After reading the news that many Malaysians could be left stranded in Singapore without a roof over their heads amid their home country’s Covid-19 lockdown, 36-year-old Levin Foo put up a post on Facebook that said: “Tonight, let’s find these people and bring them over.”
His simple call to help these Malaysians was enough to rally some friends, and together, a group of eight of them spent much of Thursday night (Mar 19) combing through MRT stations, parks and HDB pavilions for those who were sleeping rough.
According to The Straits Times, there are around 300,000 Malaysians who work in Singapore. Of this number, it is estimated that half of them would usually commute to Singapore daily.
Levin, who is self-employed, tells The Pride: “We went to Woodlands MRT station, Kranji MRT station and neighbourhood parks, among other locations, and discovered that there were quite a few stranded Malaysians who were going to spend the night outdoors.”
“I asked them if their employers were going to provide them with lodging, and they told me that their employers had not been able to find accommodation for them.”
Foo and his friends then proposed to take the stranded Malaysians to Jurong East Sports Hall, which has been designated as a temporary shelter by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).
“Just as we were preparing to send some of the workers to the Sports Hall, I was approached by a man who told me that he wanted to help.”
Identifying himself as the owner of a budget hotel chain, the man offered to let the Malaysians stay at his hotel.
According to Levin, there are currently 12 stranded Malaysians who are staying at the budget hotel chain, and he estimates that his group of friends was able to send 10 Malaysians to the Sports Hall that night.
“It was a pitiful sight as we saw people sleeping on the floor and even outside public toilets. Initially, some of them were alarmed as they thought we were there to arrest them.
“We had to assure them that they were not in trouble, and that it was OK for them to go to the temporary shelter. Seeing their reactions really tugged at my heartstrings.”
Yesterday (Mar 23), The Straits Times reported that MSF has closed the Jurong East Sports Hall shelter due to low demand thanks to the “groundswell of community support to house these workers”, as well as the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) efforts to assist employers in getting accommodation for them.
Over the past weekend, Levin has taken it upon himself to arrange for food to be provided to the workers staying at the hotel chain, while some of his friends have continued to keep an eye out for more Malaysians who need help.
Opening her home to those in need of shelter
Another Singaporean who is watching the situation closely and wants to help is church employee Wendy Chiang.
“I see Malaysians commuting to Singapore via my bus route to work every week. When I first heard about the lockdown, I immediately wondered how many would be able to find shelter if they decided to stay to work in Singapore,” Chiang, in her 40s, tells The Pride.
Over a month-long work internship in Kuala Lumpur in 2013, she had experienced the kindness and hospitality of Malaysians. Now, Chiang was determined to reciprocate by offering shelter to those who have been left stranded in Singapore.
With the blessings of her parents and husband, she registered with volunteer group Homeless Hearts of Singapore to be matched with suitable individuals. Homeless Hearts has set up an online form and is helping to screen both potential hosts and beneficiaries.
Currently, Chiang’s family is waiting for a match to be found.
Eager to help provide someone in need with a warm bed and a safe space amid a difficult time, Chiang is setting aside any worries she may have about opening her home to a stranger.
“Yes, it may be risky to bring a stranger into your home… but I choose kindness. Kindness is what our world needs now amid the closing of borders and the practice of social distancing.
“I hope Singaporeans will not be too intimidated by the idea of risk to do good in any circumstance.”