For Appreciation Week 2013, teams of writers looked into the lives of 4 special individuals who contribute to our daily school lives – people we may not always notice. We hope this encourages you to show your appreciation for the perhaps less-noticed staff members around the school; they may not be significant in their own right, but they definitely make a significant impact on our school lives. Today, we feature the 54-year-old cleaner Maheswari.
By Ashlynna Ng (13A01A), Carol Yuen (14A01A) and Bryan Chua (14A01A)
Encounters with Maheswari are memorable because every time she cleared our classroom trash bins, she would knock on the door and call out a friendly ‘Hello!’. Small yet thoughtful gestures like these make our days brighter, amidst the heavy school work load, and we appreciate Maheswari for that!
Just seeing her performing these duties daily, it may never have occurred to us that Maheswari hadn’t always been a cleaner.
Yet, in fact, this is Maheswari’s first stint as a cleaner. Before coming to RI, she was a housewife and subsequently a canteen vendor at a primary school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, cooking sumptuous dishes to fill the growling stomachs of adorable children whom she loved very much. Last year, she unfortunately failed to obtain the tender to sustain the business and thus decided to move to Singapore in search for work and a change in lifestyle.
Married at 22 to a Singaporean who subsequently migrated to Malaysia, Maheswari has two children, and two grandchildren, whom she works to support. She visits her family who resides in KL monthly and stays in occasional contact via phone calls through her cousin’s sister. She saves her modest salary to spend on her grandchildren whom she loves dearly and missed very much. During her spare time, she enjoys cooking a variety of dishes for dinner at home. Fish is her favourite dish, and she makes a mean curry and sambal.
Maheswari has been working as a cleaner at our school since the beginning of this year. She takes a 20 minute walk to school every day from her place in Toa Payoh, where she lives with her late husband’s relatives. She begins work at 6.30 a.m., cleaning the 3rd floor, the canteen and Block J, and works until 4.30 p.m. in the afternoon, with a lunch break at noon. Although this seemed rather tough, she insists that it is manageable, and that she isn’t given too much work. She even helps out with the dishwashing on occasion, after one of the cleaners left the school.
“We must help one another,” she insists with a smile. While most of us complain of a 5 day work week as it is, Maheswari comes back on Saturdays as well to do her usual cleaning round of the areas allocated to her.
Despite being in her 50s, Maheswari willingly took on this stark transformation in lifestyle. Working as a cleaner in Singapore seems to be very different from her life in Malaysia; here, she is much busier, with each day so full that it is time for bed once she gets home. It was also difficult to adjust at first because of the new faces all around her. Life is much more fast-paced and she has been unable to get to know the people around her. In Malaysia, however, there were always people she could approach to chat with, with people coming up to her with the intention to chat. Now she only has one friend, her cousin’s sister, to talk to.
On her opinion of the environment at Raffles, she smiles as she tells us of how kind and courteous the students are. She recounts an incident when she fell down, and students automatically came forward to help her up. She also commented on the kindness of her fellow co-workers, including the Lum and Chan Chicken Rice store uncle, who often offers her packets of coffee or meals for free.
Although she is content with her current lifestyle, she notes that cleaning is only a temporary job and, if given the chance, she will definitely head back to the primary school canteen, watching young children grow up in a vibrant school environment. In RI, there just is not the same freedom to play and interact with students or join in their classes. To her, the children she interacted with at the primary school will forever be “babies” who she finds joy in guiding.
Still, despite this deviation from her original “career plan”, her work ethic remains constant. “I don’t feel ashamed or anything, I’m proud I can work, I still have the strength to work, I like to work.” To her, there is completely no stigma associated with being a cleaner – she believes it is better than being “lazy”, saying repeatedly that if you are “always sitting in one place, you will be getting more lazy”. This positive attitude and desire to stay active was very striking to us, especially in her ability to find fulfilment and happiness in the work she undertakes.
Often we are lost in our blind chase for material wellness or glorious accomplishments, in the process failing to acknowledge or comprehend the need to stay contented with what we possess at this very moment. Maheswari has been a real inspiration to us, and she has helped us to understand how much more meaningful it is to be happy with what we have now. To live with joy, we don’t necessarily have to aim for less, we only have to appreciate the simple things we already have – the friends around us, the facilities available to us, or simply our fine education – and seize the opportunities given to us. Let’s start by recognizing how blessed we are and appreciating those around us for their every contribution.
Thank you Maheswari!
Appreciation Week is featuring this story and more at a mini-exhibition in the canteen this week. Come on down and write thank-you notes, or show your appreciation in your own way! :) Look out for our next staff feature tomorrow!