Even before the Kasambahay Bill became law, Diamond Hotel Philippines, in partnership with the Punlaan School, has been trying to uplift the lives of household helpers.
The hotel, as part of its corporate social responsibility program, and Punlaan, a provider of technical skills, have been granting culinary scholarships to household helpers to help them become skilled cooks, and thereby equip them for better-paying assignments.
“This is the hotel’s first-ever program for household helpers,” said Cecile Ang, Diamond Hotel president. “We really wanted to do this project, but we waited for the right people to help us fulfill it. We hope to continue this for a long time.”
Last December, Ang was happy to see the first beneficiaries of this project, called Punlaan Program for House Cooks by Diamond Hotel, receive their diplomas. Nineteen househelp, all from Manila, underwent an intensive three-month training program that started in October.
The first batch of scholars had their culinary training under Diamond Hotel chefs led by Rolando Victoria, and classes by Punlaan School on values formation, personality development, basic Math and English.
The hotel provided all the ingredients and equipment used for the cooking classes at Punlaan in San Juan City. For five hours, Mondays to Thursdays, the scholars were trained in all aspects of cooking, with some hours dedicated to learning how to prepare Japanese (yakiudon, tonkatsu); Chinese (salt and pepper spareribs, stir-fried baby bokchoy); Filipino (sisig, humba); Thai (chicken pandan, pad Thai); Vietnamese (chagio, caramel chicken); Spanish (paella Valencia, jamon croquetas); and Korean (bibimbap, bulgogi) dishes. The girls had their practical exams every Friday.
Apart from cooking and food preparation, they were also taught proper cooking hygiene, basic cooking skills, equipment and basic cooking methods (grilling, pan-steaming, braising, stewing, searing), basic Math and recipe reading.
“But, it was not all cooking,” said Nanan Jacinto, Punlaan school director. “We also taught them values formation and personality development.”
Jacinto stressed that the activities and curriculum were conceptualized according to the standards set by Tesda (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority).
Initially, 24 househelpers were enrolled in the course. Only 19 completed the program.
“Along the way, some of them realized cooking was not for them, while others really needed the money badly so they had to leave and work right away. Others were pretty scared about what lay ahead of them after the program. Of course, we understand their situations in life and we let them be,” said Jacinto.
The girls were taken in as scholars upon the recommendations of Punlaan, a technical-vocational school that opened in 1975 for underprivileged young women.
“We announced the free program to people we know, like contacts of the school; the girls who enrolled with us are products of good selection with credible backgrounds,” said Jacinto. “We know employers would usually ask for their backgrounds, and we know where these girls came from.”
Added Jacinto: “We wanted those with good attitude. You may have the skills, but if you don’t have the proper working attitude, it’s useless. And, since we would be referring these girls to homes, attitude is essential.”
True enough, the chosen ones, said Jacinto, were fast learners and hard workers. While based in Manila, many came from provinces in Luzon and Visayas, and are in their early 20s.
Upon graduation, the first batch of scholars got recommendations for employment and a Tesda certification in Household Services. Eight of them, currently employed, are already assured of higher salaries due to the skills they acquired from the project. Punlaan assisted the remaining 13 graduates in getting employed in households. For stay-in househelp, employers will provide a salary of least P5,500 along with SSS, PhilHealth and other benefits.
(The “Kasambahay Law” sets a fixed monthly pay of up to P2,500 for domestic workers and requires membership in the social benefit systems of government, such as SSS and PhilHealth, and protects them by means of a contract of employment.)
Not a recruitment agency
With the success of the household program, Diamond-Punlaan will start screening the next batch of scholars.
However, “people might think that this is a recruitment agency; we are not,” said Jacinto. “We don’t want people to be calling us and asking for a helper.”
For the next batch, the program will only accommodate those with existing employers.
“We are welcoming only household helpers with current employers,” said Ang. “But, before we even train them, we will ask their employers to sign a contract that states they’re willing to upgrade their salary plus enjoy social benefits. With the things that they will learn from the special training, they deserve better.”
Another batch will be selected from among females who are 21-35 years old, physically fit, have finished at least second-year high school, have good moral values and attitude, and will agree to work in a home for two to three years.
“Education as a foundation of a person is very important,” said Ang. “We instill education among these girls. Once you have the foundation, it’s easy to build up other things in your life.”
(Call Punlaan School at 7270581/82, 7267762 or 7225671.)
Below are the recipes prepared by the Diamond-Punlaan first batch of scholars during their graduation.
Season pork with salt and pepper. Place 2 sage leaves on each chop and top with ¼ of the prosciutto. With sharp side of chef’s knife pointed up, gently pound pork so that prosciutto adheres to it.
Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Place pork, prosciutto side down, in skillet. Cook for 2 mins. Remove to plate.
Stir together the beef broth and cornstarch. Turn off heat and add Marsala wine and beef broth mixture to skillet. Scrape browned bits from bottom. Add pork back to skillet, prosciuto-side up, and top each chop with ¼ of the cheese. Cover and simmer for 2 minutes, until cheese melts and pork registers 155º on thermometer. Top each piece with 1 tbsp of sauce. Serve with grilled polenta, if desired.
In a bowl, add all the ingredients and mix them thoroughly. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for six hours or more. Wrap the chicken in pandan leaf and deep fry in oil till well cooked.
Tord Man Pla (Fried Fish Cakes with Cucumber Chili Sauce)
For the cakes:
For the sauce:
Place fish and curry paste in a food processor. Pulse until the fish is blended and forms a paste. Or alternately, smash in a mortar and pestle until a paste is formed. Place fish paste in a bowl.
Mix in egg, lime leaves, French beans, sugar, fish sauce, salt and pepper. Mix the paste well, slapping it around in the bowl to work air into the paste. This will make the cakes fluffy after cooking.
To make the sauce, dissolve the sugar and salt in the vinegar. Add the chili flakes, shallots and cucumber and let marinate at room temperature for at least 10 minutes.
Heat oil in a heavy frying pan. Test the temperature of the oil by placing a small piece of fish paste in the oil. If fish paste sizzles, then the oil is ready. If the oil begins smoking, it is too hot; let it cool off.
Fry a small piece of fish cake and taste. Adjust seasoning with salt and/or chili, if necessary. Take 3 tbsp of fish paste and flatten into a cake. Lower gently into the hot oil. Continue until all the paste is gone.
You may have to fry in batches depending on the size of your pan. Fry cakes until golden brown. Gently remove and drain on paper towels. Place on a platter and serve the sauce in a small bowl for dipping or spooning.
PHOTOS: RICHARD REYES