“Talent is universal, opportunity is not”, wrote Nicholas Kristof, author of Half the Sky. Living in Singapore, most of us are lucky enough to uncover opportunities to deploy our talents. To help us manage our careers and family, run our households and pursue our own interests, so many families rely on our hardworking helpers (in fact, in mid-2016 the number of female domestic workers here reached over 237,000). Yet most of these women have just one day off per week, are low in confidence and lack of awareness of how they can begin to save the money they earn here. We know that supporting our helpers with courses to build their skills gives our right-hand women a huge boost, but there’s one local charity, Aidha, that’s equipping foreign domestic workers and lower-income women with meaningful skills that will help them harness their own talents.
Founded in 2006, Aidha has been helping women access the opportunities they deserve. Aidha offers financial education and self-development programs such as money management, computer literacy, leadership and entrepreneurial skills. Its vision is to provide ‘sustainable futures through financial education’ so that every woman has the opportunity to determine her own future.
Lessons for life
Aidha offers two modules, and new students sign up for a nine-month course held at United World College, Dover. The commitment is two Sundays a month, during which students learn the basics of budgeting and saving, computer skills and leadership skills. Students are then encouraged to sign up to Module 2, designed to help them focus on their future and develop individual business plans. Once both courses are complete, the students celebrate their achievements at a heart-warming and emotional annual graduation ceremony.
Aidha recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary, and from its humble beginnings in a condo rec-room (with just a handful of students), the organisation has grown beyond belief: it has reached over 3,000 students, and its volunteer network includes over 250 individuals.
The financial impact of attending Aidha’s classes is staggering: students’ monthly savings increase by an average of 40% after they complete the first module. This rises to 68% after the completion of Aidha’s full program. Of the alumni, 80% have either started a business or invested in land, livestock or buildings. Even better, 100% of alumni have said they’ve shared what they learnt with their families and communities: Aidha estimates that by educating one woman, we can make an impact on nine lives.
More than numbers
Aidha is more than just a training programme – it’s a community for its students and volunteers. For most students, this support network means the world when far from home and trying to build a new future. But perhaps the most life-changing accomplishment they take away is confidence. The ability to stand up in front of a large group of people and explain their business plan, or to push back on unreasonable demands from family back home are things most students would never have dreamed of doing before joining Aidha. “Giving our students both the confidence to dream and the skills to achieve those dreams is what makes Aidha so special and what truly changes lives,” says CEO Jacqueline Loh.
Sharing the success
There are so many success stories, including Joy Mompal, who left her small hometown in the Philippines with hopes of providing a better future for her three children by working as a domestic helper here in Singapore. She graduated from Aidha in 2009 and has already started several businesses back home, including a home-based internet cafe and a small room-rental business. Following her mother’s advice, Joy’s daughter opened her own provision shop and is now able to save money on a regular basis, making Joy the living proof that Aidha’s achievements reach far beyond Aidha students themselves. Joy’s advice? “Don’t think twice”, she says, “Not everybody will look down on you just because you’re a maid. After training at Aidha, I can face anything and anyone.”
And we can’t talk about Aidha success stories without shouting about Nilushika Jayaweera, who grew up in an orphanage in Sri Lanka with her four younger siblings and came to Singapore in 2001 as a foreign domestic worker to support them. Her employer enrolled her in Aidha in 2011, and the money management and business skills she learned were transformative. Today she’s a successful entrepreneur, with a tea business she runs from her home country. Her earnings support the education of children in her village, and she recently launched her own NGO to teach women in her community how to run their own small business and gain independence. Last year, Nilu was invited to speak at TEDxSingapore to share the message of empowerment: “Learning the skills from the courses created more choices and possibilities for me,” she said. “Education and empowerment are key to a brighter future for women.”
Aidha’s dream is to reach as many women like Nilushika and Joy as possible – in turn supporting the economic empowerment of women across the region. Most students cannot attend Aidha without the support of their employers. This is in part financial; Aidha asks for a modest enrolment fee of $400 per module (or $650 when you enrol in both modules at once) to cover the costs of rent, materials etc. However, the most important support employers can provide is encouragement.
Scholarships – and a special discount for our readers!
The next round of Module 1 and Module 2 Classes at Aidha begins Sunday, 9 April 2017. Right now, Aidha is supporting all self-funding students (those who are paying tuition fees without assistance from their employers) who enrol in Module 1 or 2 with a $100 scholarship!
And as an extra boost for all, Aidha is offering a $50 discount on tuition fees for students who enrol in Module 1: Finance & Technology before 19 March 2017*. (Students must commence their course in April/May, and yes, self-funding students can claim this discount along with the $100 scholarship!) The discounts are automatically applied when paying tuition fees online at Aidha.
If you’re thinking of supporting your helper on a path to a bright future, there’s no better time than now.