Weekend warriors: Foreign domestic workers compete in a football league on their days off
The Migrant Domestic Workers Futsal League aims to provide extracurricular sporting activity for the helpers. For most, the league has also become a refuge.
Futsal is purely a game for some, or a way to improve cardiovascular fitness.
For others, it can be a form of escapism from the monotony of life or their personal woes.
For migrant domestic worker Kim Hai Ching, futsal has become the perfect respite – if only for an hour each month.
While on the pitch, the 30-year-old from Myanmar puts aside worries about her parents back home, whom she has not been able to contact for the past few months.
Distressing thoughts about how long the money she sends home each month can help her family of farmers stay afloat momentarily dissipate.
“When I play, I forget about my problems. Normally, I am very stressed because of the situation back home,” said Miss Kim, whose family is in Tamu, a town in north-western Myanmar.
“The phone and Internet lines have been cut off, so it has been months since I spoke to them. I worry about my family a lot. Without futsal, I will be very sad.”
For her flair on the pitch, she was named Most Valuable Player on March 19, after the finals of the inaugural Migrant Domestic Workers Futsal League. The award was decided on by votes from the captains of the eight teams in the league.
Mr Lubis Ratno, a volunteer who helps with the organisation of the league, said that Ms Kim displayed plenty of composure on the ball and her easy-going nature means she is a popular figure off the pitch as well.
The community project organised by D2D Sports kicked off in September 2022. On at least one Sunday a month over the past few months, more than 60 domestic helpers competed in the five-a-side football competition.
The “international” competition involved eight teams of 13 players each from countries like India, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines, and culminated in Golden Myanmar FC being crowned champions.
A new season is set to begin in September, with more teams expected to join.
To cover referee fees and the cost of booking the pitch run by CharisTurf at the Kembangan-Chai Chee Community Hub, D2D Sports charges each team $40 for each game.
Futsal allows Miss Kim to keep alive her dreams of someday becoming a professional women’s footballer.
She had played football in school as a student in Myanmar and would even join the men in matches held in her town. Her passion took a back seat when she came to Singapore in 2016 to work, to ease her family’s financial woes.
But in June 2022, Miss Kim met fellow domestic helpers here who enjoy playing football, and they had kickabouts at an open field in Mattar Road. When the futsal league was organised, she became a part of Manipur FC, which has a mix of players from Myanmar and Manipur, a state in north-eastern India.
Fellow migrant workers she met through the futsal league have become her best friends. Now, she looks forward to match days, when she and Indian nationals (below, from right) Kimboithem Singson and Nengpihol Kipgen, both 29 years old, can have meals and hang out together after the games.
Miss Kimboithem said: "We always eat together on Sundays after matches, and we have all become very close. We can talk about anything with one another, especially about football. During the 2022 World Cup, we were always sending each other WhatsApp messages about the matches we were watching."
While she gets to enjoy her futsal exploits, Miss Kim does not neglect her primary duties.
Her employer, Mrs Jacklyn Kong, a secondary school teacher, said that she is happy to see Miss Kim out and about participating in something she enjoys.
Mrs Kong said: “It is satisfying to know that she is able to find a platform to indulge in a sport she loves. I would not want to dictate what she does on her days off, as long as she is responsible in her work.”
Miss Kim has added her latest trophy – the MDW Futsal League Most Valuable Player – to her collection.
The trophies sit on a shelf by her bedside, alongside birthday cards hand-drawn by her employers’ children. She has competed in various tournaments over the years in Singapore.
Miss Kim also finds time to attend the evening Burmese service at the Hallelujah International Church in Aljunied, a short walk from her employers’ home, where she and her compatriots spend one and a half hours in song and prayer.
Domestic helper Nur Hayati, 37, is another player benefiting from the league. She said: “Futsal helps me to de-stress from my work and gives me something to look forward to each month.”
“Normally on Sundays, I would spend time with my friends at Marina Bay, which I do enjoy, but playing a sport I love is totally different,” added the die-hard Cristiano Ronaldo fan, who played football when she was in school.
The Indonesian turned out for Team BTI, a side made up of her compatriots, and her jersey bore her daughter’s name, Nayla.
The photo below shows Ms Hayati introducing her teammates from Team BTI on a video call to her daughter Nayla back in Bekasi, Indonesia.
Ms Hayati, who arrived in Singapore in October 2015 hoping to help her family financially and to save up for her daughter’s education, regularly sends videos and pictures of her futsal exploits to her 11-year-old.
“My daughter is very happy that I play football here, and she even asked me to send her my jersey so that she can wear it at home.”
Ms Hayati says she believes in giving her all – something she often tells her daughter. This extends to matches that may sometimes lead to minor injuries. She said: “If I end up with a leg injury that forces me to limp, I will make sure I somehow walk normally in front of my employers so that they do not get worried about me playing football.”
FRIENDSHIP THROUGH SPORTS
The futsal league has also helped the domestic workers broaden their horizons, as they get to make new friends of other nationalities.
Ms Hayati said it has now become a norm for her and her fellow Indonesians to hang out with players from the Myanmar teams on their days off.
Mr Rasvinder Bhullar, executive director of D2D Sports, said he had found out from one of his former employees about a group of migrant domestic workers who were interested in playing football and was eager to provide a platform for them.
He is hoping for more sponsors to get involved so that he will be able to enhance the competition, such as by providing prize money and photo and video coverage of matches that can be put up on social media.
Mr Rasvinder said: “This is normally a demographic that we would not assume has an interest in football, but they are like other women who have their own passions. As it is, women already have limited opportunities to play compared with men, so just to see them come here one Sunday a month and have so much fun really is magical.”