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who am i

Name: modgurl
Location: Singapore

New mom. New woman. Born in Singapore. Raised in the World Wide Web.
Thursday, March 24, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

Dear Blogger,

Remember my concerns about hiring a domestic helper (Officially: a Foreign Domestic Worker. Unofficially: A maid)? I've had my helper for about 3 months now. So how is she doing? How am I doing? Are my concerns founded?

First of all, I must say that this is just my experience with my helper. Secondly, hopefully my experience will be of value to those who is considering hiring a domestic helper or already having one.

A little introduction about my helper. She's in her early 20s, from a transportation-unfriendly village in east Indonesia. She has never been to a city but with the help of television and books, she has an idea of what city-living is like.

We chose someone young because she would have the energy to look after 2 very young children. That is her first priority. Household cleaning is secondary. Unfortunately, getting a young and experienced helper is very rare, like finding a diamond in the mud.

When she first came on board, it was very obvious that she was very green. What did you expect from someone who had just come from the village? The training provided by the maid agency was very basic, just enough for her to get through the daily grind of a Singaporean household.

Thanks to God, she is willing to learn. That is very important. You may be born stupid, but if you're willing to learn, you can become smart! I emphasise to her on willing to learn and taking initiative because these attitudes will not just benefit me as an employer but also her as a person.

Some people don't have the time to train their helpers especially in the crucial first month. I was lucky because I was a housewife (not anymore soon). I had time and patience to teach her skills, both the practical and the abstract. Skills that can only be learnt through experience and worldly knowledge.

Maybe I was a born teacher. It gives me a thrill to teach anyone who is willing the learn. That's the only motivation I need.

Anyway, from a shy person, my helper is now more confident in her abilities. From no cooking experience (she couldn't even hold the kitchen knife properly), to a decent house cook. She has managed her tasks like clockwork without me having to remind her. My children are comfortable with her now. My husband and I can leave them with her to go on dates without worrying.

Before we had gotten a helper, people kept telling us it's all about luck. Yes, luck do play a part but it's not entirely it. This isn't some game you play in the casino or lottery. Some people actually forget that domestic helpers are people too and they're working for a living!

Just like we expect to be respected as employees from our bosses, these helpers deserve our respect too. Yes yes yes. Respect has to be earned. I hear you. But did you expect to be treated like slaves when you first step into your office?

Often, we forget to give credit where the credit is due. Just like we thrive when praises are heaped on us, domestic helpers will definitely be self-motivated if their good work is appreciated, no matter how tiny it is. If her cooking is delicious, compliment the chef! If she did an unexpectedly good task, say "Good job!". Remember to say thank you for her help and sorry if you've made a mistake.

These are rewards that don't cost anything. You don't have to wait when her contract ends to give her a performance bonus. I don't think many employers do give their helpers bonus! We haven't given her any monetary bonuses yet, but we do have other ways to reward her.

For example, to encourage reading in the family, we bring the kids to the library once every 2 weeks. We encourage my helper to borrow books too. She likes to read. I've seen her devour the books that she borrowed during her break times. Yes, people. I've set break times in her schedule.

We also encourage her to write letters or send postcards home. Once a week, we remind her to call home. This is so that she won't feel homesick too much. Homesickness is one of the common causes of unproductiveness among foreign workers. Another reason for encouraging communication between her and her family back home is that this will regularly remind her of why she came to work here in the first place.

When we're outside, she eats with us. We're not calculative with food. If we can afford to eat well, then we should share it. If she has certain Indonesian cravings, I'll try to include it in my groceries. In a way, we are learning from each other's cultures.

We are not saints. We do try to be fair employers. My husband works overseas often. He has experienced the hardship of working overseas. From the homesickness to the local's treatment of him. So he understood very well how foreign workers feel.

Often, we remind ourselves of how we want to be treated as employees by our bosses. If not, then as a person. This helps in our role as employers and sometimes, guardians to our foreign domestic helper.

Lastly, pray often that God blesses you with the traits of a fair and respected employer.


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