Filmmaker: Bilge Egemen
Tens of thousands of women from republics like Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova often leave their husbands and, significantly, their children and travel to Turkey's big cities - Istanbul and Ankara - in search of work as nannies and domestic staff. Many work illegally but still earn much more than what they would as teachers or even dentists in their native countries. They do this to send the money back home to their families.
One of these women is "Ayse", who comes from a Central Asian country and works illegally as a nanny in Istanbul. She does not want her identity or her country to be revealed and we never see her face throughout the film.
When we walk around the streets or wait at bus stops the police recognise us just by glimpsing at us. That's what often happens. Some of us were caught and deported. Sometimes it's like that. When we're caught, we beg them and tell them we are here to work for our children.
Ayse went to university and for 11 years worked as a schoolteacher - earning about $200 a month - before quitting her job and moving to Turkey to try and earn more money for her family and pay off a mortgage.
In the film, she is employed by a working mother who is a hairdresser - to work as a nanny, cook, and cleaner. She learned Turkish by poring over newspapers, children's books and watching television.
For Ayse, life as an illegal nanny is fraught with fear. On her one day off, she often stays indoors. Every time she takes the little boy she looks after out to play in the park, she worries the police will catch her. That happened to 15 of her friends who were caught at a bus station and deported. But the hardest thing for Ayse is being separated from her children.
"I can hardly sleep. I'm always thinking of them," she says, worrying that her youngest child who was five when she left home, will grow up thinking his aunt is his real mother.
Lela Koridze comes from Georgia and studied economics at university. "I’d love to work in this field. But I had to come here because salaries are higher," she says. She works legally in Ankara as a nanny but only sees her children once a year. The $500 a month that she earns, Lela says proudly, is considerably more than the Turkish minimum wage.
The Child Minders explores this widespread economic migration by women, largely told from Ayse and Lela's perspectives. But there are also interviews with cultural experts, one of whom advocates for better conditions: "A fundamental problem is that these people have very sad life stories. If we trust them with our children, their state of mind and wellbeing should be a priority." Turkish mothers also have their say - about workers' dishonesty and their children becoming too attached to their live-in nannies.
This film is both an intimate story about two mothers who have made sacrifices for their families and a fascinating window into a sometime dubious world of uncertainty, psychological stress, and a network of agents, nannies, and capricious employers.
Source: Al Jazeera