Migrant worker activist Bridget Tan recovering well after stroke

Home’s founder Bridget Tan has been convalescing at her Batam home after suffering a stroke and having brain surgery about nine months ago. She is confident of making a full recovery under the watch of her two caregivers.
PHOTO: Migrant worker activist Bridget Tan recovering well after stroke

An argument on Facebook nearly killed migrant worker activist Bridget Tan.

The founder of foreign workers' group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) suffered a massive stroke after clashing with some volunteers over Facebook group chat. She lost her temper as she disagreed with the way they had organised an event.

Opening up about her stroke for the first time, the 66-year-old told The Sunday Times last month that she would have died if not for her Indonesian maid Nurul Ariyani.

The 22-year-old found her employer slumped, semi-conscious, on the sofa of her Marine Terrace flat and called an ambulance.

"If Nurul had found me a few minutes later, I would have died," Ms Tan said.

She was taken to the Changi General Hospital and had a brain operation the same day. Almost nine months later, Ms Tan is on a slow but steady road to recovery.

Since June, she has been convalescing at her home on the sleepy Indonesian island of Batam, a 45-minute ferry ride from Singapore. She bought and renovated the two-storey house a few years ago.

Lucid and upbeat, Ms Tan peppered the three-hour interview with jokes. "I decided to do this interview so that other people can see I am still alive and kicking," she said, over a breakfast of Indonesian kueh in the living room.

However, she moves around in a wheelchair as the left side of her body is weak.

In the meantime, social worker Jolovan Wham has taken over as Home's executive director and is in charge of daily operations.

But Ms Tan is determined to keep abreast of events at Home, which she set up in September 2004 using $60,000 from her Central Provident Fund savings.

She communicates regularly with staff members by phone and e-mail, and has meetings with them and volunteers during her week-long trips back to Singapore every two months.

This drive to help migrant workers is why the grandmother of six will not be retiring anytime soon.

"I will continue as long as the migrant workers need me," she said.

Migrant worker activists said Ms Tan's passion for her work is inspiring.

"Bridget frequently referred to the experiences of individual workers who had spoken to her, citing them as concrete examples of why certain policies, practices and public attitudes needed to change... she would speak with passion and firmness," said Mr John Gee, head of research at migrant workers group Transient Workers Count Too.

Ms Tan is confident of making a full recovery under the watch of her two caregivers, Ms Nurul and Ms Rahayu, 38. They ensure she gets nutritious meals and enough rest as well as coax her to do stretching exercises every day. At night, both women sleep on a king-sized bed with Ms Tan, to be by her side.

"Sister Bridget", as they call her, helped them before and they want to repay her kindness.

Both women were domestic workers in Singapore but ran away from their employers to live at Home's shelter.

"Sister Bridget took care of me before, now it is my turn to look after her," said Ms Nurul, adding that she slept in the hospital every night during the four months Ms Tan was warded.

Under their care, Ms Tan is making good progress in her health.

She can sit up straight on a dining chair for half an hour without help now, something which she could not do a month ago.

Getting stronger will let her get back on Facebook, which she has not been able to do since the stroke. She gets tired from using the computer and needs Ms Nurul to read her e-mail and Facebook messages.

"I feel like a huge part of my life is missing without Facebook," she said.

But she has made a point to not get worked up by comments she disagrees with. "My doctor said I must control my temper. Another stroke will kill me."


This article was first published on Nov 9, 2014.
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