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Aidha (a Sanskrit word meaning ‘that to which we aspire’) is a Singapore-registered charity set up in July 2006.

They provide financial literacy programmes such as money management, computer literacy, leadership and entrepreneurial skills for foreign domestic workers and lower-income women. We speak to student Luz Bartolome Mostoles (LM) and volunteer Charlotte Frances-Lim (CL) on the power of education.

Tell us more about Aidha and its services.

CL: Aidha provides foreign domestic workers with a place to spend their Sunday off days in a purposeful and fun way. For me, Aidha is a place where I am humbled to meet strong willed, smart, and optimistic women every Sunday.

Firstly, it serves as a place of education for them to learn new skills-ranging from computer skills & navigating the internet for things, to financial literacy, and entrepreneurship.

Secondly, it is an avenue for them to meet and socialise with like-minded friends, forging friendships and building important social safety nets for the duration of their work in a foreign land.

Each enrols in Aidha with their own aspirations which could range from wanting to learn financial planning geared towards a specific goal, wanting to start her own business, just wanting to learn how to use the internet to communicate with loved ones cost efficiently, and making new friends – their desires are quite varied and the curriculum of Aidha is structured to offer all these opportunities, and more.

Luz, where are you from and how long have you been in Singapore?

LM: I am from the northern part of the Philippines, Mueva Viztaya and I’ve been here in Singapore for 23 years. I was only 26 years old when I started working as a helper. I had to leave my 3 children in the Philippines (the youngest was 4 years old) to provide the basic necessities my family needs.

Back then, my family was living in poverty and my life was miserable. My current employer is a US citizen and I have been working for them for about 3 years.

What challenges do you face working as a foreign domestic worker?

LM: When I first came to Singapore, it was very challenging as I could not adapt quickly as my employer had expected me to. Work was tough as I had to work from morning till late at night and I hardly had any rest from the very beginning. First few years were rough as I missed my children dearly and I was solely responsible for their well-being.

However, I am thankful and lucky, that my children were good kids and they go to church regularly.

What motivates you to volunteer with this organisation?

CL: Growing up in Singapore in comfort and without fear of poverty or the lack of educational opportunity, I realised that my achievements cannot solely be claimed by my own efforts. Instead, they are environmental factors, opportunity, and the “lottery of birth” that have also played big parts. This realisation encouraged me to reach out to these women – who have ambition, are smart, and have strong work ethics, but not the opportunity to fully exercise their potential – to impart the knowledge that I have.

Why did you decide to enrol in Aidha?

LM: I wanted to improve myself and after speaking to my current employer at Aidha, she enrolled me immediately. My employer sponsored my education at Aidha and encouraged me to do well. During my first class, everything was totally new to me! I told myself that I had to push myself and I had to learn. The students and mentors inspired me a lot.

What do you learn at Aidha and how has it been beneficial to you?

LM: I have learnt so much as a leader and an entrepreneur. I became more confident and I can say proudly now, that I can successfully achieve my dreams. After I graduated from Aidha, my employer encouraged me to join ADP (Alumni Development Programme). After months of working on my business plan, I managed to be one of the finalists for the Big Pitch. Charlotte, my mentor for the Big Pitch supported and taught me to be a successful entrepreneur.

She inspired me to pursue and she told me, “You can win this!” When it was D-Day, Charlotte was there and cheered for me throughout. I won third place and I was very proud of my achievement.

How do you share your skills and experiences with the students?

CL: Having familiarity of electronics and e-commerce, together with my educational background in finance and business administration and the organisations skills picked up from work, I teach computer workshops and also help out with Aidha Alumni students in refining business plans and guiding them in oratorical and writing skills.

Can you tell us about the relationships that develop between volunteers and students?

CL: Over each course which lasts about 9 months, we form strong bonds. Each class is kept to a small size of 15-20, so we interact closely with each student. We encourage the camaraderie among students and they usually get together before and after class. If I’m lucky sometimes I get invited for picnic lunches with them, which is always fun.

I still keep in touch with my graduates via Facebook and when we chance upon each other in the “outside world”, it’s always a merry occasion.

What are your personal goals from this experience?

LM: I would like to fulfil my dream of starting my own, Nasi Lemak and Chicken Rice restaurant in my hometown. I would plant the ingredients needed from my farm and hopefully I can set everything up in 2 years. I want to share the taste of Nasi Lemak and Chicken Rice to the people from my hometown.

It is also my favourite dish and whenever I cook these dishes, they loved it!

What is the most rewarding experience so far?

CL: For me, there have been many rewarding experiences throughout my 4 years volunteering with Aidha which continue to keep bringing me back. One which stands out was the first “Teachers day” celebration that my students had surprised me with. They had prepared chocolates, paper roses, and hand-written notes to thank me for teaching them, and it wasn’t so much the gifts, but the gesture of being appreciated and this reciprocated admiration from my students which meant a lot to me.

What would you like to share with other foreign domestic workers?

LM: Go for it! Pursue your studies and you will succeed. I want to share my story with all FDWs and encourage them to enrol in classes like Aidha. Aidha is my home and my classmates are like my family.

What does empowerment mean to you?

LM: Aidha. Before Aidha, I didn’t know anything. Through Aidha, I’m able to lift myself up and have a clear direction in life.

CL: Empowerment to me means believing in yourself, knowing that you are strong and capable, and able to change the way things are if you put your heart and mind to it.

Founded in 2006, Aidha is an award-winning charity with Institution of Public Character (IPC) status. They are passionate about changing the lives of foreign domestic workers and other low-income women by providing them with the skills and confidence to save, invest and start businesses of their own. By empowering women they empower their families and communities, with 9 lives impacted for every woman who goes through their courses. They believe financial empowerment is essential to a safe and secure future.

ABOUT Vaishnavi Nathan

Sales & Marketing Manager, ElevenAsia.com

Vaishnavi is passionate about using language to explore one’s identity, social change, arts and the various facets of culture. She’s known to get messy with DIY projects and her vegan kitchen. When not discovering hiking trails, she writes poetry, practices yoga and potters around her urban jungle at home.

Learn more about her and her contributions here.