New book shines light on unsung Covid-19 heroes in Singapore

Mr Han Fook Kwang, chairman of Stories Of A Pandemic (SOAP) Organising Committee, presenting the SOAP book to Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, during its launch at National Library on Aug 31, 2021. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
DPM Heng Swee Keat giving the opening address during the book launch of Stories Of A Pandemic at the National Library on Aug 31, 2021. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - When migrant workers were cooped up in their dormitories and Malaysians stuck here had no place to stay during the Covid-19 pandemic last year, Singaporeans opened up their hearts to help.

Among the unsung heroes who stepped up to lend a hand to those hit hardest was Madam Komala Devi Ramiah, 49.

She donated food hampers to about 72 needy families during Deepavali - even though she herself lost her job last year.

Madam Komala, who has two teenage children, cut back on her own spending and asked relatives and friends to pitch in so that she could continue her annual festival tradition of giving hampers to the needy.

She is among the Singaporeans featured in a new book launched on Tuesday night (Aug 31) by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

Called Stories Of A Pandemic, or Soap, the book of 34 stories is a compilation of narratives and images published on social media and traditional media platforms in the first year of Singapore's battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.

The book also features eye-catching elements such as using page numbers to reflect the number of Covid-19 infections daily.

In an address at the book launch, Mr Heng - who wrote a foreword for the book - said Covid-19 will not be the last crisis Singapore will face.

He added: "Whether we can respond well and overcome these challenges will depend on the reserves that we built up.

"But just as important, we must also continue to deepen our reserves of social capital and individual resilience, which shines through many of the stories in this book."

Straits Times editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang, who first mooted the Soap project last year, said: "We didn't know how this story was going to unfold, what the ending might be, if there was an ending at all.

"All we knew was that it was a story worth telling."

Soap aims to recognise and highlight good storytelling linked to the pandemic.

Mr Han said there is no one story but many stories told by many people affected by the pandemic in different ways.

He added that the pandemic has made Singaporeans more aware about the diversity of narratives in Singapore, including that of migrant workers living in dormitories.

Mr Han said that the idea of home was a common theme in many stories in the book.

One, for instance, was about Malaysian workers trapped on this side of the border during a lockdown in Malaysia and could not return home.

Another story was about Singaporeans who returned home from countries where they were studying or working.

Straits Times senior correspondent Joyce Lim, who wrote one of the first stories on migrant workers in the dormitories in April last year, said she learnt much during the pandemic.

(From left) Mr Cai Yinzho, Ms Nabilah Awang, Ms Joyce Lim, Mr Alan John, and Mr Martin Tan during a panel discussion at the Stories Of A Pandemic (SOAP) book launch at National Library on Aug 31, 2021. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

She was among three contributors to the book who took part in a panel discussion on Tuesday night.

She said: "I was shocked. For a long time, migrant workers have been living in a parallel world, different from Singaporeans and other foreigners."

Proceeds from the sale of the book, published by the Majurity Trust, will be donated to the Singapore Strong Fund to help support ground-up organisations in the next stage of the fight against Covid-19 .

The fund was started in February last year, and it has supported more than 150 projects, such as outreach efforts for the elderly in isolation, said Majurity Trust chief executive Martin Tan.

Mr Heng said: "My hope is that this book will not only serve as a chronicle of our collective spirit, but also inspire your readers and all of us in this room to step forward and contribute to nation building."

The book will be available for sale at this site.

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