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Migrant domestic worker Yati a shining example of success

Yati at her land in Surabaya - Photograph: Benedict Lopez

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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 was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people 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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