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Ways Singapore's Domestic Workers Stay Active During Their Days Off

Domestic workers in Singapore may encounter issues such as weight gain, sleep disturbances, headaches, anxiety, or depression.

In an interview with CNA Women, four domestic helpers from Indonesia and the Philippines share their journeys in proactively managing their physical and mental well-being.

When Karen Ann Lago arrived in Singapore as a domestic helper in 2005, her aim was to earn enough to provide a better life for her family in the Philippines.

The then-23-year-old did not anticipate that within two years, she would contend with health challenges, including weight gain, fatigue, and frequent headaches.

Her situation is not unusual. Many foreign domestic helpers in Singapore undergo fluctuations in their physical and mental health due to the abrupt changes in their work and living environment, as noted by Dr. Stephen Tong, the CEO of Bethesda Medical. Bethesda Medical is a screening and medical center that collaborates with health and manpower ministries to provide health services for migrant workers in Singapore.

Dr. Tong, who has devoted over 15 years to addressing the medical needs of foreign construction workers and domestic helpers, observed, “Domestic helpers, especially in their early years in this country, tend to encounter multiple health issues.”

Ways Singapore's Domestic Workers Stay Active During Their Days Off​

Being introduced to a variety of foods in a new environment compared to their home countries can result in challenges related to appetite for domestic helpers. This may manifest as a loss of appetite or binge eating, potentially leading to malnutrition or obesity.

Furthermore, there is a likelihood of a reduction in physical activity as they adapt to a lifestyle where they move around less than they did in their home countries.

The adjustment is particularly challenging for older domestic helpers, those in their 30s and 40s. Dr. Tong highlighted that individuals in this age group may already be dealing with chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or thyroid issues.

ENGAGING IN PHYSICAL ACTIVITY DURING HER OFF DAYS TO MAINTAIN HER WELL-BEING

 

After 17 years since her initial arrival in Singapore, significant changes have occurred in the life of Karen Ann Lago, a domestic helper currently employed by a family of four with two young children. At 40 years old, she expresses a newfound sense of well-being, describing herself as “healthy as ever.”

Every Sunday for the past eight-and-a-half years, Lago has made the journey from her employer’s residence in Outram to the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (FAST) on Still Road. As a women-only center, FAST offers courses, social programs, and fitness classes specifically designed for migrant domestic workers in Singapore.

During her visits, Lago actively participates in various fitness classes alongside her fellow domestic helper friends. Since joining these classes, she has successfully shed almost 10kg and experienced a notable improvement in her physical strength.

Lago shares her positive experience, emphasizing the impact of working out with friends at FAST on her self-esteem and body image. She expresses that this engagement has significantly reduced her feelings of fatigue, replacing them with a sense of enjoyment and heightened energy levels.

By paying an annual membership fee of S$36, Lago and her companions have the opportunity to enroll in a range of programs. The fitness classes offered encompass yoga, K-pop dancing, pilates, and ABT, concentrating on enhancing and toning the abdomen, buttocks, and thighs.

These sessions typically span one to two hours each, with Lago noting that her usual routine involves participating in one or two workouts every Sunday. However, on occasion, she has engaged in up to four sessions in a single day.

Alongside her are two fellow domestic helpers, Sriweni, 53, and Charminia Lopez, 43. The trio forged a friendship while participating in classes at FAST.

Sriweni emphasizes the significance of exercising and staying physically fit for helpers, regardless of age. She highlights the essential strength needed for tasks such as cleaning, cooking, and household chores, making regular workouts crucial.

Lopez, having become a member and joined the programs at FAST only two years ago, reflects on the transformative impact on her life. She expresses newfound abilities, such as effortlessly handling heavy tasks at home for her employer, experiencing improved sleep, and waking up feeling energized for daily tasks. Despite being 43 years old, she asserts that she feels as youthful as 23.

MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGES POSE A SIGNIFICANT ISSUE FOR DOMESTIC HELPERS

In addition to physical health concerns, Dr. Tong has noted that mental health poses a more significant issue. He approximates that approximately one in five domestic helpers seeking medical consultations at Bethesda Medical have conveyed various levels of stress and anxiety. These emotional challenges often stem from homesickness or worries about their financial circumstances.

However, Dr. Tong emphasizes that this statistic only represents those domestic helpers who openly discuss their struggles. The actual number of individuals grappling with mental health issues might be higher, he suggests.

“Many of them come to Singapore, often for the first time abroad, and find themselves residing in someone else’s home, which doesn’t feel like their own. Additionally, some may lack friends or a social circle to rely on,” he explained. Dr. Tong points out that due to the social isolation, homesickness, and limited interaction with individuals of similar backgrounds and cultures, stressors that impact their mental health are likely to arise.

The family physician further remarked, “These stressors, particularly if left unaddressed, can accumulate and lead to issues such as sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, persistent headaches, and abnormal weight fluctuations.”

Dr. Tong emphasized the significant impact of the helper’s working relationship with her employer on her overall health. He noted, “Depending on their rapport with employers, some helpers might refrain from disclosing these health issues, fearing potential repercussions.”

“If employers lack empathy or fail to accommodate their helpers’ needs and requests—whether related to religion, social aspects, or otherwise—during their time in Singapore, it can profoundly affect the mental well-being of the helpers,” Dr. Tong added.

Check in with us at Jayamaids – one of the best maid employment agencies in Hougang, on how we can help you and your helper achieve a well-balanced relationship that adds positivity to your daily lives. 

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