SINGAPORE - In early June, her beloved elder sister, 37, died of Covid-19 in Indonesia.
But a devastated Ms Ima Fitarini, 34, could not fly home for a final farewell owing to travel restrictions amid the pandemic.
"It all happened in only nine days... I was chit-chatting with her for (the first) seven days," said the maid of eight years, choking back tears.
Then, on day seven, her family called to say that her sister was hospitalised. She died two days later, and Ms Fitarini was told of it the following day.
"Ma'am was the first person I looked for," said Ms Fitarini, referring to her employer, Ms Wong Giat Sing, 48.
Her reaction typifies the close relationship between Ms Wong and Ms Fitarini, who has worked for Ms Wong's family since she arrived in Singapore.
The mutual care and respect the duo hold for each other is exactly what the organisers of the inaugural Exemplary Migrant Domestic Worker (MDW) and Employer award are looking for, said Mr William Chew on Thursday (Nov 11) during a media conference.
He is chief executive director of the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (Fast), which provides social support services, training and recreational activities for maids in Singapore.
Ms Wong and Ms Fitarini are one of the eight pairs up for the award, the results of which are slated to be announced on Nov 21 during Fast's first MDW and Employer Appreciation Day. The top award comes with a $2,000 cash prize.
Ms Wong, a database administrator, said she had read about the award in The Straits Times back in September and decided to nominate Ms Fitarini for her dedicated service.
She said Ms Fitarini, who previously worked as a babysitter in Bali, arrived in Singapore not knowing how to cook but learnt eagerly.
Said Ms Fitarini, a self-professed avid reader: "(Ms Wong) got me recipe books and even let me use her computer to search for recipes on the Internet."
Now, she counts Italian and Indian dishes among her extensive repertoire, much to the delight of Ms Wong's daughters, aged nine and 14.
Ms Wong also encourages Ms Fitarini to pursue her own interests through courses organised by Fast.
The East Java native found a passion in hairdressing and make-up, particularly special effects make-up, proudly showing ST during an interview on Thursday photos of intricate Halloween-themed make-up she created.
"When I go home, I want to set up my own salon... I don't want to work for other people any more. That's my dream."
To take Ms Fitarini's mind off her recent bereavement, Ms Wong got the maid to start cycling regularly.
Her husband had caught the cycling bug earlier in the pandemic and acts as a guide on their weekend rides from their Bukit Timah home to places around Singapore, including Changi Beach.
Said Ms Wong: "She would just look at the sea and cry. Then (we'd) cycle home and she could fall asleep, tired."
Fast's appreciation day on Nov 21, to be held in its compound in Chin Cheng Avenue, off Still Road, will be a fiesta for up to 1,000 fully vaccinated domestic workers and their employers.
Minister of State for Education and Manpower Gan Siow Huang will be the guest of honour, and the day's highlights include performances, food trucks and booths offering discounted services such as money remittance to the maids' home country.