Ms Bridget Tan (seen holding her award) on why Church leaders should speak out on a weekly rest day for domestic workers

Bridget Tan shares her thoughts after receiving her anti-human trafficking award in Washington


Receiving the US State Department’s anti-human trafficking award was a surprise and a humbling experience for Ms Bridget Tan.

“To me it’s God blessing,” she said. “It’s a feeling that after all these years … there’s affirmation from God, that I have done His will.”

Ms Tan, founder and chairman of the NGO, Humanitarian Organisation for Migrant Economics (HOME), is one of the most well-known activists for migrant workers’ rights in Singapore today.

On June 27, she received the 2011 Hero Acting to End Modern-Day Slavery Award from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington.

Speaking to CatholicNews after returning home, Ms Tan, 62, said she accepts the award on behalf of those who are in the “same service for the cause of justice [and] human dignity” and also for the people she has served.

Straits Times report on Ms Tan receiving her award from Mrs Hillary Clinton.

Ms Tan, a Catholic, founded HOME in 2004 after leaving the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI), which she was instrumental in setting up.

HOME believes in the basic human rights to dignity of work, person, and life, and “seeks to uphold the human dignity for all peoples wherever they come from”, says its website. So far HOME has provided assistance, such as shelter, to 50,000 migrant workers and victims of human trafficking.

In the course of her work, Ms Tan has encountered workers who have been abused, suffer from debt bondage, had their work contracts changed unfavourably upon arrival, were being forcibly repatriated, and women who were sexually exploited. Sometimes she has even put herself in harm’s way in fighting for their rights.

Although Ms Tan says she sees her work as God’s work, nevertheless, given a choice, she would not have embarked on this course as it had been “hard” for her.

However, if one believes in what is right, and when God calls one to action, one will just act, says Ms Tan. God will give one the strength and help to overcome challenges, she added.

“If you accept it as the will of God, everything is possible because God makes it possible,” she said, adding that she surrenders her “difficulties to God” and will continue to do her work as long as God gives her the ability to do so.

For Ms Tan, her work stems from her belief in practising what Scripture teaches. Quoting from the prophet Micah, Ms Tan said God desires us to “act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God”.

Justice can be lived out in one’s relationship with others regardless of the person’s status. One should bring compassion to others and understand the need to “do unto others what you want others to do unto you”, she stressed.

Thus Christians should lead by example in giving their domestic workers a day off each week, she said.

The Bible says to keep the Sabbath holy, and if one wants to do so and enjoy rest on that day, so does the domestic worker, said Ms Tan. Yet some Catholics are unable to recognise this and do not give their domestic workers their Sabbath rest.

“We are schooled in catechism. We go to church. We listen to the words of the bible. The Beatitudes should be the principle of life,” she said. Migrant and non-migrant workers should all be treated the same, “no double standards”, she stressed.

The question then, is of one’s conviction of putting Christian values into practice, she said.

Ms Tan also urged Church leaders to speak courageously from the pulpit on the issue of giving domestic workers a weekly rest day.

“The Church should be the prophet to speak out …. The Church must not be afraid to say something that might be unpopular, but right and just,” Ms Tan said.

She added that she also finds comfort, encouragement and a role model in Mother Mary whom she has a special devotion to.

Mary vocation’s was that of the handmaid of the Lord, faithful to God from the beginning to the end no matter what, said Ms Tan.

She said she prays that Our Lady will save the world from the crime of human trafficking.

By Darren Boon
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