Foreign workers' centre running out of funds

Mr Mohsin, who also runs the local monthly Bengali paper Banglar Kantha, is worried that the closure of Dibashram might spell a dearth of social spaces for the 160,000 Bangladeshi workers in Singapore.
Mr Mohsin, who also runs the local monthly Bengali paper Banglar Kantha, is worried that the closure of Dibashram might spell a dearth of social spaces for the 160,000 Bangladeshi workers in Singapore.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

A drop-in centre for blue-collar Bangladeshi workers near Little India will shut down by next month because its owner can no longer afford to pay for its rent and utilities.

"I'm sad to close Dibashram," said Mr Abdul Khaeer Mohammed Mohsin, 53, who also runs the local monthly Bengali paper Banglar Kantha. "But I have no more savings, and I still have to feed my family."

The father of three has been paying for the centre and its activities with the paper's profits of about $5,000 a month. The 600 sq ft second-floor shophouse unit doubles as his office.

Each month, the centre needs about $2,500 for rent and $500 for utilities, said Mr Mohsin, and the remaining $2,000 is used to print Banglar Kantha in Dhaka.

Mr Mohsin takes on freelance work such as translation and interpretation, amounting to about $2,000 a month, to pay for his household expenses.

Each month, the centre needs about $2,500 for rent and $500 for utilities, said Mr Mohsin, and the Banglar Kantha's revenue has fallen after its largest advertiser, the Ministry of Manpower, decided to stop taking out space this year.

But Banglar Kantha's advertising revenue has been falling.

"I can run the paper from my home. All I need is a desk and a computer," said Mr Mohsin, who lives in a three-room Housing Board flat in Kallang Bahru with his wife and their three children.

But he is worried that the closure of Dibashrammight spell a dearth of social spaces for the 160,000 Bangladeshi workers in Singapore.

 

Construction worker Tareq Hasan, 32, said he has been going to Dibashram every week for the past two years to read, talk to other Bangladeshis and write poetry.

 

"If this place closes, I don't know where else to go to relax. I like literature, and I don't know where (to find) Bengali books," he said.

Dibashram, which means daycare in Bengali, has been running for about five years and also helps workers with free translation and counselling.

It holds events to celebrate the Bengali New Year, Deepavali and Hari Raya.

For Labour Day, it organised a photography exhibition titled The Invisible Life of Migrant Workers, with shots taken by shipyard worker Hasanur Reza Zimy of how workers spend their days here.

Workers drop by Dibashram to read from a selection of Bengali books, play carrom or chess and fiddle with musical instruments such as guitars and goblet drums.

"If I have to move to a smaller place... there won't be any space for this collection that I built from scratch," said Mr Mohsin.

National University of Singapore's Professor Mohan Dutta, who studies migrant workers, said Dibashram is "an anchor" for the local Bangladeshi community and a bridge to help Singaporeans understand migrant workers better and vice versa.

"We will be losing a valuable, reliable resource if Dibashram closed," said Prof Mohan, who is helping to set up an online crowdfunding site to save the centre.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 08, 2016, with the headline 'Foreign workers' centre running out of funds'. Print Edition | Subscribe