Migrant workers are an important part of Singapore society, leaving their own homes to help build ours. But being far from home and their loved ones, it can get tough on them when they fall ill.
Even more so, in the current health concerns. To date, five Bangladeshi workers have been infected with the novel coronavirus, better known as COVID-19.
And on Feb 14, one of the five, a 39-year old Bangladeshi worker with underlying respiratory and kidney conditions, was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU).
Since the news broke, unease over the virus has gripped Singapore’s migrant workers. Many of them live in crowded, cramped conditions, where viruses are easily transmitted.
There have also been reports of concerned foreign workers thinking about returning to their home countries.
An outpouring of love
Another of these ground-up movements is It’s Raining Raincoats (IRR), which regularly collects and donates items such as perishable food, raincoats, phone cards and even hand-wrapped presents to Singapore’s 750,000 migrant workers.
Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, IRR, founded in 2015, is now collecting and distributing products such as face masks, hand sanitisers and vitamin C-rich food to migrant workers.
In a Facebook post on Feb 25, the group wrote: “We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for the migrant workers during this COVID-19 outbreak and the donations of hand sanitizers, oranges, hand wash etc.”
“Kind members of the public have even distilled sanitisers into smaller bottles from large containers to ensure a little goes a long way,” it continued. “We have been so busy with collections and distributions to take and post photos, but here are a few!”
“We are continuing to accept donations of preloved items, oranges, vitamin C and sanitisers, so feel free to [private message] us,” it added.
IRR ended the post on a positive note: “We are happy to report that all the migrant workers we have spoken to (and we speak to hundreds of them every week) are positive, resilient and cheerful even in the face of this adversity. These guys are real heroes and they prove it to us time and again!”
She worries and cares for workers
Speaking to The Pride, lawyer and founder of IRR, Dipa Swaminathan said: “It’s not nice for anyone to suffer under any circumstances, but there is a particular sense of unfairness when a migrant worker gets infected.”
In a previous post on Feb 21, IRR wrote: “It’s not fair for anyone to be affected by COVID-19, but if the one to go is a poor Bangladeshi worker – a young father, husband, son, sole breadwinner for an entire family – it would be particularly heartbreaking.”
“Meantime we believe in the power of prayer and thank you all who have been praying for him. Miracles can and do happen,” they added.
So far, IRR has collected over 2,000 bottles of hand sanitisers, and a large number of oranges and vitamin C tablets.
“The only thing we’re lacking is surgical masks, ” Dipa said.
Migrant workers Dipa spoke to have largely remained positive.
“Many of them say that they have seen adversity. They have overcome, and will continue to overcome, hardships. They aren’t too worried about COVID-19,” she explained.
Nonetheless, Dipa worries for them.
“Spare a thought for those employed in construction sites or pruning trees,” she said. “When it’s time for lunch, they sit on the pavement and have their lunch, which is wrapped in a brown paper sheet, with their hands.”
Highlighting the importance of providing hand sanitisers to the migrant workers, she added: “There is nowhere for them to wash their hands before they commence their meal.”
Collecting food for workers
Aside from what IRR is doing for migrant workers now, the group still continues to collect unsold food for them.
In another Facebook post, IRR wrote: “Amidst all the ups and downs of the COVID-19 situation, one thing remains unchanged: The dedication and commitment of our volunteers to collect unsold food at 10.30 pm multiple times a week and pass it to migrant workers who are toiling away at that late hour.”
IRR added: “The workers deserve our thanks, our respect and our compassion: It’s the very least we can do.”
Many have taken time to thank IRR’s efforts.
One netizen, Arun Cavale, wrote: “Wonderful!”
Another, Diana Giam, wrote that she was proud of volunteers like IRR “for showing care and concern to the migrant workers”.
“These people [helped] build Singapore. We must never forget their contributions.”