Migrant workers volunteer to help curb coronavirus spread in dorms

Their efforts include helping to record details of sick workers, distributing food and conducting briefings

Migrant worker volunteer Rajendran Raja (centre) speaking to a medical worker at Homestay Lodge dormitory last Wednesday. Armed with a clipboard and dressed in full personal protective equipment, he is sometimes mistaken for a Fast (forward assurance
Migrant worker volunteer Rajendran Raja (centre) speaking to a medical worker at Homestay Lodge dormitory last Wednesday. Armed with a clipboard and dressed in full personal protective equipment, he is sometimes mistaken for a Fast (forward assurance support team) member.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Masked up, gloved and robed in protective gear, a figure hurries to and fro at the medical post in Homestay Lodge dormitory, where there is a cluster of over 500 Covid-19 cases now. But he is not a nurse, soldier or police officer sent by the Government to handle the large number of Covid-19 cases among migrant workers in dormitories.

Mr Rajendran Raja, 24, is a migrant worker, and is himself one of the dorm's 5,000 residents.

He is also one of a number of such workers who have volunteered to help in the fight against the coronavirus across various dorms, despite knowing the risks involved, and whose efforts keep things running smoothly, said the authorities involved in stemming the virus spread in dorms.

With a clipboard clutched in one hand and dressed in full personal protective equipment, Raja, as he is known to friends, is sometimes mistaken for a Fast (forward assurance support team) member as he conducts his rounds.

Hailing from Tamil Nadu, India, Mr Raja has been in Singapore for four years and normally works as a plumber for HDB blocks.

But since the circuit breaker started two months ago, he has been helping in his own dorm by recording details of workers who report sick and guiding them through the registration and testing process.

At the end of each day, he sorts the cases by whether or not they are positive, negative, pending or need to be retested, and files them so medical staff can easily access and call up workers the next day.

In this, he works closely with fellow Indian migrant worker Veluchamy Muniapparaj, 34, or Raj for short.

A resident of Homestay himself who came to Singapore from Tamil Nadu in 2011, Mr Raj eventually rose to become an operations executive in the dorm after the operator recognised his abilities. He is now pursuing a PhD correspondence degree in management at a university in India.

During the pandemic, he has organised his fellow residents in various ways, relaying government announcements and instructions through WhatsApp groups for each room in the dorm, and conducting briefings.

One of the initiatives he has started is the preparation of a traditional Indian herbal remedy called kabasura kudineer, which includes ingredients like clove, ginger, myrobalan and bharangi, to raise the immunity of sick workers.

 
 
 

After several residents requested it, he contacted Sree Narayana Mission (Singapore), which donated 300 packets of the powdered mix for boiling. It is now made twice daily for infected workers housed separately in the dorm.

The familiar remedy has comforted many of them.

"They even wanted to stay because they like the medicine. They didn't want to go to Changi," said Mr Raj, chuckling. He was referring to the Changi Exhibition Centre, a community care facility for those with mild symptoms or who are clinically well but have tested positive for the virus.

Mr Raj is also in charge of volunteers like Mr Raja, whom he briefs and allocates different tasks to, including food distribution and assisting the medical posts.

Fast team members are impressed by their dedication.

"They are doing a great job. Their wholehearted volunteering helps everything go smoothly," said Staff Sergeant Sathish Kumar, 33, a Singapore Armed Forces regular who has been stationed at Homestay for the last month.

While workers who volunteer typically get a stipend to compensate them for helping out, for many, it is not about the money.

Indeed, despite not having much himself, Mr Mundla Anil Kumar wanted to chip in by donating all $400 he had earned from volunteering in his Tampines dormitory to support the Government's efforts in fighting the coronavirus.

 
 
 

"I feel safe. I wanted to donate because I see the officers here working hard to protect and take care of us," said the 31-year-old driver from Hyderabad, India, who has worked here for 12 years.

Moved by his actions, a donor - who wished to remain anonymous - asked that Mr Anil keep his pay for his family, and decided to give $8,000 in the worker's name to the Migrant Workers' Centre.

Mr Raja said he feels blessed and honoured to be able to help his migrant brothers, and in the nation's battle against the coronavirus.

"We should step forward and help those in need. We must fight this together, so that everyone can emerge free," he said in Tamil.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2020, with the headline 'Migrant workers volunteer to help curb virus spread in dorms'. Subscribe