Christmas lights bus tour brings cheer to migrant workers

Migrant workers taking selfies at a brief stopover at Gardens by the Bay during the bus tour. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - For the past eight months, migrant worker Vasanth has been confined mainly to his dormitory, leaving it only for work or the occasional trip to a nearby recreational centre.

So the 24-year-old, who goes by one name, welcomed the break from his daily routine on Monday night (Dec 28) when he was taken on a bus tour to see the Christmas lights.

"I feel very nice and refreshed. The last few months we didn't get to take the MRT or buses, so it's a good feeling to be able to see how Singapore is after a few months. Today, I felt the same way I did when I first came here and saw Singapore," said Mr Vasanth, who arrived from India two years ago and is in charge of the safety of workers.

It was his first time seeing Marina Bay and the lights in the city, he said.

Mr Vasanth was one of about 165 migrant workers who went on the tour to places such as Orchard Road and Little India organised by ItsRainingRaincoats, a social enterprise that supports the needs of migrant workers here.

Founder Dipa Swaminathan said: "Migrant workers still don't have the freedom to move around freely as the rest of us do. For many of them, life just revolves around their lodging and workplace. After the dramatic year they have had... we thought it would be nice to give them an outing they can remember and enjoy."

Migrant workers were the worst hit by the coronavirus in Singapore, with their dormitories placed on strict lockdown and restrictions placed on where and how they could move around.

As at Dec 13, 152,794 had tested positive for Covid-19 through a combination of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and serology tests. Of these, 54,505 had positive PCR tests, forming the vast majority of cases reported here.

The remaining 98,289 tested positive through serology tests though they did not have a positive PCR test and, in accordance with guidelines from the World Health Organisation, were not included in Singapore's total case count.

ItsRainingRaincoats plans to organise about 20 bus tours over the next couple of months for about 650 workers.

Besides enjoying the festive lights, workers also received a care pack containing items such as soap, toothpaste and deodorant.

They also took part in quizzes on the bus, and were treated to drinks and snacks.

The tour was organised in collaboration with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and supported by the High Commission of India, the Pan Indian Institute of Management Alumni and members of the public.

Mr Koh Tee Meng, deputy commander, Regional Command (East) of MOM's Assurance, Care and Engagement Group, said: "It is heartening to see the variety of efforts from the community to bring joy to our migrant workers, especially during this festive season."

He added that his group looks forward to working more with such groups in the coming year.

About 165 migrant workers went on the tour to places such as Orchard Road and Little India. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Site senior supervisor Sundaram Magesh, 35, who arrived from India 15 years ago, said he enjoyed the tour and would happily go again if another was organised.

"Previously I was always inside the room. But today I went out, I felt relaxed, with the natural lighting," he said.

He added that while he understood the need for restrictions, he looks forward to the day when he can go swimming again at West Coast Park.

"When they open (restrictions), I'll go - I miss swimming very much," he said.

The article has been edited for clarity.

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