Right On The Money

Students at a computer workshop conducted by Aidha; Two students at the graduation ceremony for the graduating class of 2014; Aidha chief executive offi cer Karen Fernandez (left) explaining to an employer (extreme right) about the benefi ts of a domestic worker attending courses at Aidha.

Singapore non-governmental organisation Aidha empowers domestic helpers by boosting their financial literacy.

BY DESMOND NG
PHOTOS
AIDHA, SPH LIBRARY

 

W

hen Filipina Jena Rosario Pascua first came to Singapore as a foreign domestic worker in 2005, she had little savings and a sizeable debt owed to the employment agency. Today, the 41-year-old owns a thriving 8,700 sq m pig farm and orchard, about the size of a football field, in the Philippines.

She is also putting the finishing touches to her new 112 sq m threebedroom house in the province of Ilocos Sur in northern Philippines.

This joyous turnaround has been possible because of Aidha, a Singapore non-governmental organisation (NGO) that focuses on empowering foreign domestic workers through financial literacy programmes.

The NGO, whose name comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “that to which we aspire”, conducts courses in money management, computer literacy and entrepreneurship skills for foreign domestic workers over 18-month programmes. Since 2006, it has trained more than 2,700 students.

Aidha has its roots in 2001 when writer Audrey Chin and social activist Melissa Kwee started a financial management programme to help foreign domestic workers break out of their poverty cycle.

Non-profit organisation the Singapore Committee for UNIFEM (now UN Women) was initially engaged to run the programme, but in 2006, the organisation decided that the programme should operate independently. Aidha was established in July that year.

At Aidha, thereʼs a saying that goes: “When you educate one woman, you impact nine lives.”

Pascua, who had always dreamt of owning a house and farm, signed up for the course in 2007 on the recommendation of a neighbour who knew about the organisation.

That year, she paid S$5,000 for a piece of land in Ilocos Sur, later developing it into a pig farm. Her family also grows vegetables and fruit on the farm, which is run by her husband. With S$15,000 of savings from her years working in Singapore, she built a family home too.

Of her time with Aidha, Pascua, who still works as a foreign domestic worker in Singapore, says: “I learnt a lot about money management.

It helped me to plan my time and savings, and to set goals. In the past, I had no future plans. I just wanted to save money. I had no confidence to start a business.”

IMPROVING LIVES

Courses at Aidha are taught by a pool of more than 200 volunteers, comprising Singaporeans and members of Singapore’s foreign communities, says its chief executive officer Karen Fernandez. There are two courses available, either finance and technology or business management and entrepreneurship.

On any given Sunday, there are about 400 students from the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar attending classes on its rented campus at United World College South East Asia in Dover Road. Half of the students pay for the courses themselves, while employers foot the bill for the other half, sometimes as a Christmas gift after realising the positive effect that these courses have on their helpers, says Fernandez.

She adds: “The students are eager to learn. They are keen to learn financial skills and even do their homework on their mobile phones.”

To date, 75 per cent of its students have started a business or invested in land, livestock or buildings back home, while 84 per cent of the students save every month or every other month.

At Aidha, there’s a saying that goes: “When you educate one woman, you impact nine lives.” Its students have proven that adage to be true when they return home to share their newfound knowledge and skills with their families and friends, creating brighter futures for themselves and their communities that last a lifetime.

Fernandez says that Aidha is looking at extending the programme to lowincome Singaporean women from 2016. The programme will focus on financial education and empower these women to take control of their financial future. It is still in the research phase of identifying the women’s needs.

Mentor Selina McCole, who has been volunteering at Aidha since 2001, teaches advanced leadership to students. Her domestic helper, who is a beneficiary of Aidha, owns a pig farm in the Philippines.

Of her experience, McCole, an Irish national who is Head of Operations Planning, Asia-Pacific, at investment bank Goldman Sachs, says: “It has been fantastic. The concept of having a helper was new to me. And I felt a responsibility to help them, which is what I love about Aidha.”

 


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