Starved maid trial: Employers forbade her from talking to anyone
Maid allegedly starved by employers breaks down as she recounts 15-month ordeal
They forbade her from talking to anyone, including other maids.
Her mobile phone was kept away from her, and she lost all contact with her family, including her three children, back home in the Philippines.
They also watched her every move - even when she took a shower, she was not left alone.
"They were always watching me, scolding me if I made mistakes.
"They're watching me when I wake up, what I eat, what I drink and when to take a shower," said Filipino maid Thelma Oyasan Gawidan.
Unable to take it any more, Madam Gawidan, now 40, eventually fled her employers' Orchard Road condominium on April 18 last year, 15 months after she started work.
"I couldn't take it any more," she said, bursting into tears.
She was speaking in court about her former employers, Lim Choon Hong and his wife, Chong Sui Foon, both 47.
The couple are on trial for starving the maid when she worked for them between January 2013 and April last year.
During that time, Madam Gawidan, a mother of three, lost 20kg, going from 49kg to a mere 29kg.
The court heard that in the 15 months she was working for the couple, she was given instant noodles and sometimes bread, twice a day for meals. (See report,)
On the second day of their trial yesterday, Madam Gawidan, who is 1.42m tall, broke down on the witness stand at least five times as she told District Judge Low Wee Ping about her ordeal.
Chong was expressionless throughout the proceedings as she sat in the dock while her husband, who was beside her, was observed to be muttering to himself.
When examined by Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Tan Soo Tet yesterday, Madam Gawidan said she did not receive her salary and had her mobile phone kept away from her while she was working for the Lims between Jan 23, 2013, and April 18 last year.
She testified that she was instead given $500 as an allowance, which was placed inside a plastic bag. She added that Chong then told her to place it among her dirty clothes.
The court heard that she managed to retrieve it before she fled in April last year.
She also said that the couple kept a very close eye on her and monitored her every move.
They also forbade her from speaking to other people.
Without her mobile phone, she was unable to communicate with her loved ones in the Philippines.
Worried, her family contacted a woman named Ms Lilibeth, who is from their hometown and also works in Singapore.
She contacted the Philippines embassy here and told an officer there that Madam Gawidan had not phoned them or sent any money back.
Sobbing, Madam Gawidan told the court that her family was worried and it was as though she had disappeared.
An embassy officer, known only as Mr Larry, then called Lim on the phone and he put Madam Gawidan through.
Despite this, she did not tell Mr Larry about her grievances and only told him that she was "not okay" working for the Lims.
When the couple's lawyer, Mr Tan Hee Liang, asked her why she did not tell Mr Larry about her ordeal, Madam Gawidan replied that she could not elaborate as both Lim and Chong were at home at that time.
The court also heard that Madam Gawidan stayed with Chong's mother in a Bedok flat between September and November 2013 as the couple had gone overseas.
She said she felt happier there as Chong's mother occasionally shared with her food that she had prepared.
Despite this, she admitted that she had thought of fleeing while staying at the Bedok flat.
Madam Gawidan said: "Even though I wanted (to), I'm scared as I didn't know where to go."
Mr Tan also asked her if she remembered following Chong's mother to a Deepavali party in Lentor in November 2013.
The lawyer put to Madam Gawidan that she had the opportunity to talk and eat freely during the gathering.
However, the maid replied that she could not remember the party, which was organised by the older woman's sister and her husband, who is a doctor.
Madam Gawidan said she decided to make a run for it on April 18 last year after she was told to clean the area near the lifts of the accused's Orchard Road condominium.
Seeing that her then-employers were not watching her at that time, she dashed into a lift and sprinted away once she reached the ground floor.
A security guard ran after her, shouting, but she fled into the nearby Far East Shopping Centre to hide.
There, she met another Filipino maid and borrowed her mobile phone.
Madam Gawidan called Ms Lilibeth, asking her to come over. When Ms Lilibeth arrived soon after, she expressed concern.
Madam Gawidan said: "She asked me, 'Are you eating? I almost can't recognise you'."
Ms Lilibeth then took her to a shelter run by foreign workers' advocacy group, the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home). Officers there later reported her complaints to the Ministry of Manpower.
The trial resumes today.
She asked me, 'Are you eating? I almost can't recognise you'.
- Madam Gawidan, on what her friend, Ms Lilibeth said when she saw her
They're watching me when I wake up, what I eat, what I drink and when to take a shower.
- Filipino maid Thelma Oyasan Gawidan
About the case
She weighed 49kg when she started working for the Singaporean couple in January 2013.
By April last year, Filipino maid Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, 40, had lost 20kg and weighed only 29kg.
Her former employer, Lim Choon Hong, 47, faces one charge of contravening Condition 1 in Part 1 of the Fourth Schedule to the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012.
He had allegedly deprived Madam Gawidan of adequate food, causing her weight loss.
His wife, Chong Sui Foon, also 47, is accused of one count of abetting him in committing the offence.
In court, Madam Gawidan had testified that while she was working for the couple, she was given only instant noodles and sometimes bread, twice a day for meals.
She also said that Chong would sometimes add some meat and vegetables - a slice of cucumber or tomato and a piece of meat the size of a finger - to her food.
Madam Gawidan had also testified that she was allowed to bathe only once or twice a week at a public toilet in her then-employer's Orchard Road condominium.
The petite woman, who is now working for another family in Singapore, told the court that the couple asked her to work odd hours.
She said they told her to sleep in a storeroom during the day and she was put to work overnight.
If convicted of the offence, Lim and Chong can each be jailed up to a year and fined up to $10,000.