Local organization provides safe haven for abused domestic workers

Tucked away in the unknown, undeveloped, rustic neighborhood of Geylang is a center which is dedicated to providing voices to the voiceless, justice to the harmed.

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H.O.M.E was founded in 2004 and provides assistance to migrant workers in need (Photo credits: Asia One)

This center is called Humanitarian Organization for Migrant Economics, or by its more well known name, H.O.M.E. This program focuses on advocating welfare and empowerment for migrant workers around Singapore – free of charge.

It was founded in 2004 by current CEO Bridget Tan and has been a registered charity since then. Their mission is to “build a culture of welcome where no man, woman or child is a stranger; we are family.” Since creating the organization, she has won several awards, including being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 and receiving an Asian Public Service Award in 2010.

H.O.M.E has expanded since its founding, and they currently have five offices located in different areas around Singapore, in addition to their location in Geylang. The locations of their centers are based on where their targeted demographic resides or gathers, according to the organization’s executive director Jolovan Wham, who has been working with the organization for 12 years.

“We have an office at Lucky Plaza – that’s where a lot of migrant Filipino domestic workers are. We also have an drop in office at Peninsula Plaza, which is where all the Burmese women gather. We are here in Geylang as well, which is where all the workers from China and Bangladesh are. So the rationale of where we are located is based on where the community is gathered. This is important so we can reach out to them effectively,” Mr. Wham said.

Since their launch, H.O.M.E. has helped around 100 people per month, handling many cases related to migrant workers, from sexual abuse to no pay.

“The worst case scenarios are usually those that are a combination of physical, verbal, sexual abuse, lack of food, not being paid and being locked up in the house. For domestic workers, these are usually the worst kind of abuses. For construction workers, some forms of abuse are physical abuse, sometimes they are even hit by the employer,” Mr. Wham said.

And across all their centers in the city, H.O.M.E receives about 100 visitors every month.

Through donations, H.O.M.E staff members are able to help migrant workers through a series of services which include helplines, legal aid, skills training, a subsidized fee for dental services. In addition, H.O.M.E also offers skills training in areas such as cooking, baking, English, and financial education every Sunday. 

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H.O.M.E offers skills training in areas such as cooking (Photo credits: Honey Kids Asia)

They have a method of dealing with their cases. Mr. Wham explained this through an example.

“Say a domestic worker comes in and says she has left her employer’s house because she was physically or sexually abused, we will have an interview with her to find out what happened. Then, we will explore the various options that are available to her, so she could make a decision. And after the decision has been made, for instance, if she decides to file a complaint, we will work with the authorities like the Ministry of Manpower and the Police to help her file her complaint. After which, she will stay in our shelter, and we will provide her with free accommodation, and food, and during this period, we will provide education, counseling, services, and also look into her psychological and other needs. And once the investigation is over, she will go back to her country of origin. If not, she (sometimes), in the midst of the investigation, she will be allowed to work. So we will help her find a new employer,” Mr. Wham said.

However, he also mentioned what happened to the non-migrant workers who also come into their offices.

“Most of the time, we just provide employment advice, we do a bit of mediation, legal aid, if necessary we represent these workers in court. Sometimes we even call the employer and do mediation.”

When I visited one of the organization’s five centers, along with a fellow Eye reporter, the center was bustling with activity. Staff members of the organization were working hard to help those in need. If you would like to help, you can donate money through the website at http://www.home.org.sg.

Author: Stephanie Palanca

Stephanie Palanca is a senior and a second year reporter for The Eye. She has lived in Singapore since fourth grade, though she is originally from Manila, Philippines. When she is not doing anything related to school, she likes to try eggs benedicts from different brunch places around Singapore, photograph the world around her, binge watch Grey’s Anatomy, and play tennis. She can be contacted at palanca30087@sas.edu.sg.

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