In celebration of Kindness Day SG on 20 May 2016, The Pride takes a look at the groups that have made a positive difference in the community.
This week, we feature the perspectives of Dipa Swaminathan, founder of #Itsrainingraincoats.
In 2014, I was driving home one day when I noticed some construction workers shivering in the heavy downpour without proper rain gear. As I sat in my car feeling safe and warm, I was struck by the contrast between our lives and how fortunate I was.
Stopping by the roadside, I asked the workers who were soaked through to jump in, took them to my house and gave them hot drinks and dry clothes.
That was how #Itsrainingraincoats started and today, I still keep spare raincoats in my car for the workers I see being left exposed to the elements as they toil away on the roads.
Migrant workers may have become more visible in our society today but it is often their suffering of squalid living conditions, delayed salary payments and forced repatriation that we hear about. This is unjust and wrong in many ways, and there is a lot that those of us in a stronger position can do to help that requires just a bit of time and effort.
One key part of the #itsrainingraincoats initiative is advocating for companies to take better care of their workers. It’s not easy to change their perspectives overnight and some get very defensive and rude when I call them. I try to educate them by sharing photos and videos of the workers to help them understand the situation on the ground.
In the very first case I took on, the worker tried to commit suicide as his employers refused to pay him and he was getting hounded by his agent and loansharks. I eventually helped him by getting the police to drop charges and recover his dues. The sight of his smile, and the earnest gratitude and hope written all over his face is something I will never forget.
Every case that I take on leaves an indelible print. The good ones – where I am able to get a good result for the worker – make for happy memories. But there are just as many cases where despite putting in every effort, the worker does not get the help he needs. In a recent case, a 25-year-old Bangladeshi worker broke his neck in a work accident, and was sent home on a plane without the surgery he needed or a dime in compensation. A young man with his whole life ahead of him was left to pick up the pieces on his own.
Despite setbacks and disappointment, the work continues and #itsrainingraincoats has thrived from the support received from the community. In May, we gave out more than 4,000 raincoats to workers around Little India, in a gesture of care and friendship made possible by the many volunteers who came to support us of their own accord.
Beyond organising donation drives to provide useful items to the migrant worker community, I will continue to advocate for them in individual cases and hope to build this initiative into even more meaningful services that can improve their living and working conditions, and to ensure their safety here.
Working towards these goals, I am constantly reminded that there are many people amidst us who could use our help and that each of us can take small steps to help others.
Dipa Swaminathan is the founder of #itsrainingraincoats, an initiative that advocates better care for the migrant worker community in Singapore.
#Itsrainingraincoats organises drives to distribute raincoats and other donated items to migrant workers. To donate or volunteer, you can reach out to them on Facebook.