PEOPLE

Inspiration to us all: Stroke won't keep her from helping workers

Ms Bridget Tan, who founded advocacy group Home, is still helping foreign workers as she recuperates after a stroke in Batam.
Ms Bridget Tan, who founded advocacy group Home, is still helping foreign workers as she recuperates after a stroke in Batam.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

After suffering a stroke, Ms Bridget Tan moved to Batam to recuperate in peace. But she still gets calls at all hours from migrant workers in Singapore desperate for help.

The 66-year-old, who has used a wheelchair since the stroke, reassures them and puts them in contact with helplines and shelters in Singapore. She said: "Those who call me really need me, otherwise they wouldn't call me. They treat me as their sister, their mother."

It was one such call that led to Ms Tan founding foreign workers' advocacy group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) in 2004.

 
 
 

A Sri Lankan domestic worker had rung Ms Tan out of the blue, saying she was being sexually harassed by her employer.

Ms Tan recalled: "She said she would have committed suicide if I didn't come to her. And that's how I started Home. Just one call."

The former personnel manager spent the next decade helming Home, first as its president and then as its salaried chief executive - until February last year, when she collapsed in her Marine Terrace flat from a stroke. Since last June, she has been convalescing in her two-storey house in quiet Sekupang on Batam, a 45-minute ferry ride from Singapore.

The house also serves as a shelter by Yayasan Dunia Viva Wanita, an Indonesian women's organisation founded by Ms Tan. From time to time, her home becomes a refuge for repatriated maids, some of whom are pregnant.

Despite her condition, Ms Tan spends at least three hours a day shooting off e-mail messages and running her various organisations.

Once a month, she makes a short trip back here to make sure everything is in order - whether to help an abused Filipino maid meet lawyers, or to discuss table arrangements for Home's office.

Speech is a struggle for her, but her eyes light up when she recounts past rescues, such as the time she hared off into the forests of Choa Chu Kang at midnight to save a Thai sex trafficking victim.

"It feels good," she said of each time she helps a worker. "It's like striking lottery, every time."

Retirement is the furthest thing from her mind, and she expects to be back on her feet by the end of the year. First on her to-do list is a meeting with new Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, whom she wants to sound out about topics like the long working hours of foreign domestic workers.

Cracking a smile, she said: "I am hopeful that before Christmas, I will be walking around, chasing after you all."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2015, with the headline 'Stroke won't keep her from helping workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe