What's Trending

Helping migrant workers feel at home

Several groups spring up to highlight their inspiring stories or shed light on their plight

THE FIGHT FOR MIGRANT WORKERS' RIGHTS

While working as a domestic helper in Singapore, Ms Jeanilyn Bermudez struck upon an idea to set up a junk recycling shop back in the Philippines.

After saving a considerable sum from her years of work and learning how to write a business plan through part-time courses, she started her business in 2008. She now employs 15 full-time employees, and plans to expand her business beyond her home town.

Ms Bermudez's story is one of the few shared by SamaSama, a Facebook group that seeks to improve the lives of low-wage migrant workers here through positive messaging and changing the way locals perceive them.

"I didn't feel comfortable with the way migrant workers were always seen as items in a profit and loss statement," says the group's co-founder Kari Tamura Chua. "Their stories, beyond their work contributions, are inspiring, if only people dug deeper."

SamaSama is organising an art exhibition and a tour of a workers' dormitory in Mandai.

The Facebook group, which started last month, has already garnered close to 2,000 followers.

Competitive eater Thomasina Ow with the 3.2kg burger she demolished in 43 minutes last Wednesday. Ms Bermudez's path from maid to businesswoman with 15 workers is an inspiring story shared by Facebook group SamaSama, which seeks to improve the lives
Ms Bermudez's path from maid to businesswoman with 15 workers is an inspiring story shared by Facebook group SamaSama, which seeks to improve the lives of migrant workers here. The Filipina saved the money she earned here and started a successful junk recycling shop in the Philippines. ST PHOTO: SAMASAMA/FACEBOOK

It is part of an increasing number of groups that have popped up on social networks in recent months to aid migrant workers or shed light on their plight in one way or another.

One group, Project Synthesis, aims to reduce stigma by allowing the public to see through the "lens" of Bangladeshi workers.

This is done by giving workers disposable cameras after conducting a photography course, and collating the results into an exhibition.

The cameras were sponsored by teachers and students of the National Institute of Education.

Familiar Strangers is another group making waves. 

Through interviews, it seeks to give workers a platform to share insights into their lives here. The stories are posted on Facebook and Instagram with accompanying photos and videos.

There are also the NUS for Migrant Workers Network, Migrant Worker Poetry Competition and Waiting for Lorry, to name a few.

The proliferation of such initiatives might seem like overkill at first, but prejudice, as always, is never too far away.

Last Monday, a video of what looked to be a foreign worker surfaced. The man was apparently fondling himself in public, although the clip did not explicitly show him doing so.

Rather than look at the case for what it is - a man who might have made the wrong decision or might need help - netizens were quick to single out his race and country, calling on him and his "countrymen" to return home.

Ms Tamura Chua says: "But they are part of life here. And while they are here, why shouldn't all of us work towards making Singapore a better place?"

Competitive eater Thomasina Ow with the 3.2kg burger she demolished in 43 minutes last Wednesday. Ms Bermudez's path from maid to businesswoman with 15 workers is an inspiring story shared by Facebook group SamaSama, which seeks to improve the lives
Competitive eater Thomasina Ow with the 3.2kg burger she demolished in 43 minutes last Wednesday. PHOTO: FOOD LEAGUE SINGAPORE/FACEBOOK

BIG APPETITE FOR SERIOUS EATERS

Last Wednesday, a petite 28-year-old flight attendant walked into a restaurant near Victoria Street and casually demolished a 3.2kg burger - typically meant for four adults - in 43 minutes.

  • NOTABLE TRENDS

  • #RIPPRINCE: The death of the talented musician drew more than 8.1 million messages across the Twittersphere in the first day alone. The Eiffel Tower turned purple, so did other landmarks like the New Orleans Superdome and the Chicago skyline. People also took to the streets of his home town to party in remembrance. 

    #TEAMCAP: The cast of Captain America: Civil War were in town to promote their latest film. Fans turned up in the thousands and thronged all four floors of Marina Bay Sands' shopping mall on Thursday.

    EARTH DAY: The annual event to demonstrate support for environmental protection saw more than 250,000 searches on Google alone. The hashtag #EarthDay also trended on Friday. 

Ms Thomasina Ow, a foodie who admits to wolfing down a three-person portion for each meal, is part of a growing number of competitive eaters that have burgeoned recently, thanks to the persuasive powers of social media.

She is the latest addition to Food League Singapore, an events firm that organises food challenges.

The company, whose slogan on its Facebook page is "Man Over Food", started last August with six "eaters". It now boasts a team of 15.

Company founder Sean Lee, a former competitive eater who is a sales manager in his day job, says things have picked up as a result of food challenges going viral recently. 

In February, personal trainer Zermatt Neo made headlines when he ate 10 servings of rice and a whole chicken in 25 minutes.

"More restaurants want to host eating competitions as a form of publicity, and they are willing to sponsor attractive prizes to lure talent," says Mr Lee.

But such wanton gluttony is not without dangers. Mr Lee says it is important to have a paramedic on standby at all times when attempting such feats. "Eaters need to get their vitals checked before and after. We also need to know their medical history," he says.

A 45-year-old man in Indonesia choked to death last month after an attempt to eat fried chicken wings went awry.

Another reason for the increased interest in competitive eating, says Mr Lee, is the strong following top professional eaters have on social media. 

Matt Stonie, who can polish off an 11,000-calorie ice cream sundae in 15 minutes, has 1.5 million subscribers on his YouTube channel. Kinoshita Yuka, who last month scarfed down 4.3 kg of laksa noodles, has 1.2 million followers.

Due to their popularity, Stonie and Yuka easily rake in thousands of dollars in ad revenue, sponsorships and appearance fees.

Ms Ow, who started out in competitive eating for fun, says she is keeping it as a hobby. "After all, you can't earn enough from it to service a mortgage," she says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 24, 2016, with the headline 'Helping migrant workers feel at home'. Print Edition | Subscribe