Long-service award for 19 pairs of foreign domestic workers and employers

Foreign domestic worker Maria Aida Procalla Somejo (in pink), who has worked in Singapore for 28 years, receiving the Long Service Award at Holiday Inn Singapore Atrium.
Foreign domestic worker Maria Aida Procalla Somejo (in pink), who has worked in Singapore for 28 years, receiving the Long Service Award at Holiday Inn Singapore Atrium. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG
Naw Wah Wah (second from right ), who has worked in Singapore for 11 years, receiving the Long Service Award.
Naw Wah Wah (second from right ), who has worked in Singapore for 11 years, receiving the Long Service Award.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - When Ms Maria Aida Procalla Somejo left her hometown in the Philippines in 1990 to become a foreign domestic worker in Singapore, she did not expect to end up with four "daughters" and spend almost half her life with another family.

Ms Somejo, 59, who is single, has been working for the Choo family for 28 years. She raised her employer's four daughters like her own and looked after them while their mother worked seven days a week.

Despite raising three of the children from birth, she is most attached to the youngest daughter, said her employer's oldest daughter, Ms Choo Yuen Ling.

"Ever since my youngest sister started speaking, instead of calling her "Auntie" like all of us do, she chose to call her "Mama". When we tried to correct her, she wouldn't listen," added the 30-year-old business development manager.

On Monday (Feb 11), Ms Somejo and Ms Choo were one of the 19 pairs of foreign domestic workers and employers who received the Long Service Award at the Holiday Inn Singapore Atrium. Ms Choo collected the award on behalf of her parents.

The annual awards ceremony organised by the Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore) honours foreign domestic workers who have worked in the same household for at least ten years. Ms Somejo was the longest-serving award recipient.

The Ministry of Manpower says that one in two foreign domestic workers currently stay with the same employer for more than a year.

On top of looking after the four Choo girls , Ms Somejo mastered Chinese cooking within her first few months at work, even whipping up difficult dishes such as dumplings, roast pork and lotus root soup.

"During Chinese New Year, she will cook lotus root soup, which is a special request from our extended relatives. These relatives visit once a year but they also know Auntie because of her cooking and because she's been with us for so long," said Ms Choo.

When Typhoon Haiyan left Ms Somejo's relatives homeless in 2013, Ms Choo's mother and her third sister donated $1,300 so that they could rebuild their home.

On Monday, for the first time, three foreign domestic workers from Myanmar were among those who received the long service award.   The other recipients were eight Indonesians, three Filipinas, four Sri Lankans and one Indian national. 

Myanmar started sending domestic workers to Singapore only in the early 2000s. Language barriers and cultural hurdles during their first few months led to many quitting or changing employers.

Award recipient, Ms Naw Wah Wah, has been taking care of her 94-year-old employer, Mdm Yap Guat Eng, for the past 11 years. 

Although the 44-year-old struggled with speaking English at first, Mdm Yap - a former English teacher - would patiently correct her grammar and pronunciation.

Initially distrustful of Ms Naw because she had bad experiences with her previous maids , Mdm Yap grew to like her because of her loyalty and hard work.

Ms Naw said: "My parents are gone and I'm not married. I can communicate with my relatives on the phone. So, I promised my employer: 'Until you go or I go, I will continue to look after you.' She was so happy."