Saturday, 18 May 2013

"I really pity your old folk in Singapore," says Burmese domestic helper

Caught your attention eh? This simple sentence had me dumbfounded, as my mother-in-law, Mdm D, related what her Burmese domestic helper has said umpteen times.

We had this conversation last week on Mother's day, as one of the ubiquitous elderly kopitiam 'aunties' was clearing our table.

Is this how our elderly should spend their twilight years?  (©

Apparently, Clarice (not her real name) thinks that old folks in Myanmar have a much better deal than our cardboard and can-collecting, table wiping old folks. "The retirement age is in Myanmar is 60, and it's strictly enforced by the government," the 26 year old said.

Hailing from rural Thabaung in southwest Myanmar, Clarice has been in Singapore for three years and enjoys working here. She earns over $400 a month here, as compared to about $100 a month back home.

The higher pay, however, does come with far longer hours. Clarice works an average of 14 hours a day in Singapore, as compared to seven back home. She also works everyday in Singapore, with an off day every fortnight, as compared to 35 hour weeks (five-day work week) back home.

Even with a typical domestic helper's schedule, she considers herself lucky to be Burmese.

"There is a class divide in Singapore that I don't see back home. It seems like the rich people in Singapore don't bother about the old or the poor. In Myanmar, the Government will step in if there are old folks who require care. Old folks homes are available free-of-charge for those who can't afford it," said the youngest daughter of rice farmers.

Clarice's two-storey house sits on 20 football fields of fertile farmland in the Irrawaddy delta. Back home in rural Myanmar, crime is low and people usually leave their doors unlocked.

People look out for each other too, said Clarice. Whenever a family runs low on food or provisions, they would simply run over to a neighbour's for a few days' worth of supplies. No exchanges of money ever took place, as far as she remembered.

This community spirit extends to taking care of their old folk. "We complain to the authorities if we see old folks not being taken care of. If their offspring are financially-capable, they will be compelled by law to look after their parents. Otherwise there are state-funded facilities to take them in."

"I always feel very sad to see old people in Singapore collecting trash or doing cleaners jobs, because they should be enjoying their retirement."

While we have the Maintenance of Parents Act to address such issues, one wonders how effective legislation really is. And before thumping our chest in superiority over neighbouring countries, we could do well to take a long hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves what needs fixing in this society.

- S

1 comment:

  1. The Maintenance of Parents Act was passed by Parliament so that the government would not have to take care of the elderly.