By Charmin Nahar

Empathy comes when you put yourself in other people’s shoes.

Migrant workers have been through a lot during the pandemic. Their freedom has been restricted and they are isolated in their own communities.

Amin, a volunteer at Hope Initiative Alliance(HIA), started working with the migrant workers living in the Tuas dormitories last year.

The 26-year-old who works in finance, tells The Pride that he understands what they are going through because he himself is also an immigrant and went through his own set of challenges when he first came to Singapore 13 years ago.

Growing up in a different country

Amin was 13 when he moved to Singapore from Iran when the family relocated for his parents’ jobs.

As a teenager, Amin had to learn English and adapt to a new culture. This caused him difficulties in making friends as he struggled to get used to the school system, the subjects he studied or even the food he ate.

Amin shares: “All I wanted was a normal teenage life like my friends back home (in Iran).”

Eventually, he was able to adjust to his new environment and had made new friends in school. His friends came from a diverse group of different nationalities and that got him exposed to different cultures and food.

Singaporean friends took him to eat at hawker centres and kind teachers helped him with financial troubles. All of this made his transition easier and made Singapore feel like home.

Meeting migrant workers

Last year, a friend of Amin’s approached him with an opportunity to help out migrant workers. As a volunteer, Amin would engage migrant workers in befriending activities and had the added responsibility of doing photography: He would take pictures for the migrant workers for them to send home.

Tapping on his own experiences as an immigrant, Amin says that he understood the situation that the migrant workers were in. He says that migrant workers were the same and had dreams and ambitions.

This is not Amin’s first time interacting with migrant workers as he had previously helped his dad teach them English.

Still, when it came to meeting them at the befriending sessions, Amin confesses that he felt nervous. He remembers asking his friend what to say to them.

He says: “It’s so difficult, there’s no connection, because I’ve never met them before.”

“Then I thought to myself, ‘you’re not that different, actually’, I’m a foreigner, they are foreigners. We are both living in a different country away from our home.”

Then he remembered how his own friends helped him forget his homesickness. Simply by talking. He told them about his own story and they shared theirs.

“I started talking to them about their families, friends, what did they miss… and the conversation flowed naturally!”

Through these conversations, he was able to form a connection with many migrant workers and even taught one of them photography skills.

Kindness goes across all nationalities

Amin adds that he also could empathise with them as he too was an outsider when he came to Singapore. However, he adds, the difference is that he has his family with him here and their families are back home.

He made friends who helped him learn about the different cultures in Singapore and he says that he wants to do the same for these migrant workers.

He says that kindness cuts across all nationalities and backgrounds.

Amin says: “If we can help each other achieve our goals and dreams, regardless of society, or grouping, or financial status… As long as we can help each other. That is kindness to me.”

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