SINGAPORE – More employers are sending their maids to upgrade their skills, going by the ten-fold increase in the number of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) at classes organised by the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Skills Training (FAST).

When FAST started organising such training in 2005, only 300 FDWs participated. The figure has increased to about 3,000 annually for the past couple of years. To date, more than 16,000 FDWs have been trained in areas such as cooking, baby care and computer literacy.

There are about 201,000 maids in Singapore, or about one in six households. However, the task to upgrade their skills – and offer the women better opportunities in life – is an uphill one.

The non-profit organisation said yesterday that it is tough getting corporate sponsors as this particular cause is low on companies’ list of priorities when it comes to corporate social responsibility efforts.

FAST president Seah Seng Choon said: “(Companies have) been approached by so many non-government organisations for worthy causes … we just hope they can give us a part of their donation budget, so we can also do our part to enhance the well-being of the foreign domestic workers.”

FAST’s main source of funding is from the Lee Foundation. It is hoping that more companies and individuals will support its cause. Otherwise, the number of courses or classes it offers could be cut.

Each course is subsidised between S$4 and S$32 per hour. For example, maids or their employers pay about S$5 for a half-day cooking class and S$47.70 for a one-day computer course.

Yesterday, FAST received a S$100,000 donation from Keppel Corporation.

Mr Seah said they have identified more corporations to approach for donations but Keppel was the first to come on board. The company will also help to raise awareness among its employees to encourage them to send their FDWs for training.

Mr William Chew, vice-president of FAST, said such lessons could enhance the maids’ economic opportunities when they return to their homeland. He related the story of a maid who, after attending a financial training programme, was able to invest in buffalos when she returned to the Philippines.

“Beyond learning and training, it also provides the domestic helper opportunities for a better quality of life,” said Mr Chew. –Tan Weizhen,