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More foreign domestic helpers take up skills upgrading courses

The number of foreign domestic helpers in Singapore signing up for skills upgrading courses has jumped in the last three years. Voluntary organisations said these workers hope to better their lives and their families' when they return home.

SINGAPORE: The number of foreign domestic helpers in Singapore signing up for skills upgrading courses has jumped in the last three years.

Voluntary organisations such as the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (FAST) said these workers hope to better their lives as well as their families' when they return home. Popular courses include entrepreneurship, and among those who have benefited, some have gone home to set up retail shops.

Diah Lestari dreams of starting a French restaurant in Bali. Last year, she took up an eight-month entrepreneurship programme at Media Transformation Ministry, a training partner of FAST. During that time, she also took part in a competition in Jakarta and her French cuisine business proposal won the third prize of 20 million Indonesian rupiah (S$2,100).

Ms Diah said she will be a step closer to her dreams when she returns home in July 2016.

"My motivation is to upgrade myself for my knowledge and my skill,” she said. “As a domestic maid, I don't want to just work here. I take this opportunity to learn from my boss and people around me. I believe that I can change my life."

Her French employer is supportive of Diah's extra-curricular activity.

Elisabeth Lambert said: "We support her, first of all, by giving her some free time for it. She told us that she wanted to open a French restaurant later, so I proposed to teach her some French."

In the last three years, voluntary organisations said they have seen a spike in enrolment numbers for upgrading courses.

AIDHA saw a jump from 380 in 2011, to 595 in 2013. Similarly, the numbers at the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) went up from 217, to 1,005. FAST saw the biggest leap, from 433 to more than 16,137 for the same period.

Popular courses include both home skills such as cooking, as well as business skills, like entrepreneurship. FAST said the surge in numbers was evident when the mandatory one rest day per week for domestic helpers kicked in January 2013.

William Chew, executive director at FAST, said: "We were pleasantly surprised when, especially after the first quarter of 2013, the number of requests from foreign domestic workers wanting to attend training courses surged by at least 20, 30 per cent just over a two to three-month period.

“Many of them said, 'I just don't want to be working as a maid forever’. Some of them said, 'I have been working for my father, for my mother, for my brother, for my sister, and I think it's time that I do something for myself'."