Would you give up this much time and money as this Singaporean to help your sick maid?

A heartwarming story of a Singaporean family's close ties with their long-serving domestic helper.

Singaporean family helps their cancer-stricken maid

Photo: racorn

He dreams of pursuing circus arts in an overseas university. But Mr Marshall Lim, 22, has put his plans on hold, all so he can accompany his maid home to Indonesia to look after her.

The helper, Ms Jariyah, 40, has Stage 4 cancer and has decided to return to her hometown in Central Java to reunite with her family after working for Mr Lim's family for 15 years. She has taken care of Mr Lim since she joined the household in 1996 when he was two years old. She also took care of his brother, Mayor, who is now 19 and a polytechnic student.

Mr Lim said of Ms Jariyah: "She's my other mother. She treats me and my brother like her sons." Affectionately calling her "Auntie Jar", he added: "Once Auntie Jar is settled down and better, I can always come home to continue my physical training to audition for circus school."

His mother, Ms Margaret Tan, 49, let Ms Jariyah return to her family in Cilacap once it became clear she has only months to live.

Said Ms Tan, a divorcee: "I discussed with my boys about Jariyah returning home, and we decided Marshall could accompany her back."

They left on Sunday.

Ms Tan made arrangements to pay for her hospital bills using insurance payouts when Ms Jariyah was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. She even raised funds by asking friends to contribute.

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Breaking down as she spoke to The New Paper on Tuesday, Ms Tan, who would only say she worked in the medical field, said Ms Jariyah had become family. She was her pillar of support when Ms Tan got her divorce in 2005.

Said Ms Tan: "She was in a divorce once too, so I think she understands how it's like. We bonded over this and found support in each other.

"She took good care of the family during my divorce. She would give me advice and even talk to the boys. I'm very grateful for that. She even made sure I was eating well. She went through a lot of hard times with me."

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When money got tight in 2009, Ms Tan could not keep Ms Jariyah.

Ms Tan said: "I found a good employer for her. She visited at least once every two months when she was with her second employer." Ms Jariyah returned to Indonesia in 2012 but came back to work for Ms Tan in 2014.

What would have been a happy-ever-after was cut short when Ms Jariyah started getting sick a year later, often running fevers. Eventually, she was diagnosed with cancer of the liver last month. It has spread to the lungs and uterus.

In tears, Ms Tan said: "She's not my domestic helper, she's my closest friend. I just can't accept the fact that she has cancer."

They tried treatments and herbal remedies, but ultimately Ms Jariyah decided treatment was "too expensive". She then asked Ms Tan to let her return home to her parents.

From Cilacap, Mr Lim told The New Paper on Wednesday that he has been looking after Ms Jariyah. She has fevers several times a day. He sometimes takes her out, like to the beach, for fresh air.

Mr Lim said Ms Jariyah's new house, which she hoped to build with her salary, had been under renovation since January. Due to lack of funds, the work stopped.

He said: "Auntie Jar and I want to concentrate on getting well first before continuing renovations." His bigger concern now is getting "healthy food" for her.

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"There's a lack of variety in terms of fruit and vegetables, and berries - which are good for fighting cancer but are not available. I buy what is available and make do with what I have. We also brought some quinoa from Singapore."

He has been helping with the chores at Ms Jariyah's house. He said: "Auntie Jar's daughter is still making food for me, so I have to force her to let me do chores or I'll do it myself."

He has not planned when he will be returning to Singapore and does not have a long-term visa to stay in Indonesia. Said Mr Lim: "I guess I'll stay for a month. Longer if possible, I'm not really too sure. I just want her to be happy and healthy. If she's happy with her family here, then I'll be happy for her."


When Ms Jariyah, 40, was diagnosed with cancer, Ms Margaret Tan decided to raise funds for her treatment and for the renovation work on her house back in Indonesia. Ms Tan reached out to her friends, who donated money to help. She collected about $1,500.

Said Ms Tan, 49: "I just want to help Jariyah, she's important to me. We are not trying to be popular, we just want to do our best to raise funds for her. And I want to thank friends who have donated."

Ms Tan said the domestic insurance covers only hospitalisation and she does not know if it can be claimed. Ms Jariyah's hospital bills cost $11,000.

Ms Tan said: "We only have $15,000 per year for insurance payout, so we can't afford chemotherapy, which is about $20,000."

Ms Jariyah did not consider chemotherapy as she knew it was expensive. The doctor told Ms Tan that Ms Jariyah would probably have months to live without chemotherapy.

The Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (Fast)also donated a token sum of $1,000 to Ms Jariyah. 

Fast is a non-profit organisation which promotes social support and skills training for foreign domestic workers. Initiated by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), it was founded in March 2005 and co-ordinates courses for migrant workers here, such as cookery, English and business skills.

On how they knew of the case, Mr Muhammad Nizam Amlan, manager of Fast, said: "(Ms Jariyah) told a friend about her condition and her friend (a Fast volunteer) came to us about the case (last Wednesday). We thought it was a good way to provide assistance."

Ms Tan told TNP she hopes there would be people to help Ms Jariyah.

She said: "The money would go to having a better living environment for Jariyah and also for treatment, healthy food. We have to keep Jariyah happy, so she has strength to fight the cancer."

This article was first published in The New Paper on May 20, 2016.