Halimah was diagnosed with a stage-three cervical cancer in 1998. "We were devastated to hear the news. We sent her to a private hospital and paid all her medical expenses," Maria said, adding that Halimah had now fully recovered.
When Halimah retired two years ago and returned to Indonesia, the whole family was saddened over her departure because Maria knew she could never find another one to fill Halimah's shoes.
"But we still kept in touch and called each other. One day, when Jehan called her, Halimah said she was not feeling well."
Maria and family persuaded Halimah to return to Malaysia. By the time she got back here in April last year, Halimah's health had deteriorated.
"She is not only suffering from diabetes but also has high blood pressure. She has to use the wheelchair to move around."
Maria said Halimah was now bedridden and people from home care services came to her house in Kelana Jaya daily to treat Halimah.
"For me, what I am doing now is just a small token to show my gratitude for all she has done for my family.
"She used to take care of the family and helped a lot when I was busy with work. But, now, it's our turn to take care of her. She is like a relative to us," Maria said, shedding tears.
She said it was sad that Fernandez had generalised the situation in Malaysia and painted the country in a bad light.
"How about cases of employers being mistreated by their maids?"
In Kota Baru, Sumiarti, a 30-year-old mother of two from Surabaya, said she had never faced any difficulties since coming to work as a maid to a couple in Taman Uda Murni, Pengkalan Chepa, a year ago.
"My employers, both doctors, are nice and treat me like their own family. I feel safe here and, because of that, I have decided to continue my contract to work for them for another year."
Sumiarti said the couple were really close to her and planned to bring their family for a holiday to her village in Indonesia.
In Johor Baru, Yahya Jaafar, a Johor Baru city councillor, said Fernandez had exaggerated that Malaysia was not a safe place for migrant workers.
"In fact, they are as safe as the locals. You see them in large numbers in towns and shopping centres during the weekends.
"They move around freely without feeling any threat as they are protected by the police. If the country is not safe, migrant workers will not come in droves to work in Malaysia."
Summing up the sentiments of many Malaysians over the issue yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said: "Irene Fernandez is a Malaysian but has never show her patriotism towards our country.
"When she says something, doesn't she realise that her actions do not help the country or the Malaysian people?"
He said a request by a Bangladeshi minister, who visited his office on Tuesday, for Malaysia to lift its ban on the intake of Bangladeshi workers, had rubbished the claims by Fernandez.
Muhyiddin said if the Bangladesh government had believed her remarks, which appeared on Yahoo News in the republic earlier this week, its Minister for Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, Khandker Mosharraf Hossain, would not have come to Malaysia.
Speaking after attending the annual general meeting luncheon of the Malaysian Bumiputera Factory Owners and Service Industry Association here yesterday, Muhyiddin said: "If Bangladesh had felt that Malaysia was not fair and their workers were under pressure here, why is it that their minister is coming here to try to get us to lift our ban on intake of their workers?
"This means they want to help Malaysia (to fulfil its human resource needs). However, we have not made a decision on this request from Bangladesh yet."