Volunteer groups keep up support for migrant workers in Singapore

Volunteers from Welcome In My Backyard handing out baked goods to migrant workers, on July 4, 2021. PHOTO: WELCOME IN MY BACKYARD

SINGAPORE - Efforts to support migrant workers here have not abated, even after the Covid-19 outbreak in worker dormitories has been quelled.

Volunteer-run groups like Welcome In My Backyard (Wimby) and Covid-19 Migrant Support Coalition (CMSC) told The Straits Times that they remain focused on integrating migrant workers into the Singapore community.

Both groups were set up last April during the circuit breaker, amid a surge of Covid-19 cases in worker dormitories.

On July 4, volunteers from Wimby delivered around 700 pieces of freshly baked goods to a worker dormitory in eastern Singapore as part of an initiative called Birthday Makan, to mark Wimby's first anniversary.

The items were provided by six bakeries, many of which were home-based businesses, and sponsored by members of the public.

Baked goods were chosen as they could be kept longer, and small businesses could also benefit from the initiative.

Wimby's media strategy lead Elly Chaw, 24, said the initial goal of 1,400 pieces of sponsored baked goods was exceeded, hitting 2,100.

The delivery of the remaining 1,400 pieces will take place at a later time.

Wimby's previous initiative last year generated 500 sponsored items.

"But we try not to be too fixated on the figures. Our goal is to reach as many people as possible to raise awareness and get more Singaporeans to care about migrant worker issues," said Ms Chaw, who works in publishing.

Wimby has around 40 volunteers, with five people in the core team, including Ms Chaw.

She said they hope to organise more in-person activities for migrant workers and Singaporeans to interact in a more "natural" setting.

"We've tried virtual events, but the engagement is not as organic as what you get with physical activities. Hopefully, with Singapore moving towards a Covid-19 endemic normal, we can organise events with more certainty," she added.

Sisters Tang Hui Ling, 23, and Hui Yi, 19, are co-founders of home-based bakery SugarBellySg, which was among the six bakeries involved in the initiative.

"We are grateful to be able to give back to the workers, many of whom do very tiring work like building our flats. We baked the brownies with love so hopefully they will feel encouraged by it," said Ms Tang Hui Ling.

A Birthday Makan poster with freshly baked goods ready for delivery to a migrant worker dormitory, on July 4, 2021. PHOTO: WELCOME IN MY BACKYARD

Another food-related initiative is WeEat, to let migrant workers taste Singapore fare and support hawkers hit by the pandemic.

Organised by CMSC in collaboration with Shabir Music Asia and 24asia, the campaign aims to raise $20,000 by the end of this month.

CMSC's head of health and engagement and co-lead Jewel Yi, 30, said that even if the target is not met by the deadline, with only $10,800 received so far, the group will still forge ahead.

Volunteers will put in bulk orders at hawker stalls, particularly those in the Central Business District with less footfall, and deliver the food to migrant workers.

To encourage more interaction, these workers will then share insights about their culture and cuisine with the volunteers, and vice versa, through an online programme.

"Running CMSC on a volunteer basis is not easy. We had hoped we could work ourselves out of the job and become redundant, but we realised that there will always be more to do," said Ms Yi, who works as an occupational therapist.

Ms Jewel Yi (far right) delivering Indonesian Chinese traditional green chili chicken yellow rice to migrant workers as part of the WeEat initiative. PHOTO: COVID-19 MIGRANT SUPPORT COALITION

At its peak last year, CMSC had around 700 volunteers, though the number has since dropped to around 200.

While migrant worker issues are "less trendy" these days and there is reduced funding, as compared with last year during the virus outbreak in dormitories, Ms Yi said, the core mission to raise awareness remains.

"We're not looking to provide one-off help for migrant workers, but we want to see how we can include them, a population that seems so far away, even though they are just in our backyard," she added.

Ms Yi is hopeful that friendships between these workers and volunteers will continue, with or without programmes.

"It's just like how you may not talk to your friends every day, but when you do, you can just pick up where you left off.

"We hope it's the same for the migrant workers, where they can talk to us about anything and get more access to help."

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