When Geneviève Wijaya first hired a foreign domestic worker in 2018, she had written her own “manual” even before she arrived.
Speaking to AsiaOne in an interview, Geneviève, 35, shares that she created the manual so that domestic workers here can better understand the expectations of Singaporean employers and “get used to working life here”.
“I thought it would be easier for them and prevent them from making mistakes,” says Geneviève, a math tutor and entrepreneur who operates several online businesses.
Geneviève explains how hygiene standards can differ from country to country and that helpers should not be expected to “know what is the acceptable way to say, clean a plate”.
She cites an example of how an instruction for helpers is not to use tea towels to dry dishes for other tasks.
“There’s also no point scolding them when they have no idea what’s not acceptable,” she adds.
Interestingly, Genevieve’s other justification for creating the booklet is the need to “write things down” as she considers herself to be a “very disorganized person”.
When Genevieve, who has over 10,000 followers on Instagram, first shared her own personal playbook that she had compiled, many were curious.
But the first editions were not for sale.
“When they asked me if I could share the copy with them, my answer was no, because it was very personalized,” explains Geneviève. Custom topics included encouraging his assistants to use a digital wallet instead of carrying cash, “to avoid misunderstandings”.
“Some [followers] even wanted me to send them my electronic copy to edit, which I thought was a little rude because I don’t know them,” she shares.
Genevieve finally decided to sell a “condensed” copy of the manual with generalized steps last year, after persistent requests from online subscribers.
As for the price, Geneviève had first consulted her followers on how much they were willing to pay “for the effort”.
“If you think about it, $15 isn’t a lot of money to pay someone to make a booklet for your help. Because it took me years to compile and refine, including things like why storerooms need to be kept very dry to prevent mold growth.”
Later versions of the libretto even included translated texts into Burmese and Bahasa Indonesia. But Geneviève makes sure to inform buyers that the translations are “from Google Translate”, and not done by professionals.
For us at least, the manual is comprehensive, covering topics such as proper behavior around the house as well as the proper way household chores should be done.
Geneviève also dispenses advice to assistants on “Being Honest”, “Being Courteous” and “Being Understanding” – some of the chapters in the 22-page booklet.
Under the theme “Be Honest”, Geneviève drops nuggets of wisdom like “by telling the truth, others will respect and trust you”.
It also includes a chapter called “Love Yourself” – and no, it has nothing to do with the BTS album. Instead, the section advises carers to put their basic needs such as “food, sleep and mental health” first, so they can “help employers more effectively”.
Tasks are detailed, including which brushes to use to clean the underside of toilet seats (“the same brush used for the floor”) and making sure the kitchen bins are washed and cleaned at the end of each day .
Geneviève shares that she usually sat down with the helper on their first day on the job and went through the manual with them.
“I will use this manual to help me hire new helpers as well,” Genevieve said, adding that she will only hire those who are comfortable with the instructions in the booklet.
Not just for assistants
Among the 100 customers who have purchased the manual to date, Geneviève has realized that it’s not just employers who are looking for help managing their tasks.
Geneviève tells us that her manual even attracted people who sought to appropriate it as a guide.
“I think it’s the ones who moved out but never did housework at home,” shares Geneviève, who was initially puzzled by their request.
Geneviève adds that reviews of the book have generally been positive, with the exception of some who told her they expected “the quality of the paper to be better”.
When asked if she has “high standards” for how she wants tasks done, Genevieve admits her instructions can seem “very picky or particular” to some people.
But ultimately, she thinks the book still serves its purpose by helping workers manage expectations and remember things better.
“No one said I was too picky,” she shares, except for one person in particular.
Geneviève shares how a follower “got fired up” when she first shared excerpts from her manual two years ago.
According to Genevieve, he was unhappy with the way she asked for help to “sweep and mop the living room floor six times a day”.
“This person became very agitated,” says Geneviève, adding that he started harassing her using an anonymous Instagram account.
“He behaved abusively because he assumed his identity would not be revealed.”
Her instructions may seem “very, very demanding and ridiculous” to others, but that’s because Genevieve had pets at home – a cat and a large dog who “lost and drooled a lot”.
“Back then my helper didn’t have to do a lot of other chores – she didn’t have to cook or tidy up the room,” says Genevieve, who was pregnant with her second child at the time.
“But I’m still here [the instruction]because it’s just about making sure the floor is clean,” she argues, adding that “every household has different needs.” The feisty mother-of-three eventually took the man to court, but dropped the case in 2021 after issuing a public apology. .
“I went to great lengths to bring it down because I don’t like how people assume they can cyber bully without consequences.”
As for her textbook, Geneviève tells us that after four years, it’s still a work in progress.
She has ideas for including more chapters in the booklet, such as water-saving tips and “maybe a bit of background on why Singapore’s water and electricity are so expensive. and precious,” she adds with a laugh.
“Maybe it’s the educator in me [speaking].”
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