What makes a kasambahay?

What makes a kasambahay?

Stay-in maids getting impregnated by the construction worker next door. Maids who leave for a day off and then don’t come back. (“Mam hindi na qu bblik.”) Of course there are also the more legitimate reasons—going home to the province to take care of family. Moving abroad. Getting married. There are many stories like these.

My parents had a kasambahay before that stayed for about half a year before moving on to work for a fast food joint nearby. In retrospect, it seemed like she used my mom as a stepping stone to “better and brighter things.” I’ve always looked back at this example and wondered if I would have done the same thing had I been a young, aspiring girl from the province who had her trip to Manila paid for by her new employer. A few months of staying in their home would provide an ample foothold to getting to know the city and then finally making that big jump to become part of the Manila workforce. I can’t deny it—there’s a lot of frustration there, especially from my mom at that time but if we look at life from her perspective, it was actually rather cunning. And maybe even laudable.

In the startup world we are taught to pivot. “Adapt or die” they usually say. “We can’t be like the dinosaurs that did not evolve.” Or more commonly: “we need to pivot to video” or “we need to pivot to a new vertical.” Many of us who grew up with loyal kasambahay—those that gave your family their absolute loyalty—long for these days. But guess what, it’s been more than 30 years since the ’80s and, like many other things, life was much simpler back then. Hopes and dreams change. Our dreams have changed. And so has the market for household help. Some people say that the big casinos have hired them all as cleaning ladies, providing attractive P10,000 salaries with board and lodging. Other say that the new breed of help is just like these “millennials.”


I know it’s hard but maybe we do need to pivot toward the way we tackle the household help problem. Because at this rate, it seems to be the reality that this co-dependence that was introduced during colonial times is shifting its paradigm.

But who will take care of our pets while we are gone? Who will take the kids? Cook the food so that we come home to a hot meal? Well, you know what they say—in the age of on-demand app-based technologies like AirBnB and Uber, maybe some budding entrepreneur should find more creative ways to disrupt the kasambahay industry. Maid-sharing? On-demand cleaning and sitting services? These exist in some form, but I think the biggest barrier for these things to take root is the actual mindset of having a 24/7 maid at home, loyal to your family.

Times are changing. Maybe it’s time we changed our mindset about the help we receive at home. Maybe.