Award winners not resting on their laurels


Phase Two of Singapore's reopening following the drop in Covid-19 infections may have eased some worries about how to combat the pandemic. But the battle is far from over for migrant worker welfare activist Dipa Swaminathan and her team of dedicated volunteers.

"The types of issues now are different," said Ms Dipa, 49, the founder of the five-year-old non-profit group It's Raining Raincoats (IRR).

"During the circuit-breaker period we had grown men in tears calling us about not having enough food. Now we see more of these workers losing their jobs and facing work permit or salary issues. Many of them want to go home but are not able to or they don't want to go but they are forced to."

Ms Dipa, a Harvard-educated lawyer who works as assistant general counsel at Singtel, was among 31 people who were awarded this year's President's Volunteerism and Philanthropy Awards (PVPA) by President Halimah Yacob at the Istana last Friday. She received the Leader of Good award along with seven others.

"Over the past few months, I have seen many Singaporeans from all walks of life coming together to help others. It inspires me greatly to know that in the most difficult of times, humanity still prevails," said Ms Halimah during the ceremony. "This is why I have decided to dedicate this year's PVPA to recognising these unsung heroes who have given selflessly during the Covid-19 outbreak."

Organised by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, the PVPA recognises individuals and organisations that have achieved excellence in giving to the community. The award recipients made contributions in various areas such as food security, accommodation, procurement and distribution of medical supplies and dissemination of critical information.

Ms Dipa said it is "very gratifying and humbling" to receive the award, but there is still plenty of work for her and her team - which has grown from 10 volunteers to 501 over the past five years. "Even if they were paid the highest salaries, their work would have been just as impressive," she said.

The regular interactions with the migrant workers seeking aid have taken an emotional toll on the volunteers. But they try to help each other.

Another award recipient, Mr Anil David, helps another group of people who are often overlooked - former convicts.

Having gone to prison three times for fraud and criminal breach of trust, he knows their plight only too well.

"We have been employing quite a number of ex-offenders," said Mr Anil, referring to his social enterprise Agape, which was set up in 2012. It had only him and his wife in the beginning. Now there are 150 staff.

The Covid-19 circuit-breaker measures have greatly reduced the personal guidance available to ex-convicts for rehabilitation. The economic downturn has made it even more difficult for them to find jobs.

For the past six months, Agape staff members, who include single mothers and people with disabilities, have helped calm down distressed ex-convicts before directing them to trained professionals, including psychologists, counsellors and social workers.

In April this year, the company was given the big job of manning the National Care Hotline, set up by the Government to offer psychological aid and emotional support during the Covid-19 crisis.

Mr Anil is happy that he is one of the nine recipients of the People of Good award. "I was happy seeing how delighted both my daughters were," he said. "I had spent a long time away from them in prison, and seeing them excited about my work makes me really glad."

Mr Anil and his team have helped resettle 600 ex-convicts. He hopes to equip 1,500 more with work and life skills which would increase their chances of securing employment.

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