I fear for the lives of my family and friends, says Myanmar maid who has not been home since 2017

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When the coronavirus began spreading in Myanmar last year, Ms Zin Zin Aye started to worry for her family. Then, in February, Myanmar's military seized power in a coup and her anxiety grew.

SINGAPORE - The death of her grandfather shook her, and when the coronavirus began spreading in Myanmar last year - the number of infections there has grown from 200 in May last year to 500,000 this month - Ms Zin Zin Aye started to worry for her family.

Then, in February this year, Myanmar's military seized power in a coup and her anxiety grew.

Tearing up, Ms Zin Zin Aye, or Ah Naw as she wanted to be known, told The Straits Times that her 70-year-old grandfather had been battling stomach cancer for years. He died in his sleep in February last year.

"I was the last person he spoke to before he died. We were on a video call before he went to bed that night, and it did not seem as if his condition had worsened. In the morning, he didn't wake up. He was gone, just like that," said the 29-year-old in Mandarin.

It has been hard for Ah Naw and many other migrant domestic workers here who have not been able to go home since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out early last year.

A domestic worker in Singapore since 2012, Ah Naw, like other migrant workers making a living in a foreign country, always looked forward to her visits home, in Waingmaw township in Myanmar's Kachin state.

She would make the trip home once every two years, but she never expected that her visit in 2017 would be the last time she would hug and hold her grandfather.

Showing pictures of her grandfather when ST visited her employer's flat in Yishun recently, she said: "My grandfather and I were very close, and he cared for me so much. I could barely come to terms with his death. It was even tougher, not being able to return to Myanmar to say goodbye.

"The last time I saw my family in person was in 2017. If not for Covid-19, I would have been able to return to Myanmar and say goodbye to my grandfather (at his funeral) after his death."

Ah Naw has been working for her Singapore employer, Ms Josephine Chew, for five years.

Ms Chew, 51, who has two children aged 23 and 28, said Ah Naw has become part of her family. Apart from other household duties, Ah Naw also cares for Ms Chew's 81-year-old mother.

Ms Chew, who works in a social enterprise, said: "She came to Singapore alone to make money for her family back in Myanmar. That isn't easy for anyone to do. So, of course, we see her as a part of our family and never an outsider."

Ms Zin Zin Aye never expected that her visit home in 2017 would be the last time she would hug and hold her grandfather. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Growing visibly emotional, Ah Naw said she has been overwhelmed by the support shown by Ms Chew and her family, especially following her grandfather's death and the political unrest in Myanmar.

She said: "Those periods were tough for me and my employer knew that. So instead of asking me to focus on my work, she (Ms Chew) comforted me and prayed with me. I don't know what I would have done without her support."

However, Ah Naw cannot shake off her anxiety. Since the start of the coup, there have been more than 900 deaths.

And with nearly 19,000 deaths from the pandemic reported so far in Myanmar, she wonders if her family will make it to the next day.

Ms Zin Zin Aye looks at a photo of her siblings. ST PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN

"I am always so worried for my family and if they will be safe. But there is also nothing I can do but pray," said Ah Naw, who is the second of nine siblings.

"No matter what I do, the safety of my family is always at the back of my mind. It is so tough being away from them now.

"Sometimes, I can tell that my father and mother are not telling me exactly what the situation is in Myanmar now. They don't want me to worry. But how can I not worry?

"I fear for the lives of my family and friends."

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