Champion of the rights of migrant workers
The founder and director of non-profit organisation Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME), Bridget Tan has been lauded locally and regionally for her advocacy and welfare work for migrant workers. She has also been recognised internationally as an anti-human trafficking hero.
In 2004 Bridget used her retirement funds to set up HOME. It now runs a 24-hour toll-free helpline, a shelter for sex workers and foreign domestic workers, and a legal clinic. It also provides training programmes and other services for migrant workers, and conducts research and advocacy. Over the years HOME has provided direct assistance to more than 50,000 migrant workers and victims of human trafficking.
Born in 1948 to a medical doctor and housewife, Bridget is the third of four siblings. Her father died when he was 36. Bridget was then just five. Bridget described her father as her role model – he gave free medicine to those who could not afford to pay for treatment and was active in the independence movement during the British colonial days.
After attending Katong Convent Girls’ School, Bridget worked in human resources until she was 55. As a human resource manager she had to look after the welfare of workers and became familiar with local employment laws and workers’ rights.
When she retired from corporate life, Bridget decided to serve the church full-time. On the invitation of a priest, she helped to set up the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI) in May 1998. She was the chairman of ACMI, where she worked as a volunteer. Later she helped set up shelters and skills training programmes for migrant workers, and a soup kitchen to provide free meals to those in need.
When the church did not support the project, Bridget left ACMI. In September 2004 she founded HOME as a charitable society using her retirement funds. She was driven to do this because, as she explained in an interview in 2009: “In Singapore the people that are discriminated and marginalised, more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse than other groups are migrant workers, who are unskilled and semi-skilled.”
After serving as President of HOME for eight years without pay, in October 2012 Bridget became the Chief Executive Officer of HOME, which is a paid position. In January 2014, HOME, backed by the labour movement, set up its first emergency shelter with beds and rooms for recreation and counselling.
Bridget’s work has won her many awards. In 2005, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the PeaceWomen Across the Globe organisation. In 2011, Bridget received the Hero Acting to End Modern-Day Slavery Award from US State Secretary Hillary Clinton. This award is for individuals who have devoted their lives to the fight against human trafficking.
The Thai and Filipino governments have presented Bridget with awards for her work with migrant workers. In 2009 UNIFEM Singapore named her as one of the 10 Most Inspiring Women, and in 2010 she got an honourable mention in Readers Digest Asia’s Asian of the Year awards. In 2012 Bridget was one of three winners of Mediacorp’s Singapore Woman Award.
Meanwhile, in 2010 HOME was awarded the Asia Public Service Award by the Asia 21 Society and in 2012, it was a joint winner for the Most Innovative Non Profit/Social Enterprise awarded by the Singapore Venture Capitalist & Private Equity Association.
In February 2014, Bridget suffered a stroke. In December, she made her first public appearance following her stroke when she attended HOME’s 10th anniversary celebration. She told the media she had no intention of retiring.
"For me, social justice is the responsibility of each and every person. The strong must help the weak; the rich should help the poor.
Those who are knowledgeable should help those who aren’t. We all have a part to play."