In Khmer "Ruom Kanea" means all together, or going together. Ruom is an organic collaboration between photographers, journalists, videographers, and researchers, drawn together by a passion for social documentary work. It is a space to showcase regional and international projects undertaken by our members with the aim of giving voice to global issues that may be underreported by the mainstream media. By maintaining a high benchmark for quality work and collective editorial oversight, working with any Ruom member means benefiting from the group’s decades of experience across multiple forms of media.
Looking down upon blue waters and tiny islands, on a plane from Indonesia to Singapore, Istiana will soon exchange a world she knows for one she doesn’t. She’s a domestic worker – and the moment she stepped on the plane her life changed forever.
Each year, 700,000 migrant workers leave Indonesia for countries like Hong Kong, Qatar, and Malaysia. The overwhelming majority are women, and like Istiana, most are domestic workers. Indonesian domestic workers form one of the largest labour diasporas in the world. They are also one of the most exploited. According to the ILO, "75 percent of Indonesian female workers endure “isolation, underpayment, long working hours, forced labour, human trafficking and violence”. Their stories are never far from the news. Each week dozens of articles appear, detailing difficult working conditions, excessive debts, and human rights abuses.
This project investigates the movement of migrants from Indonesia to Singapore, one of the busiest migratory pathways in Southeast Asia. It follows three different women at various stages of their journey: from training centres in Indonesia, to daily life in Singapore, and the return home.
The project is enriched with in-depth interviews, video reportage, and photographs taken over a 4 month period. It weaves the experience of migrant workers with the people they meet during their journeys: social workers, employers, recruiting agencies, and government officials.
In the small village of Laxe, located on the Northwest coast of Galicia (known as 'Costa da Morte', or 'Coast of Death'), a small group of fishermen (40 men and 1 woman) dedicate their lives to hunting percebes (Goose Barnacles), Spain’s most expensive and sought after shellfish. These are probably the world’s most at-risk seafood gatherers as, due to the percebe’s need for oxygen, the highest quality ones grow in the most dangerous places. They are most profitably harvested in the winter, when supply is limited and the risks involved are very high.
This is the story of a few of these percebeiros during the month of December, the most crucial of the year for them. As Christmas approaches, prices get higher (a kilo could be sold for up to 180 euros) as do the waves which they have to face every day.
Iran has seen a rise in the popularity of Western-style shopping and consumerism. Despite the sanctions imposed on them, the country’s economy continues to grow.
In the last few months we have witnessed improved relations between Iran and the West, while the upcoming negotiations for the lifting of the sanctions could pave the way for even more changes in the country and consequently also within the region.
Shopping has became a near obsessive ritual for young people, and especially women, who have now turned to buying beauty products and high-end western brands to fill the void of entertainment options and to “rebel“ against the array of restrictions they are subjected to.
During his visit to Cuba in 2012, former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said “thankfully we are already witnessing that the capitalist system is in decay, on various stages it has come to a dead end — politically, economically and culturally.”
But the changes that have been taking place in Iran in the last few years seem to contradict this.
Despite slow mobile Internet connections, high prices for imported (most of the time smuggled) technological products and the constant governmental censorship of the media, Iranians are frantically buying smartphones, tablets and flat screen TVs.
Even if traditional Grand bazaars continue to be the favourite places to shop for regular Iranians they now face competition from huge shopping malls, which were erected in the outskirts of major cities across the country. And these offer western-style hypermarkets, international brands and colourful gaming arcades to list just a few temptations.
There is renewed tension between Buddhists and Muslims in parts of Burma. In March 2014 targeted violence, towards the Muslim minority in Myanmar, claimed the 45 lives and led to many homes being burnt to the ground.
In the Burmese streets, stickers sporting the numbers “969” are seen on taxis, shop windows, betel nut carts. These three ominous numbers are the symbol of a fast-rising Buddhist pride movement, presenting itself as a return to Buddhist roots and the teachings of the Lord.
But, in the new Myanmar, 969 is actually a vehicle of anti-Muslim hatred and Buddhist brainwashing.
“Muslims are fundamentally bad. Mohammed allows them to kill any creature. Islam is a religion of thieves, they do not want peace”, declares Ashin Wirathu the saffron-robed monk nicknamed the “Burmese Bin Laden.”
Far from the iconic images of the 2007 “Saffron Revolution”, popular Buddhist monks like Wirathu are travelling the country, preaching in front of thousands, urging Buddhists to boycott Muslim businesses, to avoid marrying them, hiring them or to sell property to them. The 969 movement is appealing to a deep anti‐Muslim resentment implanted in Buddhist minds by fifty years of military propaganda. Burmese activist Maung Zarni recently confessed in a blog post: “Like millions of my fellow Burmese Buddhists, I grew up as a proud racist. For much of my life growing in the heartland of Burma, Mandalay, I mistook what I came to understand years later as racism to be the patriotism of Burmese Buddhists”.
By depicting a Myanmar on the verge of an Islamist invasion, the 969 movement is creating a framework for the wave of Islamophobic violence that has swept through Myanmar in the last months. In March, the bloodiest clashes to-date claimed the lives of forty-five people in the town of Meiktila. “At night, we sleep terribly. We are wondering when they will be coming. It is dark, it is scary. Our ears pay attention to every little noise”, said a Muslim resident of the city. Throughout the country the Muslim communities are living in the constant fear of new attacks.
Currently, 969 has seen little resistance from local or international governments. The movement is currently drafting a law proposal that would ban interfaith marriage, and four 969 monks have been working on a curriculum aimed at educating lay people and children about the ins and outs of protecting Buddhism from Islam. Set to take place in a Sunday school manner, the monks hope this new form of education will save their faith in this majority Buddhist nation but what implications will this have on cross-religious relationships? And will it instigate more religious violence?
Afraid of alienating the Buddhist vote for the 2015 elections, the democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi is staying silent on this subject. Many see, behind 969 and the religious riots, the hand of hardliners from the army trying to destroy the fragile change Myanmar is going through as the country stumbles towards democracy.
Human rights organisations have estimated that 12,000 people in Cambodia have been forced off their land to make way for a new surge of sugar production. The European Union’s initiative ‘Everything but Arms’, which allows Cambodian sugar to be sold duty-free on the European market at a minimum price per tonne, has created a “sugar rush” in Cambodia. As a result, crops have been razed. Animals have been shot. Homes have been burned to the ground. Thousands of people have been left destitute. Some have been thrown in jail for daring to protest. Given no option but to accept inadequate compensations, villagers gave up their homes and farmlands.
The EU is, to date, yet to investigate these reports.
In the meantime, families forced off their land, who have lost their only source of income, have little choice but to work for the very companies who have claimed their land, either at factory level, or cutting and bundling sugar canes for rates as low as US$2.50 per day. The dire economic situation means that children also work in the cane fields but still the families earn barely enough money to survive.
On March 2013, a lawsuit was filed in the UK against Tate&Lyle, the multi-national sugar giant, to which the majority of exports from the Koh Kong plantation are being sent. 200 Cambodian farmers are suing the company for violating their rights as, under Cambodian law, the fruits of the land belong to the landowner (or lawful possessor in this case). According to humanitarian organizations Tate&Lyle is knowingly benefiting from the harvest of stolen land, and the rightful owners of the harvest are not receiving their share of sugar sales.
Land ownership in Cambodia is difficult to establish, due to the country’s evolving legal and political structures following the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, and the country is slowly trying to re-establish land titling through government programs. Though in the past, and still for the time being, small-scale farmers and poor households are often forced to give up their land for little compensation.
Fair development and industrialization is a struggle for this South East Asian nation, where, for the right price, powerful landowners, wealthy businessmen, and foreign investors have their pick of the country’s prime real estate.
A demo of the suggested layout for the multimedia report "Dreaming Singapore: A Migrant's Journey."
Farmers collect onions from a field in the outskirts of the village for less than 3 USD per day. In the last decade, the lack of job opportunities and low wages forced many people to migrate abroad.
While working in Saudi Arabia as a domestic worker, Tati was beaten by her employer and is now paralysed. While confined to her bed she is cared for by Carla, her husband.
Didi, son of Darkoni, a former domestic worker, shows the x-ray of her mother's skull. After working in Saudia Arabia for 2 years, she returned home with a severe mental disorder caused by a head trauma. The family doesn't know the circumstance of the accident.
Tutik prepares to fly home. She finished her contract with her employer and waits to board her plane back to Semarang in Indonesia.
Tutik arrives home after working in Singapore for three years. Her daughter Ika is so happy she is home she doesn't leave her alone.
Tutik arrives home after working in Singapore for three years. Her suitcases are filled with souvenirs for her two daughters.
Domestic workers and other migrants meet up at Payar Labar to pic-nic and catch up with friends on their day off. Though Sundays are meant to be days off for domestic migrant workers, employers can request that they work 7 days a week.
Devita (16) talks with her grandfather and cousin. Since her mother left the village to work in Singapore 3 years ago, she has been living with her grandparents together with her sister, Ika (18).
Tutik's daughter, Ika at school. During the three years her mother has been working in Singapore she has been able to see her once for 24hrs.
Tutik works full time (7 days a week) looking after Izzati (7), in the morning she will take Izzati to the school bus which picks her up at her grandparents house.
Tursini, a domestic worker who was abused while working in Singapore sits in her home. She was recently flown back to Singapore by a Humanitarian Organization to receive compensation from her employer, she did not file a complaint about the physical abuse but only for the salary she had not been paid.
Tutik works full time (7days a week) looking after Izzati (7), in the morning they will go to the park together after lunch Tutik will take Izzati to the school bus which picks her up at her grandparents house.
Istiana waits for a taxi with her new employer. She was picked up from Bukit Temah Shopping Centre by her employer to be taken home.
Anandha recites the Koran during a contest organized by local Humanitarian organizations.
Anandha works six days a week doing house work and taking care of two boys (2 and 5 years old). Here the boys are seen at the swimming pool, twice a week the boys go to swimming lessons.
March 13, 2014 - Singapore. Anandha does the shopping for the family, after packing everything in the fridge she notes down her expenses her a note book. This is not at the request of her employer, but just because she likes to be organized. © Nicolas Axelrod / Ruom
Sulastri during her wedding with Mohd. Intially a migrant worker to Singapore, Sulastri worked as a domestic helper with her employer for many years before getting married to her boss.
Tutik works full time looking after Izzati (7), in the morning they will go to the park together after lunch Tutik will take Izzati to the school bus which picks her up at her grandparents house.
A view of the port and high-rises of the CBD.
Migrant workers are picked up by 'runners' who will take them to do the necessary steps to work in Singapore.
Maid agency with domestic workers at Katong shopping centre.
Agencies advertising maids for hire, and show their skills in display centre at Bukit Timah shopping plaza.
Images advertising the work of migrant workers on the wall of a maid agency in Bukit Timah shopping plaza.
Maids are lined up to be taken back to a waiting van who will drive them to their shelter from Bukit Timah shopping centre.
An aspiring domestic worker during a Skype conversation with a possible future employer in Singapore.
Istiana starts packing her stuff together with her sister and nephew. She will leave to work in Singapore the following day and she will not be able to see her family for the next two years.
Istiana in her home, she will leave to work in Singapore the following day and will not be able to see her family for the next two years. Istiana has has been working abroad as domestic worker for almost 10 years, this will be the first time she goes to Singapore.
Saffira cares for her grandfather. Istiana, Saffira's mother, is leaving to work in Singapore the following day. Istiana will not be able to see her for the next two years.
Istiana along with other migrant workers prepare to board a plane to Singapore. The women will not be able to return home for the next two years.
Future migrant workers attend a mandatory day of classes at BP2TKI before leaving to work overseas. BP2TKI is the regional regulation office for overseas migration in Indonesia.
A domestic worker returns to work in Singapore after attending her mother's funeral at her home in Indonesia.
Aspiring domestic workers practice in a training centre on the outskirts of the capital.
Aspiring domestic workers study english in a training centre in Kendal.
Aspiring domestic workers practice in a training centre on the outskirts of the capital.
A baby doll is used to teach aspiring domestic workers about child care in a training centre.
Aspiring domestic workers relax in their bunks at training centre.
Tutik works full time looking after Izzati (7), in the evening after school Tutik will pick Izzati up from the school bus which drops her off at her grandparents house. She will feed her before taking her back to her parents' house.
Aspiring domestic workers sign the contract to start their training in a centre in Kendal.
Anida who recently returned from working in Singapore as a domestic worker, works harvesting rice near her home. Dadap is well know in the region for having a high migration rate.