life.


Castillo’s current employers, businessmen Viacheslev Elissev, and Inaye Brito’s ethic of treating all their employees with respect and dignity have proven to help him enhance what his fellow Filipino poets have ingrained in his personality. . The head of household/cook/nanny of two young girls enjoys a higher salary than that offered to her as an accountant. She has her own room and an eight-hour job that allows her to indulge in poetry and choral practices: “They never treated us differently (with their compatriot Robelyn Tamayo Valdez). I got the wrong boss in a restaurant once. The waiter gave me the bill. In Ajman, one of their Russian friends thought I was Madame’s mother.


Rights Corridor chief executive/incoming University of Glasgow PhD student/Gulf migration and diplomacy lawyer Froilan Malit Jr. said: “Ester’s book challenges the broader stereotype which Filipino domestic workers in Dubai and the Middle East are “unskilled”. Her intellectual and artistic expression in English and Tagalog poetry not only illuminates her transnational work and life in the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates, but also highlights the broader potential of many Filipino domestic workers, if they benefit from the enabling environment and employer support needed to thrive in the host country. The Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Dubai has also largely created an enabling environment for them to learn new skills, certification and training and gain internal mobility, salary increases and happiness in the market. work. Crucial investment, training and infrastructural space for a diverse variety of skills of Filipino workers in the Philippines and the Middle East are crucial factors in maintaining our long-term competitiveness and talent.


Sharon Mendoza-Dreisbach, Educator/Single Mom/Breast Cancer Survivor, said, “Ester’s words are chosen to always look at ‘both sides of the coin’ beautifully. She sent the message that life is always about being determined, resilient and doing your passion by heart. She deserves to be imitated.


Longtime UAE resident Olive Pineda said there is an instant connection to Castillo’s poems.


According to official documents from April 2021 to April 2022 on the deployment of Filipino domestic workers to the UAE from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Dubai, the total number of verified contracts was 13,802 and the total number of Arrivals reported by Tadbeer Centers was 10,584.

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