We applaud the initiative by the National University of Singapore and Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics to train domestic workers to be peer counsellors, in a bid to improve the mental health of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) ("Maids trained to be counsellors to peers"; Monday).
This is a service gap that the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (Fast) has identified, from managing our 24-hour helpline for FDWs over the years.
About 40 per cent of calls received by the Fast helpline since 2013 are from FDWs who are distressed and experiencing some form of depression or loneliness.
However, besides ensuring that FDWs have access to peer-counselling services, there must also be other support services to complement the peer-counselling effort.
At Fast, we conduct a bi-monthly befrienders service for distressed and lonely FDWs. They get to mingle with trained and experienced FDW mentors.
These "big sisters" provide collegial and emotional support through counselling, group work and confidence-building activities.
Beyond this, the FDWs are encouraged to sign up for our hobby classes, fitness programmes and talks (for example, on stress) held at the FDW clubhouse.
These activities provide a much-needed outlet for the FDWs to relax and socialise with other FDWs on their rest days.
About 60 per cent of distressed and lonely FDWs who called our helpline have joined our befrienders service, and they are now actively participating in our club activities on their rest days.
They are now happier and well adjusted, and enjoy a better quality of life.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. This saying is true of our FDWs, too.
We urge employers to ensure that their FDWs enjoy balance in their work and life, so that they can remain happy and physically and mentally well while working in Singapore.
Seah Seng Choon
Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training