Written by Nur A’in Abd Razak
Edited by Amra Naidoo
It’s a cold hard truth. A study conducted by HOME in 2015 found that more than 6 out of 10 foreign domestic workers (FDWs) working in Singapore were not always treated with dignity by their employer or employer’s family. 20% of FDWs are classified as having poor mental health, exacerbated by being in a foreign country, making it difficult to seek professional help. FDWs in Singapore are twice more likely than the average Singaporean to develop mental health problems.
“You hear and read about stories of domestic workers and their struggles all the time. But it’s only when we personally hear them share their experiences that you realize how little things have changed despite us being a first-world country,” reflects Jacqueline Tan, Communications and Partnerships Executive at Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME). “We are so dependent upon domestic workers yet we don’t accord them the dignity and rights that are due to them.”
HOME are working to change this. They hope to provide a program to assist with early detection of FDWs who could be exposed to an unsafe and unhealthy working environment and promote safe working and living environments, where mental, emotional and/or employment issues are addressed as early as possible to prevent any escalation.
Enter, the para-counsellor. Not all superheroes wear capes, and that’s certainly the case in this environment. HOME will train FDWs to become para-counsellors and leaders in their respective communities. Leveraging on women who are embedded in the community, HOME will select and train them to act as First Responders. The goal is to create a peer support group, understanding that in times of need, it’s easier to reach out to someone familiar. Anyone identified as having serious health issues will be referred to professionals by the para-counsellors.
Although mandated by law, the study showed that 40% of respondents did not receive a weekly day off, with a further 70% of respondents experiencing some form of restriction on communication or movement by their employer, or employer’s family. This disturbing restriction on these women’s rights will be addressed by para-counsellors who undergo further training on their rights with the goal of peer-to-peer education.
Project Leader and an FDW herself, Kina Hidayah Kastari says, “[The FDWs in HOME] are my family here and I look forward to meeting them every Sunday. Time spent with them are moments to treasure,”
An overwhelming response to a trial run conducted in April 2016 show the program already has legs for success. Although on space for 40, more than 200 FDWs signed up for the training. Jacqueline stated that the demand for counselling amongst FDWs is ongoing as HOME witnesses FDWs who run away from their employers every week.
Project Leader and an FDW herself, Kina Hidayah Kastari says, “[The FDWs in HOME] are my family here and I look forward to meeting them every Sunday. Time spent with them are moments to treasure.”
Support HOME as they compete to become a Project Inspire 2016 Finalist. They are currently crowdfunding in the semi-finalist stage of the competition, where every donation to their campaign counts as a vote. Show your support and vote for HOME before Wednesday 26th October.
If you or someone you know needs help now, call Samaritans of Singapore on 1800-221 4444. If someone you know is in immediate physical danger, please contact Singapore Police Force (SPF) at 999 or Singapore Civil Defense Force (SCDF) at 995 immediately. For migrant workers in Singapore seeking other assistance contact HOME on the following helplines:
1800-7-977-977 (toll free)
(+65) 6341 5525 (for domestic workers)
(+65) 6341 5535 (for other migrant workers)
(+65) 6337 0282 (For Myanmar workers)
(+65) 6547 4508 (For Indonesian workers)