SINGAPORE - For many of the 8,000 migrant workers living in PPT Lodge 1B dormitory, Mr Letchumanan Muralidharan, 47, has been their translator, mediator and confidant.
When the dorm, also known as S11 Dormitory @ Punggol, was locked down on April 5 last year after being declared an isolation area, the construction worker from India stepped forward to help distribute food and bridge the language gap between residents, the dorm operator and the authorities.
Over the past 18 months, he has helped fellow workers to manage salary disputes and problems at home, or to translate the latest government bulletins for them.
Now, he is among 1,200 migrant workers who have been recruited as volunteers to strengthen the social support system for their peers.
This network of volunteers, called Friends of Ace, was announced during the Budget debate in March. Since then, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has recruited volunteers of various nationalities from close to 300 dorms here.
The network can reach about 200,000 migrant workers, or about 75 per cent of all workers living in dorms, MOM said.
The volunteers will help make it easier for their fellow workers to raise issues with the ministry. They will also boost the Government's outreach efforts in dorms and help rally workers to participate in social activities.
All volunteers will undergo basic mental health training and learn basic first aid skills. Those interested can also take up psychological first aid training.
The training has been useful for Mr Murali. He recalled helping a worker who fell into depression and stopped eating after his wife died of cancer. This was during last year's circuit breaker and there were no flights to India.
Working with the authorities, Mr Murali was eventually able to get the worker on a flight back to India.
"I am very happy to volunteer. I came to Singapore in 1996 and Singapore has always supported me. So I don't mind helping," he said.