By Lisa Edmondson
I first met Paola Turzi when we rode together in Aidha’s Tour de Singapore Bike Ride 2015. During our ride along the East Coast, we swapped stories, and Paola mentioned she and her partner, Mark, were supporting her family’s domestic worker, Chessa Burda, in her studies at Aidha. A couple of weeks later, I met with Paola, Chessa, and baby Candice at their flat. Here’s what they had to share about the importance of mutual trust, respect and compassion in the employer-employee relationship…
Chessa: “I have been a foreign domestic worker in Singapore since 2004. Over the years, I’ve had lots of different employers. When they go home or move away, I’m left behind, and I have to adapt to a different family, a different culture, and a different lifestyle. But I need to earn money for my daughter, Abigail, and for my family in the Philippines, who are always asking for my help. It’s really hard to raise a child when you aren’t there with her, but I’m saving money for our future. I’m the kind of person who loves my job and my employer, and when my last employer left, I was very sad. But since I came to work for Ma’am Paola and her family, my life has changed so much! Ma’am Paola always asks for my ideas and I feel I’m growing little by little. She even asked what I wanted to learn! At first, I said I wanted to learn how to swim, so they paid for me to take swimming lessons. And then, for Christmas, they told me they wanted to sponsor me to take classes at Aidha. No one had ever thought about my education before, and I was so surprised that Ma’am Paola and Sir Mark would want to help me!”
Paola: My partner, Mark, and I hired Chessa when our baby was three months old. It was a totally new experience for us to employ someone who lives with us. I think it’s important to think of ourselves as a team. But I also believe that by hiring a domestic worker, we have both a financial and a personal commitment to help make a difference in her life.
We started to think about what to give Chessa as a present — something she wouldn’t just send home straight to the Philippines. So we decided to offer to sponsor her education at Aidha. My husband and I strongly believe in giving people access to education and I felt very inspired by all the volunteers at Aidha when I had attended their Volunteer Orientation.
We came up with a plan that we thought would encourage her: We will pay for the first module at Aidha. If she completes it,
we will give her a $100 gift (as a reward for her hard work.) So, on her first year anniversary, we gave her the $100 gift, plus $150 towards Module 2, but she also had to contribute $100 herself. At the end of Module 2, we will give her another $100. So, we are funding her studies, but she is also contributing, and has an incentive to finish. She had an old computer and some of the type keys didn’t work, so we bought a new “family computer” that she can use for her studies. Since Chessa started with Aidha, she has learned how to save money and set a budget, and now, instead of only saving for her family, she is also saving for herself.”
Chessa: “Aidha teaches us how to dream and dream big, but how to do it slowly, step by step. My goal is to buy land in front of the university so that I can start a boarding house for students. I’m going to start by building a house with one room that has 3 or 4 bunk beds first My mother can manage the business for me while I’m still working in Singapore.”
Paola: “For many expat employers, coming to Singapore is like a parentheses in our lives. When we leave, if we support the education of the person who is supporting our family, it’s the best paycheck for our time in Singapore. Supporting Chessa’s education helps me to rebalance the scales of the luck of birth.”
Chessa: “I was so proud when Ma’am Paola and Sir Mike told me they were going to do the Bike Ride to support Aidha. I feel very touched and lucky, because not all helpers have employers who have a mind of compassion for others. My friends at church are all very proud of me for studying at Aidha, and impressed and happy for me. Aidha is really helping me to learn more so that I can have a better future.”
Chessa, Paola, Mark and Candice are a great example of how an employer/employee relationship that is based on trust, good communication and mutual respect can reap positive benefits. If you would like to sponsor your foreign domestic worker to attend classes at Aidha, please contact Student Affairs Manager, Geetika Agarwal on Tel : 6341 5287 or email firstname.lastname@example.org