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‘I grew up in London with a Filipina woman’: British photographer hails sacrifices of OFW nannies

Photo @Caroline Irby

It was in the year 1974 when Nanay Juning, a resident of Bantayan, Cebu, had decided to look for work abroad since she was getting a meager salary as a nanny in Manila and could not suffice to send all her four children to school.

Driven by the gargantuan task of raising all her children alone as a single mother, Nanay Juning journeyed to Hong Kong. There, she met Irby’s family and applied as household help.

Irby’s family was not originally from Hong Kong; their family just moved there from London after the father got a work at a bank.

When the family decided to go back to England, they took Nanay Juning with them in 1979.


She was 7,000 miles away from her home and had spent 22 years of her life working for them. In between those times, Nanay Juning could only come home to her children every two years over Easter and spend a month with them.

Irby, who is now all grown-up and has a family of her own, wrote about her life growing up with a Filipina as her nanny and somehow her second mother in a book called “Someone Else’s Mother”.

It narrates Nanay Juning’s struggles as an OFW, who had to leave their home in Cebu to earn for the family, as well as her story as a mother who didn’t get to see her children grow for the most part of their lives. Instead, she poured her love and care to Caroline and her brother Nico.

As a mother herself now, Caroline could only imagine the pain that her nanny had to endure as she also did a photo essay of them and at the same time conducted interviews with her children during her several visits to the island municipality of Bantayan.


In an edited extract of Caroline’s book on The Financial Times, she was quoted saying, “She would greet us enthusiastically, but through conversations I have now had with Nanay Juning and her children, I know how fraught her departure from the island a few days earlier would have been, and can only imagine how she may have felt on returning to our home, knowing it would be two years before she would see her children again.”

Her latest visit to Bantayan was last 2018. Every time she visits the place, she gets to meet Nanay Juning’s children – Roly, Roel, Erma, and Roy – who have a family of their own and are now professionals.

Roy, Nanay Juning’s youngest child, was only two years old when her mother first left for work abroad. He is now an IT specialist on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.

He recalled that it was only when he turned 15 that he started to call Nanay Juning as his “Mama”.

Their communication also back then was only through snail mail. When the time that the telephone became available in the province, they would always talk every Sunday about school, tuition, and if they still have food on their table.

 

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Happy 80th birthday to Juning, the amazing woman who looked after my brother and me as children in London. After thirty years living abroad, Juning retired to her island in the Philippines just over a decade ago, and finally lives within reach of her own four children. My book, ’Someone else’s mother’, about the life of Juning, her children, and my own childhood with their mother, will be published next year by Schilt. This photograph was taken in 1953 in a studio in Cebu City; it was the first time Juning had left her island. The following year she left again, this time to work in the capital, Manila, and so began a life of living away from her home and children. • • • PS I think nannies need more airspace on Instagram! #Schilt_publishing #family #lovestory #motherhood #childhood #childcare #domesticoverseasworkers #migration #globalisation

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Caroline narrated that during one of her past conversations with her former nanny, the latter told her, “I didn’t see their first communion or their confirmation because I was in London, and I didn’t see them growing because I used to come home for a holiday every two years, so I was really sorry that they were growing up without me.”

It made Caroline realize that she had two mothers by her side at that time while Nanay Juning’s four children didn’t.

Nanay Juning, who will turn 81 this coming October, has already retired and went home to Bantayan. It was unclear when she settled for good in the Philippines. But what’s apparent was that she and Caroline did not lost their communication.

 

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‘Every second year, over Easter, Juning would return to her island to spend a month with her children. As a child I had no concept of what this trip home meant to her; I missed her, and was always excited when she walked back through the front door after what felt like a long absence, tanned and laden with mangoes collected from the family farm. She would greet us enthusiastically, but through conversations I have now had with Juning and her children, I know how fraught her departure from the island a few days earlier would have been, and can only imagine how she may have felt on returning to our home, knowing it would be two years before she would see her children again.’ An extract from my book, ‘Someone else’s mother’, which is now widely available – see my bio! 👆🏻 Above: a studio portrait of Juning, my childhood nanny’s children, sent to Juning by her mother in 1975; Juning had recently left the Philippines to work abroad. In 1977 Juning began working for my family in Hong Kong, then London; she lived with us for 22 years. • • • #someoneelsesmother @schilt_publishing @qpbooks

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Like any other OFW mothers who have been away from their children, Nanay Juning said she had regrets in coming home here because her children are now away from her also living their own lives.

When she was asked if would do the same thing given another shot at life, the former OFW said, “Yes, I’d still be with you.”

If she had the opportunity, Nanay Juning said she would have loved to go back to London and buy herself a house in Notting Hill.

 

 

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First review of my book, in this weekend’s Financial Times 😊. ‘Someone Else’s Mother is the story of two families: that of British photographer Caroline Irby and that of her nanny Juning, who left her four children in the Philippines in 1977 to find work abroad. She ended up staying in London for nearly three decades, and Irby’s thoughtful photo essay explores the impact of a mother’s departure through family albums and new portraits, as well as conversations with Juning and her now grown-up children. For Irby, the journey is bittersweet. “As an adult and a mother myself, the notion that Juning lived apart from her children for three decades is painful to imagine,” she writes. Yet the pair’s own relationship clearly transcended its transactional origins, and the connection she forms with her quasi “siblings” leads to a more complex picture of separation and inequality.’ Chris Allnutt Link for buy the book is in my bio! • • • #someoneelsesmother

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Caroline’s story about her nanny Juning tells that both OFWs and their family bear the brunt of the social cost of migration. For as long as there are OFW mothers, there will be children under the care of two mothers. On the other side, other children may have to look at pictures to fill the void of having one.

Mark Nituma

Mark is the editorial director of TFT and is currently based in its Manila headquarters. Upon graduating from UP Diliman in 2010, he joined the internationally-awarded TV magazine show Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho as a researcher. Nearly a year later, he became one of its segment producers. In a span of five years with GMA7, he was able to travel not only the Philippines’ most beautiful spots but also the country’s least visited places—from some of the war-torn areas of Mindanao to impoverished parts of Luzon and Visayas—capturing a closer look at life in these communities. Mark also worked with various TV programs and specials such as Philippine Treasure and Reel Time. After his five-year stint in the media network, he flew to Dubai in 2016 to start his career as a journalist/reporter for The Filipino Times. Got story pitches? Send Mark an email at [email protected] or drop him a line on facebook.com/mark.nituma.

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