First Published: 2009-04-30

Lebanese get lesson on domestic workers from 'Mimi'

Series of books launched in Lebanon to sensitise population to foreign domestic workers.


Middle East Online

A drop in the bucket but will make a difference

BEIRUT - A series of children's books launched in Lebanon to coincide with Labour Day aims to sensitise the population to the estimated 200,000 foreign domestic workers often ignored and even abused in the country.

The Arabic-language series, "Mimi and her Magic Globe," takes young readers on a journey to the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia, home to most of the foreign labourers employed in Lebanon.

"This is part of a national campaign to raise awareness," said Nada Nashef, regional director of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which partly funded the book project.

The series will target schools as well as public and private institutions to encourage more tolerance and respect of foreign workers who are an essential component of the labour force in Lebanon but are given few basic rights.

"I wanted through these books to teach children that these women who care for them are not simply maids but also come from countries with a culture and a history," said Leila Zahed, who authored the series. "These maids adapt to our culture here, but no one asks them where they come from.

"And that is not to speak of the mistreatment many are subjected to in some households."

Each book is illustrated with drawings, maps, charts as well as cultural tidbits about the country concerned and basic words in the local dialect.

In Ethiopia, for example, Mimi learns that coffee beans were discovered there while in the Philippines she visits rice fields and feasts on shrimp.

In Sri Lanka, she rides elephants and learns about the country's history as a major tea producer.

Nadim Houry, of Human Rights Watch in Beirut, welcomed the initiative but stressed that much more needed to be done to raise public awareness on the issue.

But there are signs, albeit small, that the Lebanese state and society are waking up to the problem.

The government this year issued a decree that requires employers to abide by a set of rules including paying workers their salary in full at the end of each month and giving them one day off a week.

Several events are also planned this weekend for Labour Day including a food tasting festival, concerts and a photo exhibit.

Zahed said she realises that her initiative is but a drop in the bucket but hoped that nonetheless it will make a difference.

"If the children who read 'Mimi' learn to at least say 'thank you' to their maids who care for them on a daily basis, we are making headway," she said.

"A small word like 'thank you' in Tagalog, spoken in the Philippines, can make a big difference."


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