Charity initiative brings migrant workers and Singaporeans together through food

Migrant worker Islam Mohammad Sherazul and volunteer Irfana Nazmin during Cook to Connect. ST PHOTO: ISABEL KUA

SINGAPORE - When he was growing up, Bangladeshi migrant worker Islam Mohammad Sherazul ate a lot of duck curry.

"My mother taught me how to cook this dish," says the construction safety coordinator, 28. "Eating this dish when I'm in Singapore reminds me of my family. "

When asked to take part in a new cooking show, he and his fellow Bangladeshi Roy Mithun Chandra, 33, chose duck curry as the dish they wanted to teach Singaporeans. As duck is a little more expensive compared to chicken, says Mr Chandra, it is a special dish for holidays.

The show, Cook To Connect, is an initiative by non-profit organisations ItsRainingRaincoats and The Whitehatters that aims to bridge the cultural gap between Singaporeans and migrant workers through cooking.

In the first of two pre-recorded episodes, two Singaporeans taught Mr Sherazul and Mr Chandra how to cook yam cake, a traditional Chinese dish made of rice flour, dried shrimp and yam. In the second, the Bangladeshis passed on their duck curry recipe to another pair of locals.

The episodes will be livestreamed on ItsRainingRaincoats' Facebook page on Dec 20 and 27 respectively. Viewers are encouraged to cook together concurrently as they watch the videos.

ItsRainingRaincoats founder Dipa Swaminathan, 49, came up with the idea for Cook To Connect in the middle of this year when she realised cooking is a universal activity that both migrants and Singaporeans enjoy.

"Some of these workers are good cooks," she says. "They cook all the time and food is always of comfort to them. So I thought: What better way to build bridges than through cooking?"

Cook To Connect lead volunteer Kelly Shia, 30, says the organisers will be providing ingredients for 100 migrant workers to take part in the cook-along sessions. These will be delivered by volunteers to their residences on the two days.

Only migrant workers staying in Housing Board flats will be able to take part in the sessions due to Covid-19 restrictions on dormitory residents' movements.

For human resource manager Irfana Nazmin, one of the Singaporean participants, it was the first time she had interacted so closely with a migrant worker.

"The duck curry turned out really well," says the 30-year-old, who was paired with Mr Sherazul for the filming. "It was very nice and fragrant."

She noticed that Mr Sherazul roasted and ground the cumin used in the duck curry himself - extra steps which she feels "created a smokiness" that distinguishes it from other curries in Singapore.

The pair, just two years apart in age, bonded quickly during the recording session, with Mr Sherazul even asking Ms Nazmin to film a TikTok for him.

(From left) Volunteers Irfana Nazmin and Kelly Shia with migrant workers Islam Mohammad Sherazul and Roy Mithun Chandra during Cook to Connect. ST PHOTO: ISABEL KUA

Mr Sherazul and Mr Chandra barely get to talk to locals. Mr Chandra says that in the 12 years he has been here, the Singaporean volunteer he cooked with was the first Chinese man he has befriended outside of work.

Mr Sherazul says: "It was a very interesting experience talking to Singaporeans and I enjoyed cooking with them."

Cook To Connect also aims to deliver care packs containing toiletries, food and clothing to 500 workers this Christmas season.

The organisers will run a donation drive on Dec 23 for the public to drop off items such as pre-loved clothing and necessities.

"One care pack is not going to change a migrant worker's life," says Ms Swaminathan.

"What is more important is the thought that goes behind it. We want the migrant workers to know that there are people in this country who care for them."

View It/Cook to Connect

WHERE: ItsRainingRaincoats' Facebook page

WHEN: Dec 20 and 27, noon


Click here for more information on the care pack donation drive.

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