28 October 2012

Maid in Heaven

It is Sunday here in Singapore and it is the maids day off. There are tens of thousands of domestic Helpers living here on the Island. Most are from the Philippines. Some are from Indonesia. These terribly hard working young and old women come to Singapore under agency agreements to live and work as live-in cleaners, cooks and general dogs bodies. At most they are paid S$500 a month and they work 6 days a week.

Sundays are their one day off a week.

The domestic helpers of Singapore live in. That is they are provided with a small room. These rooms are often windowless and one could easily mistake them as being closets. Many barely have enough room for a roll-out mattress. Housing in Singapore is marketed by the number of bedrooms 'plus one'.

The ‘plus one’ is the maids room.

There are strict rules in engaging a maid. There are strict rules for everything here in Singapore. Everything is done by the book and the book is large. It is encyclopedic in fact.

As a single man I am not allowed to have live-in Domestic Help. Nor indeed do I need or want one. I can clean and cook for myself. My mother taught me well. Most families I know - both local and expatriates treat their maids with kindness. They are not exactly one of the family however there is no abuse of their human rights. 

There are occasional horror stories one hears though. There have been cases of sexual abuse. The newspaper once published a picture of a tiny little helper hauling the bag of a big fit soldier as he tweeted on his mobile phone. There was one case too of a maid stooping down to tie the shoelaces of their employer in a crowded shopping centre. It was very degrading. These cases are not the norm though and there was general public outrage at such conduct.

What I find endearing, indeed humbling - is the frugality and generosity of these Filipino women. Despite their monthly wage being not a great deal more than some of we ugly expats spend on a boozy night out, I see long lines of these happy and smiling women at the Western Union offices queuing up to send every spare cent they have back home. They are supporting parents, brothers and sisters back in a country where poverty is the norm and mere survival is a daily hardship that has to be endured. 

I have talked to a number of these bi and often tri-lingual women who gather in the open spaces near where live. They congregate to have picnics after attending morning mass at one of the larger Catholic churches in Singapore. Whilst many of the maids come from remote villages far from Manila and a surprisingly large number of them are qualified teachers and nurses. I have met some who even have degrees in law. They are unable to work in their professions at home by simple virtue of a lack of opportunity and the fact that their qualifications are not recognized in Singapore. 

The Philippines is still suffering from the economic rape and pillaging undertaken by the corrupt Marcos regime.

Singaporeans greatly benefit from the services that these delightful people bring.

We should not take them for granted.

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