SINGAPORE - When Ms Marny C. Pera first arrived in Singapore from the Philippines 28 years ago, it was not an agent who was at the airport to meet her but her employer's family.
Just four years into her stay, her employer Madam Yap Sock Hoe, 65, a retired teacher, loaned her money to purchase a piece of farmland worth around $10,000.
She also helped Ms Pera's son to find a job as a therapist in Singapore, and when he got married, the ceremony was held in the function room at Madam Yap's condominum.
To thank her, Ms Pera nominated her for an annual award for employers organised by the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (Fast) and the Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore).
On Sunday (Dec 6), Madam Yap received the top honours, the Foreign Domestic Worker Employer of the Year Award. Her son, Mr Ling Wei Hong, 34, was there to receive the award on her behalf as she was travelling.
"It's the small things that mean a lot," said Ms Pera, 58, who is still as a domestic helper for the family. "From the first time I went to their house, the whole family said 'please' and 'thank you' to me. It shows they are such warm and good people."
Mr Ling said the award is an "affirmation" for Ms Pera, adding: "If we didn't feel she was a family member to us, we wouldn't be able to work together for so long."
The awards, which also recognised outstanding domestic helpers, were held as part of the sixth Foreign Domestic Worker Day, which was attended by 6,000 maids and employers at Singapore Polytechnic.
Minister of State for Manpower, Mr Sam Tan, acknowledged the strength and sacrifices of domestic helpers who leave their loved ones to look after Singaporeans' homes, elderly parents and children.
"As housekeeper, caregiver and friend, foreign domestic workers help us to juggle our careers and family commitments, and give Singaporeans more time to pursue our hobbies and passions," he said in a speech thanking them.
Mr Tan also said mutual respect and communication are important in building successful working relationships. Preliminary results from a Manpower Ministry survey of around 1,000 domestic helpers conducted in the second half of this year suggested that nearly all of them (97 per cent) were satisfied working here. About four in five would recommend working in Singapore to their friends and relatives. The full survey results will be released early next year.
To further bolster relationships between domestic helpers and employers, a mediation service will be launched next year to provide professional services to help both parties in the event of a disagreement. Fast president Seah Seng Choon said: "Mediation is a place to sort out their differences and hopefully they can go back and continue to work amicably together."
Fast celebrated its 10th anniversary at the event. The organisation runs a helpline and clubhouse for domestic workers, provides avenues for legal aid and has conducted subsidised training for more than 66,000 maids. It received the Institution of a Public Character status this month, which will allow it to issue tax deductible receipts.
Also at Sunday's event, the Foreign Domestic Worker of the Year award went to Ms Ranpati Dewage Siyanthi Siromani Pushpika, 44. The Sri Lankan has been with her employer Madam Selvakumari Chelladurai and her husband for 18 years.
She learnt emergency medical procedures in order to be the primary caregiver for their two sons, who were born with a rare musculoskeletal disorder, leaving them immobile. They have since passed away.
"She was like a foster mother to them," said Madam Chelladurai, 45, a financial controller. "We hope she can stay on and get permanent residency. With all her abilities and what she has learnt, she will be a great asset to Singapore, especially to the nursing profession."