Domestic helper puts heart and soul into care

ST VIDEO: MARK CHEONG
Ms Josefina with Leona, who suffers from Edwards syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that leads to heart defects, growth deficiencies and intellectual disability. The two share a special bond, and Ms Josefina plans to renew her contract so she can watc
Ms Josefina with Leona, who suffers from Edwards syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that leads to heart defects, growth deficiencies and intellectual disability. The two share a special bond, and Ms Josefina plans to renew her contract so she can watch Leona grow up.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

She is among 40 individual caregivers or families given model caregiver awards

Every night, Ms Josefina Amparo Hosena, 45, beds down together with her young charge Leona Heng to the soothing music of celebrity South Korean pianist Yiruma.

Every few hours, Ms Josefina wakes to replenish five-year-old Leona's milk supply through her feeding tube, and clean it. She gingerly disconnects the tube without waking Leona up - otherwise the little girl will not go back to sleep.

The Filipino domestic helper and the child, it is clear, have a special relationship. Leona suffers from Edwards syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that leads to heart defects, growth deficiencies and intellectual disability.

While Ms Josefina has to ensure that Leona is fed through the feeding tube at regular intervals round the clock, and be ready to respond to any emergency, such as heart failure, Leona has taught the Filipina and her own family what love and fighting spirit really mean.


Josefina Amparo Hosena (right) carries Leona Heng, who suffers from Edwards syndrome, onto an exercise ball as part of her therapy. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Even on Ms Josefina's days off, the two go out together.

  • Help schemes

  • •The Singapore Silver Line 1800-650-6060, launched in 2014, gives advice to seniors and their caregivers. More than 125,000 calls have been received.

    •A new Disability Caregiver Support Centre is expected to benefit almost 2,000 caregivers over the next five years.

    •Drop-off programmes provide temporary care so that caregivers can take a break.

    •Caregivers are eligible for an annual subsidy of up to $200 to attend courses. There are more than 200 courses to choose from.

    •A scheme started in October last year trains foreign domestic workers in eldercare skills. Some 50 have been trained so far.

    •The Agency for Integrated Care will train more taxi drivers to assist wheelchair-users and passengers with dementia symptoms. More than 280 have been trained since November.

For her dedication, Ms Josefina was one of 40 individual caregivers or families, aged 28 to 79, given the 2017 Model Caregiver Awards yesterday. The biennial awards, which started in 2007, are organised by local non-profit AWWA Caregiver Service, the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) and the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), in partnership with various charities.

Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor, who gave out some of the awards, said each recipient represents "a poignant tale of love and great sacrifice".

Citing Ms Josefina's example, she added: "Let's not forget the many domestic helpers in Singapore who have been caring for our loved ones as if they were their own family."

AWWA director Manmohan Singh said: "The role of family caregivers has taken on greater significance in Singapore, with our ageing population and longer life expectancy... We hope each caregiving story will touch other caregivers and help motivate and affirm their roles."

DEDICATED TO CHILD

It's not just work to her, she puts her heart and soul into it. It's challenging as she doesn't get enough sleep on some days.

MR MARCUS HENG, Ms Josefina's employer, on how the domestic helper takes such good care of his little daughter.

The NCSS and AIC will be rolling out more initiatives to help elderly or special-needs individuals and their caregivers.

Caregivers like Ms Josefina certainly have no easy job.

Leona's father Marcus Heng, 46, a director at a corporate training company, said of Ms Josefina: "It's not just work to her, she puts her heart and soul into it. It's challenging as she doesn't get enough sleep on some days."

Leona's mother is a property agent. The couple have another daughter, Leia, eight.

Even on her Sundays off, once every other week, Ms Josefina takes Leona along with her to church. "Everywhere we go, they say we look like mother and daughter," she laughs. A mother of four herself, Ms Josefina has known Leona since she was two months old.

And she plans to renew her employment contract, saying: "I want to see (Leona) growing up and getting married."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 26, 2017, with the headline 'Domestic helper puts heart and soul into care'. Print Edition | Subscribe