Should domestic helpers in Singapore be paid more than $600 a month?

A recent survey by global market research firm YouGov found local respondents divided on this, and the topic has also invited a flood of comments online.

Some netizens expressed sympathy for domestic helpers, noting their long hours and low pay compared to the average Singaporean’s income. Yet others chimed in with their experiences in hiring maids, both good and bad.

Amid the debate, one domestic helper has come out to share a touching perspective on her experience working in Singapore.

In a post shared on a Facebook group popular with domestic helpers based in Singapore, Rose Arini Nurjannah recounted her apprehension when she first came to Singapore in April this year, and was tasked to take care of her elderly employer.

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Rose, who is Indonesian, goes by the alias Ariin Rose on Facebook. The 25-year-old tells The Pride that she used to work as a secretary back home, and this was her very first time working abroad as a domestic helper.

She wrote on her post: “After I came to Singapore, I was shocked when my agency told me that ah ma cannot speak English or Malay but only Mandarin or Hainanese. What could I do? I already signed the contract so I just try my best. I was so scared, but I will try.”

Her relationship with the elderly grandmother got off to a rocky start.

“At first I really wanted to give up, because ah ma was so very fussy. She couldn’t see me sit down for a while… (I) must always do something. She always scolded me, and complained about everything I cooked.”

However, the kindness shown by the matriarch’s family made her decide to stay on.

Ah ma’s family is too kind to me. They always buy food, and never complain about my work. That’s why I’m still here. I tried my best to make ah ma comfortable and happy with me.

“Sometimes when I get my salary, I will buy food for ah ma. Even though she never thanked me, I didn’t care because I wanted to respect her.”

Despite her best efforts, the elderly woman still didn’t quite warm up to Rose. But Rose did her best to care for her, and this led her to a worrying discovery.

“I always found paper with blood after ah ma showers. When I tried to ask her about it, she didn’t want to tell me anything. So once, when we went to the polyclinic, I mentioned it to the doctor, who recommended that we go to the hospital.”

Tests uncovered devastating news – ah ma had cancer.

When she was admitted to the hospital for treatment, Rose stayed by her side to care for her. The Hainanese she had picked up in the past seven months was also instrumental as she helped act as a translator for the nurses. And despite ah ma’s behaviour in the past, Rose learnt that she had become a trusted companion to the elderly woman.

Ah ma didn’t want the nurse to shower her or change her diapers. She wanted me to do it because she was not comfortable with others… Now I know that ah ma is comfortable with me without her saying anything. I can feel it.”

Sadly, the elderly woman’s condition has worsened, and Rose expressed her sadness that she can no longer walk, talk or see.

“Because ah ma is very old, she can only lie down, and she can’t talk with me. I am so sad, and I hope she can get better… (and) can sit and watch TV with me. We cannot expect too much, so we can only pray for her, and hope that she can live a long life and fight her pain.”

She ended her post with encouragement for other domestic helpers, saying “No matter who you are, no matter how hard your job is, as long as your employer gives you three meals a day, gives you enough rest, doesn’t hit you and respects you… please think many times if you want to transfer.

“Just try your best, keep working and remember your family waiting for you at home.”