Do our country’s migrant workers have Singaporean friends?
According to two of the workers The Pride interviewed last Sunday, the answer is a resounding “no”. Both Mohammad Julhas and a colleague who gave his name as Jahir confessed that they do not know any locals apart from the colleagues and superiors at work.
Julhas, 30, who has lived and worked in Singapore for 10 years, admits that he rarely even speaks to Singaporeans outside of work.
“They no disturb, I also no disturb,” the maintenance worker said, smiling as he summarised the situation frankly.
Jahir, also 30, has worked in Singapore for eight years and gave a similar reply when asked about having Singaporean friends.
“Maybe some [of the] others have,” he suggested tentatively.
Yes, there is an invisible barrier between Singaporeans and migrant workers. Thankfully, though, there are also groups like Project Chulia Street (PCS) who are working hard to bridge that gulf with goodwill and good food.
Started in May last year by Eva Sng and David Goh, PCS is a ground-up movement that aims to bring Singaporeans closer to migrant workers, and to show gratitude to the workers for their hard work in building Singapore.
Working with Westlite dormitories and various corporate sponsors, PCS has organized five fiestas for the workers since its inception last year. At these events, the migrant workers get to enjoy everything from food to carnival games to medical checkups, all free-of-charge and at their doorstep.
They even get to indulge in some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, served sundae-style with whipped cream and sprinkles by volunteers.
For last Sunday’s National Day Tribute at Westlite Woodlands, PCS whipped up something extra – body soap in packets with hand-drawn “thank you” messages.
The idea came about when Clean the World, an environmental NGO, heard about PCS and donated a thousand bars of recycled soap to the cause. After receiving these, Eva decided to go one step further by putting the soap in packets and getting kids to draw messages of appreciation for the migrant workers upon them.
“Somebody said, let’s make it even more meaningful, let’s draw on them. So I reached out to some of the organisations like Mindchamps and my own church and got the kids to draw on the packets” explained Eva.
Thus, children and teenagers from Mindchamps Preschool and Hope Presbyterian Church were recruited for the cause. Over the course of two weeks, they produced drawings of the migrant uncles, the buildings they built, Singapore flags and even colourful butterflies.
At the National Day Tribute event, the volunteers then distributed these packets to the workers in Westlite Woodlands. Coming home on a Sunday evening, after a week of hard work, the workers got to enjoy these thank-you messages along with a dinner of curry, refreshing drinks and ice cream sundaes for a sweet treat.
Of course, it will take more than just ice cream to bridge the cultural gap between Singaporeans and migrants, but Eva believes that every little bit of mingling or interaction helps them feel more welcome and at home in the local community.
“After all, they left their homes to come toil under the sun and build our nation for us,” she said. “When we celebrate our nation, they should be part of this as well.”
And the migrant workers seemed to enjoy the festivities despite the wet weather.
“I feel happy. Games have, food have. That’s why I like,” Julhas said.
To volunteer or partner with Project Chulia Street, contact them via their Facebook page.