SINGAPORE - The coronavirus pandemic may have put a dampener on Deepavali festivities for migrant workers here, but the spirit of the festival was not lost on Saturday (Nov 14), as various organisations came together to distribute goodies to about 168,000 workers across 144 dormitories.
They also helped pre-record religious prayers and greetings by the chief priests of various Hindu temples here, which were shared with migrant workers through social media.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit Singapore's shores, the migrant workers in dormitories were the worst affected, with tens of thousands infected.
Many were placed in quarantine or under lockdown in an effort to control the spread of the disease, and restrictions were imposed on what they could do on their rest days. Currently, they are still largely restricted to their workplaces and dormitories, or approved locations such as recreation centres.
Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) chairman Yeo Guat Kwang said on Saturday: "The last few months have been very challenging for our migrant brothers in the dormitories. They have cooperated with measures implemented by the authorities and have generally taken all the controls in the right spirit... (It is) timely during this festive period to recognise and laud the contributions of some of the true heroes of this pandemic - the workers themselves."
Over 1,000 volunteers took part in the initiative organised by the Ministry of Manpower's Assurance, Care and Engagement (Ace) Group, the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) and the Coordinating Council of Sikh Institutions (CCSI).
From Nov 12 to 14, the workers received gift packs containing savoury and sweet treats such as murukku and laddu, which were contributed by the three organisers, various Hindu temples, Sikh Gurdwaras and NPS International School.
The Ace Group worked with organisations such Crisis Relief Alliance, Hope Initiative Alliance, Covid-19 Migrant Support Coalition, Covenant Evangelical Free Church and Itsrainingraincoats to distribute the goodies to the workers.
Chief of the Ace Group Tung Yui Fai said: "We are heartened to see many stepping forward to celebrate the occasion with our migrant workers. We look forward to more of such collaborations in the future."
On Saturday morning, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo and Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng visited workers at a factory-converted dormitory in Sungei Kadut, where 580 goodie bags were given out.
Each of these packs also contained a special thank-you card, made by children from Sarada Kindergarten and various PCF kindergartens.
Indian national Prabaharan, who goes by one name, said that in previous years, he would mark Deepavali by going to the temple for prayers, and then enjoying a meal with friends.
The 33-year-old senior project coordinator said he was sad that he could not go for his usual temple visit this year. But he added: "I and my company (are)... very proud that the minister came out to celebrate (with us)."
Another worker, 29-year-old operations and safety supervisor Vijay, who also goes by one name, said he understood that the current pandemic circumstances are "difficult", and that his company was trying to care for him by making different arrangements to adapt to the situation.
"Every time we are together here we will have a party, but this year we (are provided) with some briyani to makan (eat) in every room," he said.
Speaking at the event, Mrs Teo said: "Deepavali is always a celebration of triumph of light over darkness and symbolically also signals a very important milestone in our journey in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic."
She noted that a lot of progress has been made in the fight against the virus among the migrant workers, with measures such as Rostered Routine Testing and better contact tracing.
"We've reached this point only because everyone was willing to work together, including the dorm operators as well as many of the employers," she said.
Ms Teo added: "We want to thank very much the many migrant brothers - we know that many of them have weathered many storms during this journey, and without their support, we really could not have come this far."