Visiting helpers’ homes, they learn of sacrifice and separation - ANISYA

Visiting helpers’ homes, they learn of sacrifice and separation

On The Red Dot follows Singaporean celebrities as they travel to their helpers’ hometowns to experience what life back home is like for them.

Benjamin Heng sees his helper’s home in Indonesia for the first time and is surprised by its sheer size

SINGAPORE: When local actor Benjamin Heng arrived at his domestic helper’s home in Ponorogo, East Java, Indonesia, there was only one word he felt: Surprised.

“She lived in a bigger house than most of us in Singapore,” said Heng. “It reminded me of some resorts. I must say I was very impressed.”

The 39-year-old left Singapore to spend five days in the home of his domestic helper, Yasinta (who goes by one name) as part of a special four-part series for On The Red Dot.

There are more than 227,000 foreign domestic workers in Singapore, and many helpers know the likes, dislikes and routines of their employers. But how much do employers know much about their helpers? Heng was one of three Singapore personalities who embarked on a journey to find out.

The other two, singer-songwriter and radio deejay Daphne Khoo and actor and TV host Paul Foster, travelled to the Philippines to stay with their respective domestic helpers.

While shooting the series, some of them initially had the jitters, worrying about being taken out of their comfort zone and wondering if they could adapt as their helpers had done when they came to Singapore to work.

“I have to have a proper toilet, to have a shower and you know, do my business,” Heng said, laughing nervously.

Daphne Khoo and helper Yolly flip through old family photographs.

Khoo, whose Filipino helper, Yolly Dogillo, has been with the family for 20 years, had a different concern.

“I think my biggest fear for this trip was that Yolly’s family wouldn’t like me,” said the 28-year-old. “I think it’s kind of like meeting your best friend’s family. Can you imagine if your best friend’s family didn’t like you, and they’re like: ‘You cannot spend time together any more.’”


They were not the only ones who were nervous. Ms Bel Baltazar, 42, was anxious over the visit of Paul Foster. “I felt nervous because if Paul sees my house and if he is not comfortable, then what will I do?” she said. “I felt embarrassed.”
Foster, on the other hand, expressed regret that he had not gotten to know Ms Baltazar better after all her years of work with his family. She started working with them just over 10 years ago, shortly after her husband passed away. Ms Baltazar had to leave her two sons behind in Capiz province.

“I would like to think I know her relatively well but you know what? I probably don’t,” Paul said.

“And that’s also quite sad when you kind of realise that.”

Paul Foster and his family’s helper, Bel Baltazar.

“Bel’s fear was eye-opening,” said On The Red Dot’s executive producer Ng Yuina, who travelled with Paul and Bel.

“She was nervous because she was scared that Paul would actually look down on her when he saw her poverty. Needless to say, she was so relieved when that didn’t happen and in fact, Paul made the effort to bond with her family.”


Producer Poh Kok Ing, who travelled with Daphne and Yolly to Sorsogon province in the Philippines, was impressed by her tale of sacrifice.

The 47-year-old Yolly, who earned a teaching degree in the 90s, opted to become a foreign domestic worker because she could earn more being a maid in Singapore.

“Yolly could have supported herself easily if she had been a teacher in the Philippines. But as big sister to seven siblings, she spent her best years in Singapore to ensure that they too went to college. She is proud of what she has achieved, but I think there’s also an undercurrent of regret that she has missed the chance to settle down and start her own family,” said Mr Poh.

Yasinta’s life echoes that of Bel’s and Yolly’s. She had started work as a domestic helper when she was only 19. Over the years, the 35-year-old saved up enough money to get married, build a house and start a family.

“Yasinta has been away from her family for so long, spending only a small portion of each year with them.  But for a while now, she has been putting the money she sends back into a business rearing chickens. It’s admirable that she is thinking ahead and planning for her retirement already,” said producer Ms Elrica Tanu, who filmed Yasinta and Benjamin in Indonesia.

“I was there to witness their goodbyes (between the family) on the last day of our filming,” said producer Amelia Loh, who was also in Indonesia. “There were no tears and perhaps it was just too familiar a scenario to them after all these years of goodbyes. But I could feel the real unspoken longing of a son who would have liked to have his mother with him every day.”


For Heng, Foster and Khoo, their time with their helpers will forever change their relationships with them.

“Maybe people take a lot of things for granted because they just don’t know how hard life can be or how simply other people have to live,” said Foster at the end of the trip.

Khoo added: “I think it’s really important to get to know who our helpers are, where they come from, and what they are about.”

“I truly encourage employers to go to their helper’s hometowns to find out more,” said Heng. “It’s very enriching. Everybody will learn from it.”

Don’t miss Episode 1 of On The Red Dot’s “In Your Helper’s Shoes”, airing Jan 15, 9.45pm, on Channel 5. You can also catch-up on episodes on

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Posted on 16 Jan 2016


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