More foreign domestic helpers taking courses on days off

Self-improvement for foreign domestic helpers: An international culinary course at the ACMI Training Centre; a computer course and a hairdressing course (above) at the Mujahidin Mosque. -- PHOTOS: ACMI, MUJAHIDAH LEARNING CENTRE
Self-improvement for foreign domestic helpers: An international culinary course at the ACMI Training Centre; a computer course and a hairdressing course (above) at the Mujahidin Mosque. -- PHOTOS: ACMI, MUJAHIDAH LEARNING CENTRE
Self-improvement for foreign domestic helpers: An international culinary course at the ACMI Training Centre (left); a computer course (centre) and a hairdressing course (right) at the Mujahidin Mosque.
Self-improvement for foreign domestic helpers: An international culinary course at the ACMI Training Centre (left); a computer course (centre) and a hairdressing course (right) at the Mujahidin Mosque.PHOTOS: ACMI, MUJAHIDAH LEARNING CENTRE
Self-improvement for foreign domestic helpers: An international culinary course at the ACMI Training Centre (left); a computer course (centre) and a hairdressing course (right) at the Mujahidin Mosque.
Self-improvement for foreign domestic helpers: An international culinary course at the ACMI Training Centre (left); a computer course (centre) and a hairdressing course (right) at the Mujahidin Mosque.PHOTOS: ACMI, MUJAHIDAH LEARNING CENTRE
Madam Mieke De Rooij has been paying for cooking classes for Ms Genneby Onilan for the last four years. Ms Onilan is now attending a baking course and plans to start her own bakery one day.
Madam Mieke De Rooij has been paying for cooking classes for Ms Genneby Onilan for the last four years. Ms Onilan is now attending a baking course and plans to start her own bakery one day.ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

For 30-year-old maid Jennifer Balucay, her weekly day off is not just for taking a break from cooking and cleaning.

The mother of an 11-year-old boy has forked out $100 in instalments over two months to attend a 10-part caregiver course run by the Catholic church.

The Filipina, who earns $500 a month, told The Sunday Times she hopes the skills could help her get a job in Canada, where the pay is higher. She is among a growing number of maids who are using their days off to learn new skills. Some pay on their own, while others are sponsored by their employers.

Local organisations which offer such courses say demand is rising after days off for maids were made compulsory last January.

The Catholic-run Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI) Training Centre, for instance, had an enrolment of 795 maids last year, compared with 478 in 2008. Its courses, which include dress-making and learning to run a business, cost between $90 and $150.

Bunda Network, a Christian organisation which caters to Indonesian maids, started its free English and computer classes with only two students in 2012. The classes, taught in Bahasa Indonesia, now see between 30 and 60 students a week. Coordinator Erlina Santoso said the growing numbers could also be due to maids being more aware of organisations offering these courses. "The classes can help when they... look for professional jobs or start their own businesses," she added.

Some maids take the courses for more personal reasons.

Ms Yuniati, who is from Indonesia, pays $5 for every two make-up classes she attends at Covenant Evangelical Free Church in Bukit Panjang.

"Basic skin care is important as we get dusty and greasy when we cook and clean," said the 36-year-old, who is single. "And it's also good for selfies!"

More employers, such as Madam Jileen Tan, are also urging their maids to attend courses.

The 50-year-old personal assistant, whose maid has been with her for 14 years, said: "By going for cooking courses, for instance, she can learn to cook different dishes."

With more maids taking up courses, the variety on offer has also increased.

Mujahidin Mosque had only sewing and Islamic classes in 2005, when it had 35 students. Now, it has seven courses, including hairdressing and computer literacy. Almost 500 maids attend the classes every Sunday.

Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics executive director Jolovan Wham said the trend was a positive one as maids have the "right to education and to learn new skills".

But to encourage enrolment, they must be given a "decent salary" to pay for the lessons, he added.

audreyt@sph.com.sg