Home in focus

Crochet, line-dancing and gym workouts among activities at clubhouse for maids

Members of first clubhouse for foreign maids treat it as a home away from home on day off

Unlike other clubhouses in Singapore, the first for foreign domestic workers (FDWs) comes to life just one day in the week, with members from at least three nationalities.

Occupying 7,000 sq ft on the ground floor of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation Building, the clubhouse has a gym, community hall for dance classes and events, computer room, kitchen, music room, activity room and counselling room.

On any given Sunday, members groove to fast-paced dance music for zumba in the community hall, while others work out on a treadmill and the aroma of home-cooked food tempts the senses.

Started in 2014 by the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (Fast), a non-profit organisation, the Fast Befrienders Clubhouse has more than 6,000 members to date, and the number grows every weekend.

There are some 240,000 foreign domestic workers in Singapore.

Besides holding celebrations of important national events for its members, the Fast Befrienders Clubhouse has regular zumba, line dancing, cooking and crochet classes conducted either by external instructors or by domestic workers themselves.

Ms Nisansala Anuradhi (in black), 26, from Sri Lanka, preparing to sing solo during a talent contest which drew 117 participants. Finalists will get to perform on the 8th Foreign Domestic Worker Day, which will be celebrated on Oct 15.
Ms Nisansala Anuradhi (in black), 26, from Sri Lanka, preparing to sing solo during a talent contest which drew 117 participants. Finalists will get to perform on the 8th Foreign Domestic Worker Day, which will be celebrated on Oct 15. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Some regulars, who never miss a Sunday at the clubhouse, have formed a volunteer group to spread the word about the clubhouse and organise activities and events.

(From left) Ms Rita Sahara, 38, Ms Lianlyn Aquino, 37, Ms Ayuni, 38, and Ms Destri, 29, having fun while learning to play the guitar from Ms Millet Santos (in white), a staff member at Fast. They were preparing to perform at the clubhouse during the Indon
(From left) Ms Rita Sahara, 38, Ms Lianlyn Aquino, 37, Ms Ayuni, 38, and Ms Destri, 29, having fun while learning to play the guitar from Ms Millet Santos (in white), a staff member at Fast. They were preparing to perform at the clubhouse during the Indonesia Independence Day celebration late last month. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

GYM OVER SHOPPING

I used to spend my Sundays window shopping. Now, I exercise and it makes me feel rejuvenated, helps me save money and prevent high blood pressure, which runs in my family. This is my place.

FILIPINA CHERRY CRISTOBAL MARASIGA, 42, who is in charge of the upkeep of the gym.

Volunteer Jenny Ifurung, 41, who is also in charge of running the kitchen, says it is "her home away from home". The Philippine national spends every Sunday at the clubhouse, helping with preparations for events and making sure that the kitchen is kept clean.

The FDWs pay $10 for a year's membership to take part in classes and use the facilities, and they pay a nominal fee for classes that require materials and ingredients.

For Filipina Cherry Cristobal Marasiga, there are more than enough reasons to spend her Sundays at the clubhouse. "The clubhouse is the first place I go to before going to church," she said.

The 42-year-old makes full use of the basic gym and is in charge of its upkeep. "I used to spend my Sundays window shopping. Now, I exercise and it makes me feel rejuvenated, helps me save money and prevent high blood pressure, which runs in my family," she said. "This is my place."

Indonesians Tri Susanty (far left, wearing a purple tudung), 29, Rina Waty (third from right, in a red tudung), 41, and Sunarmi (in a blue tudung), 42, sharing crochet tips with Sri Lankan Chamila, 42, during class. Besides being able to make shawls to pr
Indonesians Tri Susanty (far left, wearing a purple tudung), 29, Rina Waty (third from right, in a red tudung), 41, and Sunarmi (in a blue tudung), 42, sharing crochet tips with Sri Lankan Chamila, 42, during class. Besides being able to make shawls to present to special guests who attend club events, they are acquiring a skill that can offer a source of income when they return home. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SENSE OF BELONGING

We hope that the clubhouse will create a sense of belonging for them, and also provide social support and work-life balance.

MR WILLIAM CHEW, executive director of Fast.

Domestic workers of the same nationality congregate at different loctions in Singapore on their days off, but at the clubhouse, food, music, dance or an intense zumba session brings all of them together, with English as the common language.

For new members whose command of English is poor, there are always clubhouse volunteers available to translate.

Some, like Ms Ifurung, have even picked up basic Bahasa Indonesia while trying to converse with other members.

"We hope that the clubhouse will create a sense of belonging for them (FDWs), and also provide social support and work-life balance," said Mr William Chew, executive director of Fast.

Myanmar national Saw Nan Muyar, 31, who has been in Singapore for less than a year, learning English by watching a YouTube clip in the computer and library room. It is in this room that many clubhouse members use Skype to keep in touch with their families
Myanmar national Saw Nan Muyar, 31, who has been in Singapore for less than a year, learning English by watching a YouTube clip in the computer and library room. It is in this room that many clubhouse members use Skype to keep in touch with their families. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2017, with the headline 'Feeling at home on Sundays'. Print Edition | Subscribe