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Asian American Week 2013: Manhattan Organizers Work To Empower Filipino Domestic Workers

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The next report in NY1's Asian American Heritage Week profiles a Midtown-based group working to help Filipino domestic workers organize and better their lives. NY1's Jon Weinstein filed the following report.

When Cecille Venzon came to the United States from the Philippines four years ago to work, she says her life became a nightmare. She is a domestic worker and says the household she worked in wildly underpaid and abused her.

She says they restricted her movement and remembers on her first day her employers told her, "'If you open the door, the police will come and get you.' So I'm scared."

She turned to the Damayan Migrant Workers Association for help. "Damayan" means in Filipino "to help others," and that's exactly what the group did. Damayan members helped her escape and provided her with temporary housing and a new job.

Helping trafficked Filipino domestic workers is a crucial part of the mission of Damayan.

"Our role is to organize and mobilize Filipino domestic workers, many of whom have been forced into modern-day slavery or have been trafficked into the United States," says Leah Obias, Damayan's campaigns coordinator and case manager.

Their work extends beyond just helping trafficked workers. Their goals are to unite all Filipino domestic workers to fight for better working conditions. They organize health fairs and events to help raise the standard of living for Filipino domestic workers.

"Part of our work is not only to give services, but to give the knowledge and the skills to these women so that they can help themselves," says Linda Oalican, Damayan's overall coordinator.

The group was founded in 2002 and they are also focused on what they call the root causes of the exploitation including conditions in the Philippines as well.

"There's also a labor export program in the Philippines where essentially workers are being forced to leave to find work abroad, and so the work options that are available are often filled with fraudulent promises," Obias says.

Lydia Catina Amaya, another trafficked worker, calls the group a lifesaver.

"Damayan helped me go through, get back on my feet, get my status back here in America," Amaya says.

For more information on the group's missions, visit damayanmigrants.org.

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