Hiring domestic help is common in Singapore; people from the middle/upper-middle income onwards are generally able to afford them quite comfortably.
In Singapore, our domestic helpers mostly come from Indonesia and the Philippines. With a minority percentage coming from other South-east Asian countries like India and Myanmar.
And although this is part of the solution for our aging population (helpers being present 24/7 for the elderly), it naturally presents problems of its own.
I’m ashamed of Singaporeans sometimes when they behave the way they do; especially toward helpless people.
That being said – I’m not saying that this doesn’t happen in any other country, it does! And I’m not saying that maids have not brought in their own issues as well; there are countless stories of them stealing and whatnot.
However there will always be some rotten grapes in the vineyard, that doesn’t warrant you burning it all down. There are good ones.
Of course the more extreme forms of abuse are physical beatings and starving. Quite recently Singapore saw a case of a couple who starved their maid so much that she lost 20kg in 15 months. Read the news article here.
Yet there are little things that people do that might seem small, but are like silent stabs into the lives of our domestic helpers. There’s no written law against it; nor do they speak up much over such issues because they know some of their peers have it worse.
#1 Expecting Her To Do Something Bad
And she will. Who doesn’t? We’re all human, aren’t we? But you have already set up a trap for her to fall into; for being human. If anything at all, it is pure self prophecy.
There’s no basic trust in the helper-household relationship, but it can be such an oxymoron.
You’ve brought in this helper into your own castle; your home. And she is meant to help with your home. Yet you don’t trust her to do it right.
That makes it difficult for her to do it right. Then when she doesn’t do it right, you lose even more trust in her. It’s a vicious cycle.
#2 Disregarding The Fear She Has
Just put yourself in her shoes for a minute – you’re in a foreign country, you’ve heard horror stories about employers but you need the money, you are living with these employers and you rely on them entirely for your daily living and wages to send home, sometimes you might not even speak their language.
If anything bad happens to you, there’s no guarantee that your cries will be heard. You can only hope that someone notices your sunken face and overhears your muffled whimpers.
Do you see the level of ambiguity, insecurity and fear she suffers? It’s real.
Disregarding it doesn’t make the fear go away – it makes your own humanity mute.
#3 Thinking That You Own Her
This tends to happen in the Asian culture, I’ll admit. When bosses pay a salary, they think they own you during the duration of the employment. And because of upbringing, most Asian workers accept it as such.
However I really don’t agree with this. Everyone works for the benefit of their own lives; people want workers to benefit their businesses that in turn benefit their own lives as well – put it together, people actually work themselves.
Paying someone a salary for doing work for you does not equate to you giving them a livelihood. It’s pure business.
They give you the hours, effort and energy; you give them money. It’s really that simple. It does not mean you’ve officially bought the person, that’ll be slavery or prostitution. You didn’t buy a slave, did you? That’ll be illegal and highly frowned upon. You didn’t hire a prostitute, did you? She requires a different license for that.
You hired a domestic helper – respect her as such.
#4 Forgetting That She Has a Family Too
I’ll never forget when I was little and I gave a maid something small for Mother’s Day. She teared and hugged me tightly. She told me how much she missed her own daughter back home and wished she could be home with her.
It was a wakeup call for me. She wasn’t born to be just a domestic helper – she has a family. She’s someone’s daughter, sister, wife and mother; but she put that all aside for the time-being to be our domestic helper.
How could we forget the single most important reason on why she’s here in the first place? She’s here for her family.
#5 Forgetting That She Is Actually Just Like You
You’re human; she’s human too. She also needs her dose of sunshine, freedom, fresh air and good food to keep her happy. She has friends and family. She has things she dislikes and likes. She has a past and certainly a future.
You were just born under different circumstances.
You could’ve lived her life instead.
That’s how similar we all are. 😉