Migrant workers visit National Gallery, share their stories to celebrate National Day

National Gallery Singapore volunteer Tan Sok Oon (third from right) giving a tour to migrant workers on Aug 7, 2022. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
Migrant workers sketching the paintings they like at National Gallery Singapore on Aug 7, 2022. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - Construction engineer Muthu Ramesh has passed by the National Gallery countless times but had not visited the imposing colonial-era building until Sunday (Aug 7).

He got the chance when he and 82 other migrant workers were taken on a tour of the building, to show appreciation for their contribution to Singapore as the nation marks its 57th birthday on Tuesday.

The workers were given a tour of works of art by realist artist Chua Mia Tee in the Directing the Real exhibition, as well as the Siapa Nama Kamu (what is your name) exhibition.

The National Gallery occupies two national monuments: the former Supreme Court and City Hall.

The group also visited Gardens by the Bay as part of the tour organised by migrant worker charity ItsRainingRaincoats and the Ministry of Manpower.

Mr Ramesh, 30, who is from India, was visiting these attractions for the first time. He has worked on construction projects such as the AJ Hackett Bungy Jump in Sentosa.

After working here for seven years, he has grown to like life in Singapore and hopes to make it home.

"My dream is to start a family here," he said, adding that he hopes to bring his wife to Singapore next month.

Forty-three other migrant workers and domestic helpers marked National Day by sharing about their lives in Singapore and their home countries in an exhibition on their untold stories.

Launched on Sunday, it was organised by photo storytelling initiative IAMinVISIBLE and non-profit start-up Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre.

The migrant workers also took the spotlight in videos created under the showcase called Do You See Me?

One of them is construction worker Mynul Islam, 31, who was studying to be a lawyer when he dropped out of a university in Bangladesh and came to work here at the age of 21 after his family ran into financial difficulties.

Mr Mynul Islam (second from left) sharing at the Do You See Me? showcase at Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre on Aug 7, 2022. ST PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR

His first year in Singapore was tough as he had no experience doing construction work and he was not sure if he was up to the task.

But he worked hard and rose through the ranks to become a scaffolding and safety supervisor.

Wanting to help others like him, he also started a network during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, In This Together, to support fellow migrant workers who do not know English and connect them with non-governmental organisations when they run into issues.

Speaking at the event on Sunday, MP for Nee Soon GRC Derrick Goh said that while many Singaporeans were born on this island city, many of their grandparents were immigrants.

Nee Soon GRC MP Derrick Goh (right) speaking with migrant workers on Aug 7, 2022. ST PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR

"My grandfather arrived in Singapore on a ship from Fujian. He worked as a 'Jaga' or a caretaker at St Patrick's School. It was because he came that I was born here in Singapore.

"I am one of the many examples of Singaporeans, like many of you here whose forefathers are immigrants with little education but worked hard and contributed to Singapore's success."

The exhibition at Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre in Yishun will run till the end of the month.

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