There used to be days when domestic helpers were considered just another person hired to take care of house hold chores and assist the family. With the change in time, this job also took a reverse and became more professional. Nowadays, in most families domestic helpers are more like a family member but is everyone in the family able to accept this change; especially the elders? How is the communication between the elderly members and the helpers?
Bhagwati Regmi, 55, home maker, expressed that there isn’t really any communication gap between her and their domestic helper, Sagar. If we talk about how our relationship has changed with our domestic helper, I will only say, he has become more like a family member over the years. This also made me inquisitive if Sagar’s demands in salary have changed over the years to which Regmi clarified, we send Sagar to school, and provides him the accommodation to stay here with us which means, all his basic needs are looked after. Sagar and his family are happy with what we can offer. We do not have a salary structure for him. It’s more informal, Sagar is like a family. Whenever he goes home we give him some money to give it to his family members as well.
In order to maintain relationship between domestic helper and the hiring family there needs to be mutual respect. This informal structure or basis of getting a domestic helper for one’s family makes me wonder and realize how it’s such a grey area in the Nepalese society between hiring a domestic helper and being the employer or doing social good in exchange of housekeeping services.
One of my friends living with his family in Kathmandu mentioned that his grandparents in Chitwan have a domestic helper not just to assist with house hold chores but also to give company. This experience supports the idea of how domestic help in current time is not just about completing a certain task and leaving the house but also fulfills befriending roles.
Jeet Bahadur Rai, 70, Pensioner, explained that the helper working in his family was also hired with the motive of keeping her home for safety when everybody went outside. He believed that when a helper is accepted within a family then not just them but their entire family becomes a responsibility for the hiring family. This may sometimes be hectic for the hiring family. If only professionalism in this sector was practiced well then the hiring family would not have to think much for the hired one’s family. His opinion made me think about the professional turnover in this sector where the idea of creating a hub of helpers and spreading them among households has bridged in the gap between the two parties.
Rai’s opinion also reflects credibility that elders have on their helpers. Simultaneously just a few days back when I was at my cousin’s place, my aunt who is 60 instructed me to keep an eye on the helper when she is cleaning the rooms and to follow her wherever she goes. This made me a bit uncomfortable but as instructed I did it. In one hand, we have elders who are okay with leaving their houses completely on their helper’s hand whereas we also have elders who aren’t ready to trust them.
Following the thoughts, I also realized that the story will remain incomplete if only elders’ perspective is observed which lead me to Kanchi Thapa, 24, helper assigned to a family in Thimi where only an elderly couple is residing. According to her the grandfather is more rigid towards her assisting in the regular activities whereas the grandmother is least bothered. Kanchi is somewhat unhappy about the salary that she is getting from the past two years but is also thankful to the elders for the shelter as last quake destroyed her house. ‘Whenever the children come back from America I feel uncomfortable because they treat me like an outsider whereas the grandparents take me like their family’, says Kanchi. This healthy relation between both the elderly couple and the helper is also the mutual respect which has gripped them together from the past two years.
Observing the elders and the helpers, it seems like the barrier that existed long back in terms of communication and befriending has now melted. Most of the elders now have accepted the domestic helpers as a part of their family. This may not be the case everywhere but we can at least assure that most families with elders will be open towards having domestic helpers as a family member.