After wringing my hands in frustration and despair at the plight of the ‘maids’ plight in Singapore and after having a sobbing Burmese maid in my arms yesterday I have decided to put my my ‘money where my mouth is’ so to speak. I have set up Light House. A non-profit, non denominational organisation that can help Maids with various bits and pieces. I’m starting small so at the moment it’s just examining contracts before signature & accompanying non- english speaking Maids to the agencies to make sure they get the best deal. Offer a phone call home. A cuddle, a chat and most importantly to feel like they have a voice again and are not invisible. My wonderful ‘maid’ Clarie is on hand to translate for the Filipina’s but I need to learn Burmese & Indonesian pretty sharpish.
NB Although to Westerners the term ‘Maid’ is pretty archaic and derogatory – it is regarded differently in Asia. Maids should be lauded as they send most of their pitiful wages back to their families in much poorer parts of the world. I use the term ‘maid’ in a very respectful way.
What I witness around Singapore and specifically, next door on a daily basis in this wealthy City is appalling and barbaric. And I can’t stand by and just complain about it anymore. Please read Satoo’s story. This is my next door neighbours maid. Not in Dickensian Britian but in 21st century Singapore. Right now. And as I write. It is pretty shocking.
Satoo comes from Rangoon in Mynamar (formerly Burma) and is 23. She came to Singapore 3 months ago to work for my next door neighbour, a wealthy Chinese Sinaporean woman. She has no family here. No cell phone, no computer and no salary for 5 months to pay back the ‘agency’ fees. Her employer will not let her look at her contract. She is not allowed out by herself. She is not allowed to talk to anyone at all. She has no off days for 5 months. And works from 5.00 am until 10.00 pm every day (I can verify this as I have seen her washing the car at 5.00 every morning and digging the garden late into the night) Clary and I have made friends with her and wave and try to converse. She often stares wistfully into our garden – at the contentment there. Yesterday. she started to cry. I mean sob. Really sob. She was shuddering with sadness and gulping air through her tears. We encouraged her to come round as her ’employer’ was out. She wouldn’t sit in a chair, only on the floor. Her ’employer’ does not allow her to eat from the family’s plates or utensils, she cannot drink from their glasses, eat in front of them or sit on the furniture. I held her for at least 30 minutes, murmuring in soothing tones. I felt useless. I couldn’t speak Burmese and I’m not a lawyer. But, eventually, Satoo calmed down and after a cup of tea and some space she stopped crying and began to smile tentatively. She wouldn’t let go of my hand for ages afterwards. I realised that for the moment – the physical affection and the fact that we can ‘see’ her, that she is not invisible or ‘mute’, that we care was enough to bring a smile to her face.
I’m not sure how far I can go with this. I do know I’m committed. I hope to have a little office at some point where the ‘maids’ can come for a chat, a cuddle, to phone home or Skype or get advice.
Maid abuse is horribly common in this country. We live in a wonderfully clean and safe city state. Well, some of us do. For other’s its darkness and despair from 5.00 am to 10.00 pm at night.
I would be most grateful if you could retweet this link and follow Light House on Twitter @lighthousehope4.
Thank you for reading.