The helpers helper: from suicide girl in Singapore to dedicated social worker in Batam

BATAM: Her journey began in a dark place of suicidal thoughts and led to death first-hand, but the exploits of Rahayu Gabrelle today have to do with bringing light into the lives of those who walk the way she once did .

The 42-year-old Indonesian runs Yayasan Dunia Viva Wanita, a Batam-based non-profit foundation and shelter for women, children and migrant workers from nearby regions in Indonesia, as well as Singapore and Malaysia.

But at the beginning of the nineties Rahayu, who is married to a child, was the one who seeks shelter instead as a domestic help in Singapore.

She refused to go into details, but was visibly confused when she returned to the nine-month period with her first employer there.

"I had some problems, some abuse," said the reticent woman Channel NewsAsia in hesitant English. "I felt very depressed … They did not let me go, and sometimes I would think, maybe it would be better to kill myself."

Fortunately, Rahayu asked for a transfer instead and in the course of the next four years he found more luck for a "very nice" employer. She did not know, however, that it was illegal for her to help in their dry-cleaning shop – so when the staff at the Manpower Ministry (MOM) pretended to be customers, the performance was over.

Rahayu was placed at a shelter of HOME (Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics), where she met the founder of the non-governmental body, Bridget Tan, for the first time.

"I had nothing to do in the shelter, and I saw that Sister Bridget was very busy buying food, running around every day – so I offered to help," Rahayu said.

"When my case was finished, she asked me if she would open a shelter in Batam, could I arrange it for her? But I'm from Central Java, so I said & # 39; no, because I also had heard that Batam is known for his many sex workers. & # 39;

So Rahayu went home first, but during a visit to Tan in Singapore, a year later in 2007, a fateful incident changed her mind forever.

"We just walked to the HOME asylum when a home worker – Indonesian – fell from fourteen floors," reminded Rahayu that she had no idea whether it was an accident or not. "I saw all the blood, the police carried the body away … Then I turned to Sister Bridget and said OK, I'll do the job."

Emergency service in the Singapore file

A maid agency in Singapore (File photo: Ngau Kai Yan)


Viva Wanita was operational by 2009 and since then Tan has remained in an advisory role, with her own house in Batam serving as the shelter itself.

Their doors are often open to women from other parts of Indonesia, who are sent to Batam with the promise of a well-paid job at the factory, but are ultimately exploited and forced into the sex industry, Rahayu said.

But she noted that the main group is still that of Indonesian, Filipino and Burmese domestic help who have been repatriated from Singapore and Malaysia – women & # 39; worse & # 39; than she ever was.

Asked about some of the common problems faced by domestic workers to Singapore for their relief, Rahayu said that many owed their salaries, especially those with multiple transfers to different employers.

"We also have many cases of unplanned pregnancies by Bengali workers," she added. "The woman comes to us, the baby is born here and we try to get them to her family, but some are not ready to do that – for many traditional families to be pregnant before marriage is a sin.

"So we help them explain to their families, or let them wait here until the families understand."

Then Indonesian domestic helpers – more than half of the population of girls in Singapore – sent to Batam at the end of their employment, although they did not originally come from there.

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Students of the Singapore Polytechnic listen to Bridget Tan (in blue) at her home in Batam, which also serves as a shelter for Viva Wanita (photo: Facebook of Yayasan Dunia Viva Wanita)


According to Singapore regulations, employers have to pay for their return home, but as previously reported by the international Human Rights Watch group, some choose to buy cheap ferry tickets to Batam instead of flights to an airport closest to their place of residence. .

The MOM guidelines stipulate that alternative repatriation schemes can only be made if both the employer and the domestic employee agree. The ministry also has a mandatory orientation program for first maids and sends newsletters to reach them.

Referring to the need for confidentiality, Rahayu did not share any personal information from the domestic helpers in the above cases, but confirmed that some of them had submitted reports to MOM.

A total of 323 cases were handled by Viva Wanita from 2011 to 2017 – a number that Rahayu said she would like to see decrease further.

"Did we help people? I think so, when I started, we got about 80 domestic helpers from Singapore," she said. "It's better now, maybe in about 20 years."

The foundation has only two other staff members – with a part-time job – but at the squat edge of Batam city almost 20 teachers have given free education to 250 children and elementary school children spread over five schools.

Rahayu called this a necessary initiative – but an initiative that does not cost little money, along with the frequent purchase of airline tickets to send domestic helpers back to their rightful homes.

"Every year I try to make proposals for both the Indonesian government and private companies to finance us," Rahayu said. She receives no salary for her efforts – not that it is a problem for her.

"Of course everyone needs money, but with non-profit work we do not think about money," she laughed. "The most important thing is to run the organization from year to year, to continue and to go – for all women and children who need help."

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