Local celebs pay visit to maids' homes and spend 5 days in their shoes

19 February 2016 / 8 months 1 week ago

Jocelyn Lee
The New Paper
Feb 16, 2016

Local actor Benjamin Heng, singer-songwriter Daphne Khoo and actor-host Paul Foster had their eyes opened when they visited the homes of their domestic helpers in Indonesia and the Philippines for a TV documentary.

Heng even had to help kill a cockerel for a family meal. 

Despite some challenges, the celebrities learnt more about their domestic helpers by visiting their homes.  

All three said the experience helped them understand and get closer to their domestic helpers. 

Actor Benjamin Heng

Catching a live chicken and helping to slaughter it for a meal was not something local actor Benjamin Heng had done before.

Yet, the 39-year-old had to do just that when he visited his family's domestic helper, Ms Yasinta, in her home town of Ponorogo in East Java, Indonesia.

"It was painful and traumatic for me. The cockerel was strong and muscular, and I could feel it in my hands," he said.

"Right there and then when I was doing it, I was like, 'Oh man, why did I agree to do it.' I just wanted to get it over and done with."

Heng had paid a five-day visit to Ms Yasinta's home as part of a special four-episode series On The Red Dot - In My Helper's Shoes.

The show, which also featured local singer-songwriter Daphne Khoo, 28, and actor-host Paul Foster, 35, followed local celebrities as they travelled to their domestic helpers' home towns to experience what life is like for them.

It aired on Channel 5 last month.


In Singapore, Heng is known as "sir" to Ms Yasinta, who has been working with the family for four years.

But back in Indonesia, the 36-year-old is a boss in her own right.

Using the money she earned from working as a helper in Heng's household, Ms Yasinta started a chicken farm in her home town to earn more income for her family, which includes her husband and 10-year-old son.

The ride from the airport to Ms Yasinta's home takes over six hours by bus, but Heng and the series' crew members took about eight hours to get there as they stopped for lunch.

Heng told The New Paper over the phone yesterday: "I only found out about the chicken farm when I went to her home in Indonesia. I was very impressed with her entrepreneurship.

"Knowing Yasinta, she's capable of starting a business like that. She's a very thrifty person. Hopefully, the chicken farm can give her family a better life in the future."

The biggest takeaway for Heng during this visit was being able to build a stronger bond with Ms Yasinta.

He said: "We used to talk quite a fair bit but now, we talk even more. We chat about our family members since I have met (her family members)."

But the most difficult part for Heng came during the last day of the trip, when he had to take Ms Yasinta back to Singapore.

"It was very emotional, having to say goodbye to Yasinta's family and having to take her with me. I felt bad," he said.

"I can't bear a few days away from home without seeing my daughter. I can't imagine how it's like for Yasinta and every other domestic helper working abroad, who have to leave their families for almost a year or more at a go."

Singer-Songwriter Daphne Khoo

She considers Ms Yolly Dogillo, her family's Filipino domestic helper of 21 years,her godmother.

So local singer-songwriter Daphne Khoo was glad when she got the chance to visit Ms Dogillo's home in the Sorsogon province in the Philippines.

Khoo was pleasantly surprised to find the items given to Ms Dogillo by her family over the years put to good use.

The 28-year-old singer said: "We gave her many items over the years for her to send home and it was very nice to see them in Yolly's house. For example, I saw the bedsheets that my sisters and I used for many years, and they're now being used by Yolly's sister's kids.

"I also saw an old hi-fi system that used to be in my parents' room in her house. It felt like we're sharing our lives with her family and that we're part of her extended family as well."

Ms Dogillo, 47, works hard in Khoo's household of five to support her seven siblings back home.

During the visit, she was excited to show Khoo the coconut plantation she had bought with her savings.


But Khoo, who is allergic to dust and dirt, thought otherwise.

She said: "I don't like nature, so when I had to visit the plantation, I bit my tongue and went ahead.

"When we had to pull the coconut from the tree and the debris fell on my face, I kept thinking that all the things I was allergic to was on my face and I was afraid that I would break out in rashes."

Despite all these, Khoo is grateful to have met Ms Dogillo's family.

"We talked quite a bit on the trip and we became closer," she said.

Actor-Host Paul Foster

During the trip to Capiz province in the Philippines, actor-host Paul Foster prepared a meal for his domestic helper's family of four and played basketball with her two sons and their friends.

Ms Bel Baltazar, 42, has been working for his family for the past 12 years.

The 35-year-old said: "The most eye-opening experience was seeing the rural area where Bel lived. I got to see her old home, which was destroyed by a typhoon, and the new home that she is rebuilding now."

Foster cooked a special beef stew that proved to be challenging for Ms Baltazar's family. "It got pretty smoky and hot in there, with the firewood and charcoal and stuff," he said.

Challenges aside, Foster is glad to know a little more about his helper's life back home.

"To be able to know her family and to see the sacrifices she made, I felt like there was a little more connection between us."

This article was first published on Feb 13, 2016. 
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