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Image by Emily Broad

Adult Education Programs: Brendalle’s Story

Brendalle’s trajectory has moved from taking pictures with her mobile phone to teaching courses alongside professors, demonstrating how educational efforts to help our contracted and domestic workers foster inclusion at NYUAD and the UAE community.

Nov 3, 2019

It is a particularly sunny Tuesday morning as I wait under the palms for Brendalle Belaza, a Filipina nanny on campus and a budding photographer. As she walks up for our meeting, sporting a wide smile, she moves in for a hug.
Belaza began her story with her son, Brent Andre, the reason she came to the UAE. After facing difficulties trying to find a job at home Belaza came to the UAE with hopes of becoming a domestic worker. The money she made was sent home every month to support her son’s education.
Her first job was with an Egyptian family, with whom she managed to overcome cultural differences and a language barrier and create a deep connection.
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Image courtesy of Bendalle Belaza
“I wanted to end up with a good relationship, so we still have communication. [The kids] are now 14. They still love me,” she expressed nostalgically.
After her contract ended, Belaza taught pottery for a few years, where she first connected with students and faculty from NYU Abu Dhabi. Through word of mouth from other Filipino nannies, Belaza eventually interviewed for and was hired by Victor, former Director of Student Life, and Beth Lindsay, a campus librarian. Later on, Belaza began working for Melina Platas, a Political Science professor at NYUAD.
During Belaza’s interview for the Platas family, she recalls telling them, “I like photography. I got a lot of things I am doing outside.” The Platas family was very supportive, “Ma’am said, ‘We are going to support you and whatever you need for your growth, it will be okay.’”
Belaza is able to take weekends off, and her work schedule is flexible to accommodate time for her photography and other hobbies.
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Image courtesy of Bendalle Belaza
This freedom translated into Belaza’s ability to continue attending workshops hosted by the Office of Social Responsibility & Community Engagement and take part in community projects.
The Office of Social Responsibility’s programs began in 2012 when they started offering courses on learning English in the Workplace. As the number of contract workers on campus grew, the Office of Social Responsibility introduced new programming and opportunities and now offers twelve certificate-granting courses to all adults in the community, ranging from financial literacy and Arabic to personal health.
“Our programming has enabled our contracted and domestic worker colleagues to develop their professional and personal skills,” explained Liria Gjidija, Associate Director of Social Responsibility & Community Engagement. “NYUAD not only provides them with an opportunity to support their families, but also builds their capacity as contributing members of the NYUAD community, the UAE and their communities at home.”
Belaza’s experience with the Office of Social Responsibility photography workshops taught her the skills that she needed to pursue her passion, and to later volunteer on campus at various events like the Community Halloween Party and academic panels. Belaza’s first photography workshop lured her into the vast creative opportunities provided by the craft. The workshop, Photography: The Basics, culminated in Belaza’s first photography exhibit, where she was able to display her work in the NYUAD Arts Center.
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Image courtesy of Bendalle Belaza
This first workshop ignited a love of photographic art in Belaza, as well as an entrepreneurial spirit and hope for a life beyond domestic work. Her favorite style is street photography, but she also photographs campus events, weddings, maternity shoots and more.
Belaza also utilizes photography to overcome the daily stress of living so far from her hometown, Mindanao, and Brent, who is now a college student. Although Belaza loves the children she cares for, she expresses nostalgia about not being able to raise her own son. She spends her free time strolling along the Corniche, her favorite photography spot, looking for the things directly in front of her. It is this focus on the present that washes away her anxieties about the future.
“Being a photographer and being far away from home, the camera is my home. Taking photos of someone else’s expression, acknowledging the little things in front of you,” Belaza puts it simply, “So if I am stressed with my work or if I am stressed with everything, then I want to be alone and taking pictures.”
Belaza’s photography journey was a result of a million moving pieces: OSR's courses, her own innate talent and the Platas family’s kindness. Platas, her employer, ensures Belaza can find time to attend exhibitions or campus events and will often accommodate within her own work schedule to do so. However, Belaza makes her job as a nanny her main priority.
“I mean, as a domestic worker I really don’t want to abuse the goodness of people,” Belaza expressed humbly.
Belaza’s relationship with the Platas family is one of warmth and joy. Despite claiming she is a bad cook, she speaks fondly of cooking with the family, making the daily menu and experimenting with various dishes.
Most important is Belaza’s relationship with Platas’ daughter
“Brenda photographs our daughter, which is really lovely since she captures moments of the day that we sometimes don't see. I'm very proud of Belaza’s work and exhibitions, and her interest in teaching others,” Platas explained.
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Image courtesy of Bendalle Belaza
Belaza used to teach Photography and Inclusion along with her co-teachers, Harshini Karunaratne, an alumna, and Tamu al-Islam, Executive Director of NYUAD’s Office of Inclusion and Equity. The twenty attendees included SERCO employees, domestic workers and staff members. With this, Belaza has been truly supportive of her fellow contract workers, while building up the NYUAD community as a whole. This has led to a number of interviews with Gulf News and The National.
The most recent photography workshop that Belaza taught culminated in an exhibit of photographs taken by contract staff, which she curated. Having started by taking pictures with her mobile phone, she now teaches courses alongside high-level administrators and professors. Belaza ended her story by discussing her dreams, but mostly focused on her son.
“He’s coming this December. This is one of my dreams. For 13 years I am here, and I just want to bring him here,” Belaza exclaimed.
This dream has been realized because Belaza has traded her yearly ticket home to bring Brent to the UAE. Her diligence as a nanny made education possible for Brent, and he ended high school with a scholarship to study Petroleum Engineering. Like his mother, Brent has developed a passion for photography and spoken word poetry.
During Belaza’s early photography days, she had the opportunity to rent equipment from NYUAD’s Center for Academic Technology, but with an increasing student body this is no longer possible. With all of her time and money spent on her son, Belaza still hopes to one day own a nicer digital camera.
Belaza’s infectious laughter fills the air with anecdotes, but her story does not end here. In fact, her story is not the only one. Her same hope, resilience and passions are found among many other contracted staff and domestic workers that we have yet to explore.
You can see more of Belaza’s photography on her website and her Instagram.
Emily Broad is Photography Editor. Email her at
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