Helping the Helpers: Understanding Family Storytelling by Domestic Helpers in Singapore

12 December, 2017

“Foreign Workers” from SRN’s SG Photobank

What is the significance of family stories and storytelling to domestic helpers?
Foreign Domestic Worker (FDW) Day is celebrated annually on 6 December to recognize the important contributions made by FDWs to Singaporean families as housekeepers and caregivers. The unique experience of FDWs entails living overseas with employers, separating these women from their families often for long periods of time.
Mr. Kakit Cheong and A/P Alex Mitchell’s (Dept of CNM) study, ‘Helping the Helpers: Understanding Family Storytelling by Domestic Helpers in Singapore’ in Mobile Communication and the Family: Asian Experiences in Technology Domestication, explores the importance of family stories and storytelling in creating and maintaining close ties among geographically distributed members of migrant families, and forging individual and family identity. The researchers interviewed Filipino domestic helpers in Singapore to uncover whether and how information and communication technologies (ICTs) are used to share experiences with their families. Additionally, they distributed disposable cameras and writing materials to interviewees to gain insight into the events in their daily lives that could be recorded and shared as family stories.

The study revealed that ICTs used for family storytelling were determined by what technologies employers permitted, what technologies families back home had access to, and cost considerations. Most interviewees repeated stories to reassure family members, who often persuaded them to return home, of how money earned overseas creates future possibilities such as new toys for children or a new house. Stories were also retold to construct an identity of a religious, loving mother, motivated by the goal of being a role model for their children. With a greater understanding of how FDWs use ICTs to share stories, the researchers aim to develop a family storytelling mobile application to facilitate FDW communication with their left-behind families.

Get the full Chapter here.