Maids and their employers earn kudos for mutual care, respect

Ms Indrani with her employer's sons, Justin (in black) and Joshua Seah. She was able to overcome many barriers with the family's help, even learning English from scratch. Ms Kanthi with Madam Goh, who took care of the maid after a major operation and
Ms Kanthi with Madam Goh, who took care of the maid after a major operation and also showed her how to use the computer.PHOTOS: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Ms Indrani with her employer's sons, Justin (in black) and Joshua Seah. She was able to overcome many barriers with the family's help, even learning English from scratch. Ms Kanthi with Madam Goh, who took care of the maid after a major operation and
Ms Indrani with her employer's sons, Justin (in black) and Joshua Seah. She was able to overcome many barriers with the family's help, even learning English from scratch. PHOTOS: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

When domestic helper Kanthi Panditha, 56, was hospitalised five years ago after a total hysterectomy, or womb removal surgery, her employer not only allowed her to rest for a month, but also went the extra mile to care for her.

Ms Kanthi remembers, for instance, Madam Catherine Goh fetching her to and from the hospital and cooking meals for her.

Her employer of more than two decades was also a firm supporter of the Sri Lankan's efforts to learn new skills. Madam Goh encouraged her to sign up for classes and personally taught her how to use the computer.

To show her gratitude, Ms Kanthi nominated the IT director for an annual award for employers.

Yesterday, Madam Goh, who is in her 60s, took home the top honour - the Foreign Domestic Worker Employer of the Year award.

"Hopefully, other employers will know that when we treat our maids with respect and care, they will perform their best," said Madam Goh during the event held at Singapore Polytechnic. "We have to give them a chance to excel."

The awards were given out as part of Foreign Domestic Worker Day, organised yearly by the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training and its partner organisations.

Outstanding domestic helpers were recognised as well.

Ms Pasgodayaye Gedara Indrani Fernando received the Foreign Domestic Worker of the Year award.

The 51-year-old could not speak a word of English when she arrived here from Sri Lanka in 1994. However, she persevered and picked up the language with help from her employer's family. She has been in their service for about 23 years.

Ms Indrani's passion for learning also spurred her to take courses in skills such as sewing and cooking.

In his speech, Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan said domestic workers are integral to the lives of many families here.

"Many (foreign domestic workers) have had to leave their families back home, make sacrifices and overcome many challenges in order to come and work here. They, too, have to manage living and working in a new environment."

He called on employers to foster positive relationships with their helpers. "There must be open communication, mutual care and respect, and a willingness to understand and accommodate each other," he said.

VIDEO
Women from Indonesia and the Philippines perform at the 7th Foreign Domestic Worker Day.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2016, with the headline 'Maids and their employers earn kudos for mutual care, respect'. Print Edition | Subscribe