Worker's Facebook page with collated news has over 51,600 followers

Bangladeshi migrant workers Omar Faruque Shipon (left) and Fazley Elahi Rubel.
Bangladeshi migrant workers Omar Faruque Shipon (left) and Fazley Elahi Rubel.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF FAZLEY ELAHI RUBEL, COURTESY OF OMAR FARUQUE SHIPON

Ask a Bangladeshi migrant worker where he gets his news during the pandemic, and the answer may well be a Facebook page run by Mr Omar Faruque Shipon, 32.

Called "Bangladeshi migrant workers in Singapore", the page provides Bengali translations of important news, including the Health Ministry's daily updates on Covid-19 cases or reports from media like The Straits Times.

Mr Omar, who is from Chandpur, Bangladesh, holds a degree in political science from the National University of Bangladesh and has been in Singapore for a decade.

He started the page "for fun" a few years ago, and it had about 2,000 followers then, he recalled.

Today, this has grown to over 51,600.

Many followers joined recently due to the pandemic, said Mr Omar. According to the page's audience data, its posts reached two million unique users in the past month, with nearly 60 posts.

Sometimes, he even posts short videos explaining current happenings in Bengali for those who may not understand it in writing.

"When I translate, I summarise and just take important points, so it's not too long to read," he said.

Managing such a page by himself is no mean feat, especially when he still goes to work daily as a senior safety coordinator in the marine sector, an essential service.

After he returns from work, he then spends three to four hours translating articles and information - and answering messages. His page also provides a mobile phone number and an e-mail address for readers to send him questions or feedback.

KEEPING WORKERS INFORMED

When I translate, I summarise and just take important points, so it's not too long to read.

MR OMAR FARUQUE SHIPON. FORGING BONDS


When (Singaporeans) see migrant talent, and this year perform together on the same platform, they will realise we are not just workers. It will bring us closer together.

MR FAZLEY ELAHI RUBEL.

Mr Omar said he replies to some 50 readers every day who ask him about various things, wanting advice about poor conditions in their dorms, to what to do if they have tested positive for Covid-19.

Where he is able, he will help them directly and if he cannot, he provides them with contact information for the authorities, or migrant groups like TWC2 (Transient Workers Count Too) and HealthServe.

Mr Omar is one of several migrant workers who have managed to help his fellow migrant workers virtually, at a time when their movements have been restricted to limit virus transmissions.

Fellow Bangladeshi Fazley Elahi Rubel, 30, who has been in Singapore for 11 years, started the annual Migrant Cultural Show in 2018, bringing together migrant workers from India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines.

This year, the show will go on - but virtually. Mr Rubel, who is a safety coordinator for a construction project, said he has a supportive boss who gives him the freedom to do so. He is in the process of planning this year's event over Zoom to be broadcast on Facebook.

It will be held on June 21 and feature around 15 performances over 11/2 hours, including song, dance, poetry and drama in both group and solo pieces.

This year, the show is named The Bridge because it will feature, for the first time, Singaporean performers alongside migrant ones.

The idea was sparked by a collaboration with Wimby (Welcome In My Backyard), a ground-up campaign launched to respond to the "not in my backyard" (Nimby) sentiments about migrant workers living near Singaporeans in housing estates.

Together with Wimby, Mr Rubel is also helping to hold online live discussions where workers share the issues they face, including poor living conditions and wages.

"When it comes from another Singaporean, they may not believe what they hear. Why not let us share our stories ourselves? We can tell our truth," said Mr Rubel, who has also helped migrant worker groups to distribute food and supplies to the dorms.

 
 
 

Neither Mr Omar nor Mr Rubel receives any compensation for their efforts, but for both, the ability to help their community is payment enough.

Combating misinformation is important, said Mr Omar. In the early days of the pandemic, he noted that some of his fellow workers shared messages claiming many Bangladeshis had died, and the Government was covering it up.

He uploaded a video to debunk the falsehood, and urged his fellow workers not to spread rumours and fake news. It is important for workers to stay informed, he said.

For Mr Rubel, the aim is to create understanding and awareness - a bridge between locals and migrants.

"When (Singaporeans) see migrant talent, and this year perform together on the same platform, they will realise we are not just workers. It will bring us closer together."


Correction note: This article has been edited for accuracy.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2020, with the headline 'Worker's Facebook page with collated news has over 51,600 followers'. Subscribe