SINGAPORE: Without help, Ms Rashidah Ghazali was certain she would not have been able to cope. She was 27, four months pregnant and diagnosed with a life-threatening auto-immune disease back in 2016.
Then newly remarried and with five young children from her previous marriage, she could not turn to family for help in caring for them during her frequent and long hospital stays. Her husband, a first-time father, felt overwhelmed.
It was Madam Zarina Omar, 48, who came to her rescue. The childminder had been taking care of Ms Rashidah’s youngest son, Rayhan, since 2015, and took in his siblings as well. She put them up at her home for as long as was needed, sometimes overnight.
“She told me not to worry, that she will take care of my kids. She told me to focus on myself and recovering,” Ms Rashidah told Channel NewsAsia at Madam Zarina’s flat in Bukit Batok.
She gave birth to a girl and recovered a few months later.
Even when she was healthy, Ms Rashidah said that it was hard to focus on work without a childminder. Her limited number of childcare leave days was quickly used up whenever the childcare centre closed or when a child was too ill to go to school.
“Of course, we don’t want to be termed a ‘problem employee’ because we keep taking leave for our children,” said Ms Rashidah, who was working in a shipping firm.
Being employed is important as it would qualify her for infant and childcare subsidies which require the applicant to work a minimum of 56 hours per month, she added.
CHILDMINDING “NOT ABOUT THE MONEY”: MADAM ZARINA
Ms Rashidah would pay Madam Zarinah S$200 to S$300 a month. She had tried engaging a babysitter for her older child but found that she could not afford the S$500 monthly fee on her S$1,400 salary.
“The arrangement is not about money. It’s about help. Somebody wants my help, so I tell them ‘whatever you can give me, you just give me’,” Madam Zarina said.
“I like children, and when I help people, I feel happy,” she added.
The relationship between the two women has grown over the three years, and now, Madam Zarina takes care of Ms Rashidah’s younger children when their childcare centre is closed, or when the children are not well.
Seeing them interact, it is not difficult to mistake the two women as mother and daughter. Ms Rashidah calls the older woman “Ibu” (mother) after all.
“She is like a mother to me,” she said.
COMMUNITY CHILDMINDERS OFFERS PEACE OF MIND
A programme piloted in Bukit Batok aims to help more mothers in Ms Rashidah’s position. Called the Community Childminding programme, the effort by charity group Daughters of Tomorrow (DoT) was launched in February this year.
Executive director of DoT, Carrie Tan, said the idea was sparked following three years of experience from placing women from low-income families into gainful employment. She found that many of these women were not able to hold down their jobs due to childcare needs and contingencies.
“We needed a way for the women to get support near their homes to pick up or help care for their kids so they don’t have to keep taking urgent leave from work. In many cases, women were also prevented from taking on jobs that required shift work, as they had no options for childcare in the evenings or on weekends,” she said.
Madam Zarina is now part of the programme, and has taken care of 10 children. She makes herself available even in the evenings, while parents work overtime.
There are now 15 childminders under the initiative, said Ms Tan.
Since the programme started, the service has been used by 13 women from low-income families, clocking more than 2,000 childminding hours.
Ms Tan said that beneficiaries have shared that they are able to perform at their jobs better because they found someone they could entrust their kids to when they are at work.
GROWING THE PROGRAMME
She said that an app is also being developed to help the mothers register themselves as users and childminders so they can find one another easily through technology-enabled matching.
“We are looking into viable childminding or nanny training that would be affordable and easily accessible to help the childminders with skills development and professionalisation,” she said.
The success of the pilot has Ms Tan eyeing an expansion.
“We hope that it can grow into a nationalised programme for the low-income community that’s supported by private and public resources to enable underprivileged women to get back into the workforce, and also for childminder moms to also be able to make an income from providing this care support,” she said.
Already, the pool of childminders is expanding. Mothers from different neighbourhoods are being trained and coached in community outreach and organising
Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Social and Family Development Seah Kian Peng said: "We should allow social enterprises like these to grow. Many schemes can co-exist, and this is a good initiative, to give these women from low-income families to go to work, and to allow the childminders to earn some income.