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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Domestic Helper: An Angel In Disguise

You might have heard of the term domestic helper. Some may call it housekeeper, nanny or maid, depends on which country you came from. Who are they and what do they do? They are doing everything mundane in our home, from running errands, cooking, doing household chores to the extended duty of simply staying at home and be the "security guard". Yet oftentimes, their existence is sadly neglected. They are the ones with needs, opinions and aspirations less valued than others. 

I had read and heard their stories, be it from the news or what happened around me, on how badly treated the domestic helpers were. I am not saying that all of us ill-treat our helper, but there are some concerning number of employers in Singapore who unfortunately did so. The fundamental problem is, if they are meant to lighten our chores and help taking care of our family and home, why are they not treated with dignity and compassion? 

Let's talk about our own precious "angel". We call her S and she, too, has her families and loved ones that she left back home in Purbalingga, Indonesia. S came to Singapore in search of a better life for the sake of her family. Her first husband passed away and she got remarried to someone that S's family doesn't approve. Well, I think her family is right for disapproving. Her current husband is just like a leech, sucking her dry. So fate brought S four years ago to our household. Back in 2015, we need a second helper to help around with the twins. 

In our household, S sleeps with the kids. I personally feel that sharing a space with people of different class (though I don’t even think she is any different from us) or ethnic background would cause neither my kids nor us any inconvenience. We feel good about the bond that my kids and S have. S treats our kids like her own. S is very patient, she takes good care of the kids' well-being and their meals. These tasks may seem menial, but I don't think I can ever manage them ourselves, not with 4 kids and a job. 

S takes care not only the kids' need, but our needs and home as well. We trust her with all her delicious cooking, with her taking care of our home and also the kids' welfare at home.

We take S traveling with us wherever we go. We treat it as a reward for S, that she is given a chance to travel and see the beautiful world out there together with our family. S is like our own sister, like another mother figure to our kids and most importantly our trusted aide.

To me, the way that we treat our helper sends a strong signal to our children on the ethics we live by and the kind of culture and values we embody. Hence I just don’t get it when employers treated their helper unjustly.

I know someone who doesn’t allow a second helping of a plate of rice. I seriously don't know what this person is thinking. Will another plate of rice dig a big hole in your pocket!? Another example that I came across on the news was a helper being treated like a punching bag. Why can't all of us be more gracious and considerate towards our helpers? Aren’t they human beings, too, like any one of us? Being poor and less-educated do not mean that they can be taken advantage of. 

I am an employee too, and I certainly wouldn’t want my boss to be abusive, disrespectful or exploiting me. Everyone of us including our helper would want a conducive environment to work at, where they can be treated fairly, respectfully and with dignity. 

As Teo You Yenn, an Assistant Professor in Sociology at the Nanyang Technological University said: 

“The relationships with domestic workers shape many of our homes, and increasingly influence our social ties and interactions beyond the home. 

All of us, like it or not, produce “cultures” around domestic labour and the people who perform them. The attitudes we take, the behaviours we model for the children, shape our present and future. 

The values and beliefs that make up a culture are not passed on through textbooks or formal education alone. Culture is produced through everyday practice. Values are learnt through micro interactions and everyday observations.” 

Embracing good cultures and values starts from home, where our kids can pick up and learn. Our helper, at least to us, is our angel in disguise. Thank you so much S for all your hard work and dedication. And thank you to all other domestic helpers too, you have been a really great help to your employers. 

Perhaps in this new year, we can try to establish a better relationship and bonding with our helper. They, too, would like to be cared and love for.

Written by: DeViLsHGaL

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