‘A special friend’: Couple self-publish book on relationship between their daughter and maid

Olivia, 5, with her family’s domestic helper Myrna P. Corpuz. — TODAY pic
Olivia, 5, with her family’s domestic helper Myrna P. Corpuz. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, Dec 25 — When Mrs Christina Southgate had her first child in Singapore in 2016, the Australian national who hails from Adelaide realised that she had access to something that would not otherwise be available back home — a domestic worker.

“I get to do what I do because I have Myrna. I get to be a better mom, a better wife, a better employee, because we have the privilege of having Myrna and the same with my husband as well. We wouldn’t have had this in Australia,” said Mrs Southgate, 38, referring to her Filipino domestic helper here.

“And so I know there’s a story around how much they give to us and how much benefit they provide. And I think there’s an opportunity to recognise and appreciate and make them feel proud,” added Mrs Southgate, who has lived in Singapore for eight years.

After three and a half years in the making, Mrs Southgate and her husband Chris, 43, who are both permanent residents here, have self-published a book titled I Can Help! about a little girl and her relationship with her helper, inspired by their daughter Olivia’s relationship with their helper of over three years, Ms Myrna P. Corpuz, 36.

Proceeds of the book, of which 500 copies have been printed, will go directly to the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) to support, empower and uphold the rights of domestic helpers in Singapore, said Mrs Southgate.

She has raised about S$1,000 (RM3,086) so far. 

“And so I know there’s a story around how much they give to us and how much benefit they provide. And I think there’s an opportunity to recognise and appreciate and make them feel proud,” added Mrs Southgate, who has lived in Singapore for eight years.

After three and a half years in the making, Mrs Southgate and her husband Chris, 43, who are both permanent residents here, have self-published a book titled I Can Help! about a little girl and her relationship with her helper, inspired by their daughter Olivia’s relationship with their helper of over three years, Ms Myrna P. Corpuz, 36.

Proceeds of the book, of which 500 copies have been printed, will go directly to the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) to support, empower and uphold the rights of domestic helpers in Singapore, said Mrs Southgate.

She has raised about S$1,000 so far. 

Mrs Southgate with a copy of the book she and her husband self-published. — TODAY pic
Mrs Southgate with a copy of the book she and her husband self-published. — TODAY pic

Mrs Southgate said that she and her husband both work full time and would go out once a week to have dinner by themselves, leaving their daughter in the care of Ms Corpuz, who often reads to the five-year-old girl.

The mother noticed that all of the books that were being read to Olivia was about “moms and dads and grandparents”.

There were just no books about helpers, she said, and so she started creating one for and about the both of them.

“Just so my helper could read a story about the relationship between the two of them. And my daughter could understand who this person is in her life. That isn’t mom, that isn’t dad, like, who is this person?” said Mrs Southgate.

The human resources director felt that it is important for her daughter to understand Ms Corpuz’s position in her life to build a better relationship between them and for Olivia to appreciate the helper and not take her for granted.

“The book talks about the helper being a special friend. So she (Olivia) understands that it’s a privilege and her special friend doesn’t have to do this but is doing it out of care,” said Mrs Southgate, adding that she has seen in Singapore different levels of treatment towards domestic workers in different families. 

“I think that because I didn’t grow up with any help at all and I could see just through different relationships at the park here how their children treated their helpers that I wanted something slightly different.” 

And for Ms Corpuz, Mrs Southgate wanted her to feel like she had an identity. 

Olivia says the book teaches her to ‘be kind to my aunty’. — TODAY pic
Olivia says the book teaches her to ‘be kind to my aunty’. — TODAY pic

“Having something for her so she feels like she’s proud, that this is about me. Like I don’t necessarily have to be reading about mommy, daddy, grandpa, but hey, this is about us and this is about our relationship so that’s how it started,” said Mrs Southgate.

Ms Corpuz, who often reads the book to Olivia and her brother Harrison, two, said: “The relationship with the helper should be like a friend, a close friend. So when they read this book they will know that they should treat their aunty like a friend and so this book is good for kids.

“Because not everybody is the same, right? A lot of kids are not close to their aunty so this book can teach them about that relationship.”

Olivia said that the book teaches her to “be kind to my aunty”.

“If I don’t help my aunty she’ll be sad. I help her make dumplings, I help her by cleaning up my room and (by) listening to my aunty.”

Home’s partnerships manager Ruchita Chheda told TODAY that the couple had reached out to the organisation in November with a proposal to dedicate all profits from the sale of the book to Home, which is “truly grateful” for their support.

“We appreciate their efforts and thoughtfulness behind this project and especially the fact how important it is to educate our young ones from early years, to learn and recognise the important role that migrant domestic workers play in families and in their own lives in a very simple, relatable way,” she said.

“The book is a lovely pleasing attempt to help a young child understand, appreciate and respect their helpers.” — TODAY

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