SINGAPORE - It was her first visit to the S.E.A. Aquarium in Resorts World Sentosa, and Ms Lilik Sulisminingsih pointed her phone at the marine exhibits.
On Sunday (Jan 30), the foreign domestic worker was not snapping pictures of the sharks or sea jellies, or filming videos. She was in a video call with her sister's family in Indonesia - to share her Sentosa experience virtually with them.
"My nephew and niece don't have to be in Singapore, but they can still see the aquarium here. Only Jakarta has a (similar) aquarium," said Ms Lilik, 46, who hails from Surabaya.
Ms Lilik was among about 100 maids who enjoyed their Sunday morning at the S.E.A. Aquarium on their weekly day off.
This Chinese New Year outing was organised by an initiative under Hope Initiative Alliance (HIA), a non-profit that supports various communities, including migrant workers, foreign domestic workers and people with disabilities.
This weekly initiative began on Jan 23 this year and will take 1,500 foreign domestic workers to places of interest, including the Singapore Zoo and a city tour, over 10 weeks.
The programme, which aims to support the welfare and mental wellness of domestic workers, will run till the end of March.
"I'm very grateful to visit the aquarium. On my days off, I only go to City Plaza or Paya Lebar," added Ms Lilik.
On Sunday, almost 160 maids visited the S.E.A. Aquarium over a few time slots.
The tours for the 1,500 foreign domestic workers, including lunch and transport, are funded by unused SingapoRediscovers Vouchers that members of the public had donated to travel agency Xperience DMC.
Ms Joyder Ng, team lead of the Alliance of Domestic Employees Outreach - which is the HIA initiative that organised the outings - noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on foreign domestic workers' mental health.
"Some employers may want their workers to stay home instead of take their weekly day off. When this happens, they are working seven days a week... and they are unable to return home (due to border measures)," added Ms Ng.
During the early months of the pandemic, Ms Lilik stayed at home during her days off, and spent time resting and watching videos on her phone. But she also had to do light chores and cook. She works for a family in Eunos.
"My friends are overloaded with work because more people are staying at home. Some of them cannot go out, but they also don't get extra pay for working on their rest days," she added.
The Ministry of Manpower had previously announced that by the end of this year, employers must give their domestic workers at least one day off every month, which cannot be compensated with pay.
Ms Ng added that financial woes and debt pose a bigger challenge for maids .
"Some tend to send all of their pay home, and they have nothing. What do they do next? They will approach loan sharks to borrow money," she observed.
To help foreign domestic workers manage their finances better and safeguard their mental well-being, the Alliance of Domestic Employees Outreach will be organising a series of training sessions for them from next month.