Who are you?

I am 35 years old. I am Indonesian, and I come from Semarang in Central Java. My parents are farmers and I have two younger siblings. I started university, but I left after 6 months because my parents couldn’t afford to pay the fees.

Why did you decide to become a migrant domestic worker?

I got married early against my parents’ wishes and my husband didn’t earn enough money to support our son and myself.

That’s why I came to Singapore in 2001, I was 19 years old at that time and my baby only one year old. However, my husband left me 5 years later and I have been a single mother since then.

How did your financial situation evolve over time?

It took me 6 months to pay back the hiring agency. I’ve been able then to buy land and I have now my own house. My monthly salary is $700 SGD (about $515 USD) and I spend $300 SGD for my son, $100 SGD for my parents, $50 SGD for myself and I save each month about $250 SGD.

Can you tell us about your life as a migrant domestic worker? How difficult was it to adjust to your new life?

At first, I found it very hard. I was hungry all the time because my employers were not giving me enough food. I could only sleep 4 hours a night and I did not have any day off. I was locked in the house and did not know anything about Singapore, had no friends and no phone. I was also missing my baby so much.

One day, my Madam (note: she is referring to her employer) even burnt me purposefully. I was sharing my bedroom with their 15 year old daughter and I could not go to bed before her.

At 1 am I fell asleep in the kitchen and my Madam got angry at me when she saw me sleeping there and threw boiling water at me. They did not want to take me to the doctor because they feared I would denounce them but the next day I could not stop crying because I was in so much pain.

I told the grandmother that if they did not me take me to the doctor I would just jump out of the window. So, they went with me to the doctor and told him that I burnt myself accidentally.

After 2 years, they renewed my contract without telling me and let me go home for 2 weeks but they held 4 months of my salary to make sure I would come back. I finally managed to escape after 5 years because my passport was expired, and they could not renew it without me. So, I told them I wanted to go back to Indonesia for good.

I went back immediately to Singapore and that time I got a very kind employer and I’ve been with them for 12 years. Now, I love to be a foreign domestic worker because I learn a lot and get stronger in many ways. As my parents said “life is just like food, some food is spicy, some is salty, some is sour, some is bitter, and some is sweet. You need to try them all to understand the meaning of life.”

What do you like, don’t like about your employers? Any advice to give to employers in general?

I like that they totally trust me. They treat me like family and are very supportive and open minded.
What I don’t like about them is that they are messy, always rushing me and that they organize a lot of parties at home. The thing I don’t dare ask them is to give me my salary in advance sometimes when I need it and also to increase my salary.

My advice to employers: encourage your helper to plan for her future and improve her personal skills.

What is your favourite activity on a day off?

I love doing volunteer work and hanging out with friends.

What are you most proud of?

I am proud that I am a single mother and still managed to send my son to university. I am also proud to be financially independent.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

That my son finishes his studies and gets a good job.

 Interviewed in October 2017 by Marie Kretz Di Meglio