Filipina domestic worker shoots for the top: she’s now an international photography sensation


Joan Pabona became an inspiration to many OFWs when she rose to fame from her humble life in Hong Kong as a domestic helper to an international photography sensation.


Pabona participated in the National Geographic’s photography competition last year. She snagged the second place in the People & Happenings in Hong Kong category with “Sacrifice,” an interesting black-and-white image of a woman construction worker arranging safety nets used for bamboo scaffolding. She photographed her masterpiece from the 8th floor of where her employers lived.


Humble beginnings

Completing her schooling at Ilocos Sur Polytechnic State College, she had a few jobs first before she realized she’d earn more as a domestic helper abroad. And because she wanted to better provide for her family, she opted to do just that.


She had always been passionate about photography. Back in her college days, she’d take random shots using her Fujifilm camera. She had this fondness for observing the things around her, taking special attention and admiration to black and white photography as well as micro photography – now evident in her own body of work.


Life in Hong Kong

When she moved to Hong Kong in 2013, she saved up for another camera. Then she started self-studying and began attending photography workshops to hone her craft.


Pabona said she’s very lucky to have such supportive employers. They are proud and happy for her, and equally proud that she stayed because of her love and passion for photography.


She shared that photography is not only a passion but has become a stress reliever for her, and it’s something she likes to do when she’s on her days off – another reason why she was able to develop her skills through the years.


Taking from her solitary experiences in a foreign soil, Pabona enjoys taking photos with an element of isolation. She stated that her job makes for a rather lonely existence but when she takes and creates a good image, she relates to the subject of her photo. “For one split second, I can put myself in their shoes,” she said.


She was also greatly inspired by the daily life in Hong Kong, which is why she loves taking pictures so much.


The message behind her passion

Her Facebook page is one clear evidence of how much she loves photography — her passion translates through her work. Her photos hold various messages to them, each one telling a story.


In her interview with The Standard, a newspaper in Hong Kong, she shared that she wants to break from the domestic helper stereotype. Often, she feels that people see them as lower class. She said people are shocked when they learned she’s a domestic helper, even confused that she owns a camera.


Through her example, she wants other domestic helpers like her to pursue their passions. Apart from that, though, she wants other people to respect them, too.


With her work abroad, not only was she able to provide for her family well but pursue what she’s always enjoyed doing. She now gets to spread her message to fellow OFWs, especially domestic helpers. And to others as well, sharing her personal belief that she can very well achieve her goals and nothing can take that away from her.  Not even because she’s “just a domestic helper and  of a lower class.” That’s one mentality that she definitely wants to be totally erased.


These days, Pabona still does what she loves: taking vivid and gripping shots of everyday life in Hong Kong. Still going after her dream. And she’s definitely on the right track. A step higher from how she started when she first set foot in Hong Kong.



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