Singaporeans donate over $200k to help family of Myanmar maid who died after employer's horrific abuse

Ms Piang Ngaih Don when she was younger.
PHOTO: Facebook/Lynn Lee

She was a single mother trying to make ends meet as a construction labourer in Myanmar.

When a recruitment agent approached her to be a domestic helper in Singapore, she jumped at the chance, thinking she could turn her young son's life around.

But all Ms Piang Ngaih Don found was misery, pain and suffering at the hands of her employer.

She was assaulted and tortured, and starved by Gaiyathiri Murugayan, 40, for close to 10 months before she died on July 26, 2016. During the last days of her life, the 24-year-old weighed just 24kg.

The tragic experience of Ms Piang prompted comments from Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, both of whom expressed their abhorrence at the abuse she suffered.

It also moved many Singaporeans who wanted to help, and that meant it was still possible that a mother's wish to provide a better life for her son could be fulfilled.

Singaporeans reportedly inundated the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) with messages about wanting to donate to Ms Piang's family in Myanmar.

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The organisation then announced that it will be helping to transfer funds donated from members of the public to the family.

While the collection was originally set to stop on March 31, Home's latest update on March 3 stated that it will no longer be receiving donations.

It had collected a total of $206,565.40 in just six days.

Ms Shirley Neo, 43, one of the 2,551 donors, contacted The New Paper after reading our report on Ms Piang, asking how to donate.

She said: "When I read that she has a little boy back home, my heart went out to him. So I roped in my mum and we donated to the family."

The financial services consultant added: "I also have kids, and it hurts to think that the boy has to grow up without a mother. I wish I could help more, but the least I can do right now is donate some money."

Ms Piang's son was about a year old when she started working in Singapore on May 28, 2015.

 Younger sister Ms Ciang Lam Man, carrying Ms Piang's only son.
PHOTO: Facebook/Lynn Lee

No complaints

According to a 2016 documentary by 101 East, a weekly programme broadcast by Al Jazeera English based in Kuala Lumpur, Ms Piang's family said she rarely called home and never complained about her job.

The last time her family heard her voice was two weeks before her death, when she called to tell her sister that she wanted to return to the village in August that year as she was feeling unwell.

But she never made it home.

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On Feb 23, her employer Gaiyathiri pleaded guilty to 28 charges, the most serious being culpable homicide. The prosecution is seeking for life imprisonment for Gaiyathiri, while the defence is asking for a jail term of 14 years.

Another 87 charges will be considered during her sentencing at a later date.

Gaiyathiri's husband, Kevin Chelvam, 41, and her mother, Prema S. Naraynasamy, 61, face multiple hurt-related charges in connection with Ms Piang. Their cases are pending.

In a Facebook post last month, Singaporean film-maker Lynn Lee recounted her visit to Ms Piang's home in Dimpi Village.

The village is located in Tedim Township in the impoverished Chin state in Myanmar.

On the abuse that Ms Piang suffered, Ms Lee wrote on her Facebook page that maybe she was seen "as lesser being. Poor and unworthy of respect, let alone kindness".

But in Dimpi, Ms Piang was loved, Ms Lee said.

"Villagers wept as they spoke of her. Relatives asked that we find out the truth," wrote Ms Lee.

In the documentary, Ms Piang's older sister, Ms Ciang Lam Man, said that the death of her sister had hit her hard.

Ms Ciang added: "Now that she is gone and leaves behind her son... How am I going to look after him?"

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Mr Shamsul Kamar, executive director of the Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE), told TNP that when they first learnt about Ms Piang's death in 2016, they immediately extended humanitarian assistance to her family members.

CDE also accorded an ex gratia amount to her family.

"We have a network of over 1,000 volunteers and ambassadors who act as eyes and ears to pick up brewing issues among foreign domestic workers (FDWs) from the ground.

"They would alert our staff to those who need assistance and help us educate FDWs about their employment rights," said Mr Kamar.

CDE also conducts interviews with randomly selected FDWs on behalf of MOM to assess if they are coping well with work.

When alleged serious concerns or infringements are brought up, CDE will inform the relevant authorities so they can investigate, he added.

This article was first published in The New Paper. Permission required for reproduction.