Singapur: Bridget Lew

Sometimes I feel I want to give up, but when someone comes along and needs help, I cannot say 'no'."

— Bridget Lew

Bridget Lew (Bridget Tan Teck Sim) was born in 1948. She is an expert in human resources and employment law and helped to set up the Commission for Migrants and Itinerant People (CMI), under the auspices of the Catholic Church in 1998. She left CMI in 2004 to establish the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (Home) which helps semi-skilled foreign workers, refugees and tourists passing through Singapore. Home also provides administrative assistance and shelter to migrants. It was recently recognized as a charity and an NGO by the government.

Bridget Lew admits that she has a radical style of doing things that those in power sometimes find uncomfortable. "Employers come and bang on the table. Some have threatened to sue me," she says, speaking from her sparsely furnished office at the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (Home). "People do not like an assertive woman." Using her own savings, Lew set up Home in September 2004 to help foreign workers in Singapore. Since then, the organization has won government approval to receive a grant of S$ 100,000 from the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Center (NVPC). Lew and ten part-time employees provide administrative and legal assistance to workers who are in conflict with their employers or who face abuse in their jobs. Home also runs two shelters – one with accommodation for 12 men, the other for 20 women. Singapore is host to some 500,000 skilled and semi-skilled holders of work permits, about 150,000 of whom are domestic workers. Bridget says, "Some of them are really powerless and voiceless. When they call me, I respond personally." She receives calls throughout the day and often in the middle of the night. One morning, as she is talking to a visitor in Home, her mobile phone rings. It is clear the caller is in trouble. "Do not cry," Lew says. "Listen to me. My name is Bridget. If your employer does not pay you, she is doing something wrong. Where are you? Go to (a restaurant) and I will get some girls to bring you to our shelter." The caller says she can leave only at night, and Lew arranges to get her to safety. Lew, who is married and has two grown children, says her work "eats up all my family time, my social time" and that her family often wishes she would do something else. "Sometimes I feel I want to give up, but when someone comes along and needs help, I cannot say 'no'," she says.

Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (Home)