Capturing poignant tales of Bangladeshi workers in Singapore

Young Singaporeans visited foreign workers' families for documentary Causes Week features stories about charities and causes, as well as people and organisations raising funds for them

THEY can seem like nameless, anonymous faces in a crowd.

But each of the more than 100,000 Bangladeshi workers here has a story to tell.

Eager to find out more, three young Singaporeans packed their bags and headed for Bangladesh.

The result is a poignant documentary and photo exhibition that offer people in the Republic a glimpse into the lives of these men who toil in their midst.

One of the stories traces the journey of Mr Golam Mostafa, 37, who had worked in Singapore for 16 years, until recently. Among his biggest regrets is missing out on key milestones in the lives of his two young children.

For example, when his five-year-old son Rahim was circumcised - a ceremony that marked the boy's formal induction into the wider Muslim community - he could only clutch the phone as his wife narrated the day's events.

When Mr Golam headed home in June after his contract ended, the young Singaporeans paid the family a visit and saw how hard he tried to make up for lost time.

"We followed him as he took the kids to school, and both of them clamoured to hold his free hand," said Mr Joses Kuan, 26, who works for a non-governmental organisation overseas.

The group, which included freelance photographer Bernice Wong and filmmaker Ng Yiqin, 24, spent a fortnight living with the families of five Bangladeshi construction workers in July.

Their project was organised by Beyond The Border, Behind The Men, an initiative that aims to change perceptions of foreigners living in Singapore.

"These men are often nameless and invisible faces in the crowd," said Ms Wong. "Through their stories, we hope to show that like us, they are fathers, sons, lovers and dreamers too."

The 24-year-old got to know the Bangladeshis when she was a university student volunteering in a soup kitchen run by non-governmental organisation Transient Workers Count Too.

Some of the men, who have since returned home, hosted the Singaporeans during their stay in Bangladesh. Others who were still in Singapore asked their families to make the necessary arrangements.

The documentary makers wanted to move beyond the typical narratives involving work injury claims or bad employers.

"These problems often become the focus and we lose sight of the fact that migration is very much a social process involving real people - their attachments, memories and experiences," said Ms Wong.

Their journey to Bangladesh also served as a bridge between the workers in Singapore and their families back home. During their trip, they showed the relatives videos and photographs of loved ones in the Republic.

Ms Wong said that at the home of one worker, "almost everyone in his extended family - about 25 people - sat on the bed with their eyes riveted to the laptop, till the bed gave way under their weight".

Construction worker Rashedul Haque said he appreciated the group's attempts to show Singaporeans the lives they had left behind. "Making a living in Singapore is difficult because of the living conditions we are placed in but the film shows the stories behind what we are struggling here for," said the 32-year-old.

Ms Wong and her friends have been organising monthly concerts that involve foreign workers playing in a band alongside Singaporeans. Their documentary and exhibition will be shown at The Arts House in Old Parliament Lane, from next Tuesday until Jan 2.

For more information, visit a QR code reader on your smartphone and scan this code for more pictures.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.