SINGAPORE - Even in the thick of a global pandemic, two men from very different worlds and backgrounds managed to find common ground and camaraderie in a time of great adversity.
Mr Sheik Ismail Mohamed Ashad, 37, is a senior investigation officer with the Singapore Police Force's Commercial Affairs Department (CAD), and Mr Mamoun Abdulla Al, 35, is a worker from Bangladesh at the S-11 dormitory at Seletar North Link.
They met - and became friends - when Mr Sheik was part of the Forward Assurance and Support Teams (FAST) stationed at purpose-built dormitories for foreign workers.
These teams comprised 1,100 Home Team officers from various agencies who were deployed to dormitories to look after the well-being of migrant workers, such as attending to their essential needs, implementing safe living measures, and facilitating medical testing for dormitory clearance operations.
Mr Sheik volunteered to be deployed to the dormitories as the Home Team oversaw the management of 21 purpose-built dormitories and two decant sites, which housed more than 160,000 migrant workers.
Despite the dire circumstances foisted upon them by the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Sheik and Mr Mamoun formed an unlikely friendship. Mr Sheik often checked in on how Mr Mamoun was doing, while the latter would go out of his way to make pastries and sugar cane juice for Mr Sheik in his free time.
Mr Mamoun, who has been working in Singapore since 2008, was due to fly back to Bangladesh the day before lockdowns were imposed on all the dormitories.
He decided to make the best out of a tough situation, and got to work: helping to clean the dormitories, and relaying information from Mr Sheik and the FAST team to other workers.
This camaraderie kept Mr Sheik going through the months he was stationed at the dorms.
"At first, the language barrier was an issue because of the diversity of workers in each dorm: but with the help of my colleagues and friends like Mamoun, the communication process got easier every day," Mr Sheik said.
But Mr Sheik faced challenges of his own during his two secondments to the S-11 dormitory - which started in April, and ended on July 31. He also feared that his deployment to the dorms would put his elderly parents - both in their sixties, who also suffer from chronic illnesses - at risk.
"I am so grateful to my parents for being supportive of my work, and on my end, I took all the precautions I could: essentially socially distancing from my own family, and disinfecting myself multiple times every day when I got home," he said.
Despite these worries, Mr Sheik volunteered to return to the dormitories for a second deployment. He also found himself stepping up in other ways and going beyond the call of duty to help the workers under his care. He recalled helping a migrant worker who had been the victim of a banking phishing scam make a police report.
"The experience was overwhelming at times, but very rewarding. Some of the biggest takeaways for me were really that everyone should be treated equally, and with respect, and that good teamwork is so essential to getting things done," Mr Sheik said.
As of Tuesday (Sept 15), all the FAST officers stationed at the dorms stood down from their deployment, as the newly set-up Assurance, Care and Engagement (ACE) Group under the Ministry of Manpower is taking over the Inter-agency Task Force's work, and will be fully operational by Oct 1 .