SINGAPORE - Ms Vivian Sin and her family felt strongly that their maid of nearly six years, Ms Mayasari, deserved a reward for her dedicated service.
So they lent her $18,000 to buy land and build a two-bedroom house for Ms Mayasari's family back home in Semarang, Central Java.
"My mum was thinking that she'd worked for so long, yet she had no property to her name," said Ms Sin, a retired office administrator.
Her mother, 90, offered Ms Mayasari, who goes by one name, the loan.
Tearing up, the maid said: "They are very loving, treat me like family, always sharing food - we respect each other."
The mutual care and respect both employer and helper showed each other touched a panel of judges of the first Exemplary Migrant Domestic Worker (MDW) and Employer award competition, in which the pair won the top prize on Sunday (Nov 21).
Organised by the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (Fast), the award received more than 220 entries, from which eight finalists were selected.
In her speech at the event, Minister of State for Education and Manpower Gan Siow Huang said maids in Singapore have stepped up to help families with new arrangements such as the shift to work from home and home-based learning as the Covid-19 pandemic forced people to change their way of life.
"Likewise, the employers are also more sensitive and attentive to the needs of our domestic workers," she added.
Ms Gan was guest of honour at Fast's inaugural MDW and employer appreciation day on Sunday, during which the award ceremony was held.
The appreciation day, which was originally meant to be a carnival for up to 1,000 fully vaccinated attendees, was scaled down to feature virtual performances that were live-streamed online together with the award ceremony.
"Despite our very extensive efforts to cover all bases in order to keep this Covid-19 situation, we were nonetheless advised that we have to scale down this event," said Madam Helen Tan, the appreciation day organising committee chairman.
Ms Sin spoke effusively of Ms Mayasari's concern for her family even as the maid was quarantined at Swissotel the Stamford in June.
"She went to the market and was in contact with an infected stallholder, so she got an SMS telling her to go into quarantine," recounted Ms Sin.
Ms Sin said she teased Ms Mayasari about having to serve the quarantine order in a luxury hotel. "We told her, 'So good, so good, go there and rest'."
Yet Ms Mayasari could not fall asleep in the hotel.
Said the maid: "I was still thinking about how they were doing because (Ms Sin's mother) has back pain. So I was worried about how she'd do the housework."
Ms Sin lives with her mother, aunt, husband and elder daughter, 33, in a five-room flat in Bukit Merah. Temporarily staying with them are Ms Sin's younger daughter, 31, the daughter's husband and their 11-month-old son as they are waiting for their new home to be ready.
Ms Sin and Ms Mayasari said they have not decided what to do with their prize money of $2,000, awarded jointly to them.
As for Ms Wong Giat Sing, 48, who won the second prize together with her maid, Ms Ima Fitarini, the prize will go to Ms Fitarini's family and new hobby.
The Straits Times previously reported that Ms Wong and her husband introduced Ms Fitarini, 34, to cycling to help her cope with the death of her sister from Covid-19.
Said Ms Wong with a laugh: "The plan is for her to send some of the money home and (use) the rest (of the prize) for a new mountain bike to tackle the mountain biking trail at Chestnut Nature Park with - she's the only one of us brave enough to try riding there!"