Migrant domestic worker Yati a shining example of success

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Yati at her land in Surabaya - Photograph: Benedict Lopez

Benedict Lopez describes how one migrant domestic worker realised her full potential with the help of a supportive employer.

Foreign workers leave their country for places like Malaysia to earn more money than they can in their native country.

Many manage to save some money, hoping to buy a property or invest in a small business upon returning to their home country so that they can improve the quality of life for themselves and their families.

Most of the reports of migrant workers coming to light in Malaysia are usually negative, casting a damaging perception of our country. Seldom does any positive news about migrant workers surface.

This is a story of Yati, who works as a domestic helper for my friend Peter. Yati, 43, hails from a small town in Java, Tulung Agung, about 200km from Surabaya. Recently, she accompanied us on a trip to Surabaya, thanks to her benevolent employer Peter, who sponsored her ticket.

A mother of two and grandmother of two, she has worked for Peter and his family for many years. Yati used to help out in my Kuala Lumpur house once in a while, while I was based in Stockholm.

“Yati is 100% trustworthy, does not have to be told what to do and what to cook for the day,” remarked Peter. “She is treated as a family member and goes home every year on a fully paid holiday.”

Anyone who is reasonably well acquainted with Yati will notice, after a short conversation with her, that she is a hardworking, intelligent lady with good business acumen.

Over the years, Yati has managed to save a sizeable portion of her monthly salary and invest it wisely and prudently. At times, with an interest-free loan from her generous employer, she has made some sound investments.

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When we were in Surabaya, we took time off to visit Yati and her family. We met her husband, siblings, children, grandchildren and her 93-year-old grandmother – spanning five generations. She and her siblings hosted a sumptuous dinner for us, and I thoroughly enjoyed the Javanese ayam bakar lada and satay kambing.

Today, Yati owns a house, a car, three motorcycles and a small plot of land. She showed us around her house and land, planted with limau purut (kaffir lime) trees. She engages a contractor to harvest the leaves from the trees. Profit is shared 50:50 between Yati and the contractor.

Yati has also sponsored her son in setting up his own motor repair shop in Tulung Agong. Her business affairs back home are managed by her younger sister Yuni, to whom she sends money regularly. In turn, Yuni keeps her posted about business opportunities which may arise back home.

Many years ago, Yati’s parents vehemently objected when she expressed a desire to work in Malaysia. Younger sister Yuni, however, broke ranks with her parents and signed the letter of consent that was required for her elder sibling to work in Malaysia. This, Yuni did with a heavy heart, as the family is close-knit.

Yati’s success can be partially attributed to her employer Peter and his family, who have always treated her as a family member, rather than a domestic helper. She made her investments with Peter’s encouragement and motivation.

I wish there were more Malaysians like Peter and his family, who are exemplary employers. They have done so much to enable Yati and her family to make a quantum leap and elevate her family’s quality of life.

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Not only foreign workers, but also Malaysians should look at Yati as an outstanding example to emulate. Like my immigrant friends in Stockholm, Yati is living testimony that where there is a will, there is a way, and there is no substitute for sheer hard work and astuteness as the conduits out of poverty towards a higher quality of life.

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Benedict Lopez
Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. During the course of his work, he covered all five Nordic countries. An eternal optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its citizens with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime.

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Veloo Saminathan
Veloo Saminathan

A good outcome for both the employer and the maid, more so, it appears for the maid. This is a great success story, but not all cases are of this type. There have been employers who have exploited their maids and there have maids who have not measured up to the expectations of employers.Perhaps there should be some sort of a control mechanism to safeguard the interests of both parties. There have been cases among my friends where with the best of treatment maids have absconded, in some cases stealing money and jewellery.

Yong Soo Len
Yong Soo Len

Personally, I find Indonesians a lot harder working than Malaysians. And they are also very frugal and only spend within their means. Maybe it was due to the fact they do not get hand outs like most Malaysians do. Just my two cents worth.

Kassim
Kassim

Our maid has been with us since 1994. That is 24 years. Initially her one-month paid home leave was once a year. As age has caught up with us, we found that we could not cope with the work during her one-month leave. Since 5 years ago, we have adjusted her home leave to 2 weeks, twice a year. Her length of service explains her performance.

We will be downsizing soon and she has agreed to continue with us. On our part, we have devised some sort of a pension scheme for her.