S'pore youth forge friendships with 'invisible' migrants

Mr Suraj is co-founder of Amber, a social enterprise that involves youth in community projects.
Mr Suraj is co-founder of Amber, a social enterprise that involves youth in community projects.

Ms Moe Moe Than, for the first time, went to a Singaporean home yesterday as a guest, not as an employee. "I'm very happy that they treat me as a friend," said the 27-year-old Myanmar national who now resides in a shelter for maids as she waits for her abuse case to go before the courts.

"In an employer's home, it is very different."

She was one of around 70 maids staying at the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) shelter who were invited to Mr Suraj Prakash Upadhiah's home in Jalan Bumbong for food, drinks and games. This was the first installation of what the organiser, social enterprise Amber, called the Bumbong Sunset series in which migrant workers and students interact and forge friendships in a bid to foster social inclusion.

Mr Suraj, 28, is co-founder of Amber, an organisation formed in 2008 that involves youth in community projects. His then schoolmates from Anglo-Chinese Junior College and he wanted to do work to fight human trafficking after Mr Suraj visited slum brothels in Kolkata, India.

Amber has since evolved to holding conferences and workshops for students to learn about doing social good. The organisation is working on a book titled The Invisible Visible that will tell stories of migrant workers in Singapore. As part of its latest project, young people will interview 30 migrant workers, such as maids, construction workers and those in healthcare. Their stories will be edited into a book that Amber will publish in December. Proceeds from sales will go to migrant worker groups Home and Transient Workers Count Too.

"We want their stories to be dignified and inspirational," said Amber co-founder Shahril Hassan, 28.

At Mr Suraj's home yesterday, maids and youth interacted over food, gathering around tables set up at the front porch of the house.

The mood was jovial despite the midday downpour, with many of the women whipping out their phones for selfies, posing with the sunflower each of them was given when they walked in.

Ms Denise Phua, an MP for Jalan Besar GRC, also attended the event.

Institute of Technical Education student Yuvaraj Suppiah, 18, a self-described "problem youth", is one of the young Singaporeans working on the book. He got involved with it two weeks ago and said it has given him a new focus instead of spending his time at parties."It inspires me a lot and I feel more occupied," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 08, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore youth forge friendships with 'invisible' migrants'. Subscribe