Causes Week 2020: Student ropes in community to welcome migrant workers to estate

Causes Week runs this year from Dec 20 to 25. It shines a light on various individuals and groups, and shows how they are making a difference through their chosen causes within the community.

Amber Pong, owner of The Headless Baker, one of the bakeries involved in the Backyard Makan initiative. PHOTO: COURTESY OF AMBER PONG
Festive notes at Bakery Brera, one of the bakeries involved in the Backyard Makan initiative. PHOTO: THRINA LOW

SINGAPORE - When Ulu Pandan resident Sabrina Lee learnt that migrant workers were being rehoused in an alternative facility in her estate, she came up with a plan to welcome them to the neighbourhood.

The 24-year-old post-graduate student got in touch with volunteer-run migrant welfare group Welcome In My Backyard (Wimby) to put her idea into motion.

She suggested a pay-it-forward initiative, Backyard Makan, as a meaningful way to engage residents, support small businesses and show appreciation to migrant workers.

"One of the sites pretty close to my house was designated as a rehousing site. I was worried that attitudes might arise in the neighbourhood given that there have not been migrant workers living in this neighbourhood before. I thought it would be a nice gesture for neighbours in this estate to show their appreciation through this initiative," said Ms Lee.

Launched on Dec 1, Backyard Makan encouraged residents to patronise (in-person or online) participating bakeries to sponsor baked goods and sign festive cards designed by Wimby for migrant workers. Proceeds from the goods, sold to the public at retail prices, went towards the businesses. The baked goods and festive notes will be distributed in the upcoming festive season.

Roping in three bakeries - The Headless Baker, Bakery Brera & Fine Foods and online bakery awildflowerbakery - the team also identified possible sites in Queensway and Ghim Moh where the baked goods could be delivered to migrant workers.

Wimby volunteer Natalie Chu, 22, said getting enough volunteers to execute initiatives such as Backyard Makan was a challenge.

"Having enough manpower and people with the time to put in effort and commit to a long-term and complex project is definitely a challenge," she said.

While they set an initial target of about 150 baked goods, Ms Lee and the Wimby team were surprised at the overwhelming response from the community. By the close of Backyard Makan's campaign on Dec 14, over 400 baked goods were sponsored for the cause.

Ms Lee says the team is considering expanding the initiative to include more small enterprises in the future. "We hope the initiative can be replicated in different neighbourhoods around Singapore given the positive response we have seen in this pilot phase," she said.

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