Domestic Helpers In Singapore
Like many young Singaporeans, I grew up with a helper in my home. Asri was Indonesian, petite, and in my memory of her, a really really good dancer.
Once, I naively asked if she considered turning her hobby into a job. With a resigned laugh, she said “Auntie takde duit”.
While my younger self couldn’t comprehend why she “had no money”, I fondly remember how her eyes lit up when she spoke about the life she could have had.
Like Asri, foreign workers often sacrificed their aspirations, comfort, and safety in search of a better life in Singapore. Usually, they send their earnings to their families back home and have little financial security themselves.
But before they worked for their ‘sirs’ and ‘ma’ams’, they were once young girls with aspirations too. During one Sunday at Lucky Plaza, I sat down with some helpers and asked about the dreams of their youth.
“I wanted to be an engineer”
“I wanted to be an engineer but I had financial difficulties so I learnt how to be a secretary.
But I didn’t get jobs because I wasn’t pretty, and they want someone who looks good as the face of a company.
So I became a helper in Singapore. The money is good, employers are better too.”
“I always wanted to be a policewoman”
“My parents made me study accounting. But I worked as a mechanic for a while fixing cars. But to be honest, I always wanted to be a policewoman.”
“I wanted to join the army”
“I wanted to be in the army but that was too expensive. After my father passed away, I had to be the breadwinner for my family so I followed my older sisters and came to Singapore to be a helper.”
What are you doing now?
“I’m sending my kids chocolates for Christmas. Kimberly wants to be a pageant. She’s won many competitions so I think she can be a model one day.”
“The other kids want to be doctors. But sadly, it’s impossible for me to give them that.”
“I wanted to be a teacher but I don’t know what to teach”
“A teacher! But I don’t know what I would teach, I just wanted to earn money so I came to Singapore. It’s been 25 years, and I love it here. Singapore is safe, quiet.”
“Yeah, no robbery, no kidnapping. Everything is good security. How I wish I can live here forever. But no. If you have permit pass like us, we can only work till 60, then we must go back.”
How long do you plan to keep working for?
“Until I can! If this [my arm] can still keep going, I won’t stop!”
“We wanted to be a fashion designer, a dentist, and criminologist”
“I studied interior design, she did dentistry, and she wanted to be a criminologist.”
“We’re helpers and volleyball teammates. We play every Sunday at Nexus and sometimes, Bukit Batok.”
(From left to right) Miles, Lester, Judith
“I wanted to travel”
“I wanted to travel. But I get to travel as a maid too. I was in Kuwait for 11 years. My last employer even brought me to Russia and Brazil.
In a way, I’m living my dream now.”
“I didn’t have any dreams”
“I wanted to be a stewardess but it’s difficult and expensive. Out of 1000 people, only 100 get in. Maybe when I have enough [money], I’ll try applying again.”
(Left) Mary Jane
“I didn’t really have any. This is my first job. Before this, I was taking care of my son. But I’ve been here for four months now. I’m still learning as much as I can.”
Foreign Maids In Singapore
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget how our helpers were once young girls with dreams and aspirations like the rest of us.
To all the ‘aunties’ who left their homes to work and helped raise us, thank you for all your hard work.