Volunteers step forward to help

 

V.K. SANTOSH KUMAR

Ms Mathilda D'Silva is unable to do any work from home because her social enterprise Ocean Purpose Project has ceased operations owing to the enhanced Covid-19 circuit-breaker measures.

"I cannot indulge in my pet obsessions such as ocean conservation and beach clean-ups," said the organisation's founder and CEO. "I'm also going crazy watching TV at home.

"I like to do constructive things all the time and so I have started packing food for migrant workers who are stuck in dormitories."

Every day she spends up to six hours packing food for the workers, some of whom are unable to leave their rooms following the Government's directive that all work permit and S Pass holders in the construction sector would have to stay in their living quarters until May 4.

The number of coronavirus cases among foreign workers staying in dormitories is rising.

"It's tiring work as six of us (volunteers) are packing 1,600 food packets at a time," said Ms D'Silva. "It has to be done properly because nothing can spill over. But I'm enjoying it because I'm serving the community and I believe this is the least I can do for people who are facing hard times during this pandemic."

The talented singer, a former Singapore Idol finalist, decided to join the food delivery project initiated by the Indian caterer Mayura, whose staff prepare the food. She and a team of volunteers pack it twice a day and the packets are delivered to dormitories in Tuas in time for lunch and dinner by Mr Balakrishnan Annadhurai, the owner of Pandora Tomorrow Weddings, and five of his friends.

"The workers get a nice meal of spinach dal, rice and fish or chicken curry," said Ms D'Silva. "It is sometimes the highlight of their day.

"I feel we are doing something purposeful. Our businesses are not running, but that doesn't mean we cannot help others using our resources. I feel happy when I realise that the workers are not anxious and go to sleep with their stomachs full."

Ms Vasanthi Ravi is another volunteer who - along with a group of friends - has been regularly delivering food packets to workers in dormitories in Mandai and Jurong since last Friday.

"We have been doing this for the past six years, pitching in with our own funds and delivering groceries and essential items to workers' dormitories every three months," she said.

"Earlier, we used to provide items such as sugar, oil and dal which helped them cook their own food. Now that individual cooking is banned, we are delivering snacks, soaps and detergents through a vendor."

Mrs Ravi interacted closely with foreign workers during a job stint at Jurong Island in 1997. "The living conditions are sometimes tough for them," she said. "The Government has done a lot for them and now the dormitories are well equipped and comfortable. But I still feel I should help them in any small way I can."

The decision to place foreign construction workers on stay-home notices took several of them by surprise when it was announced last Saturday. Many living in shophouses and shared private accommodations didn't know from where they would get their next meal as their employers did not have time to make such arrangements.

That is when Ms Deshi Gill and her team of volunteers from Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics stepped in.

"Some of the workers staying in shophouses in Geylang and near Mustafa Centre had no avenues to get food as their employers only provided accommodation," she said. "It was difficult for them as they don't have the resources to get food and medicines on their own.

"We identified 100 such workers and have been providing meals to them since last Sunday. A lot of people are giving us groceries and we are getting the meals cooked by kind-hearted souls. It would have been terrible if the workers were left to fend for themselves."

Many Indians in Singapore are doing their bit to help the migrant workers overcome the pandemic situation. The Government has extended the circuit-breaker measures until June 1 and the workers will not be able to move around freely till then.

Mr Ankur Bhatnagar, who runs the restaurant Haldi at Boat Quay, is utilising his kitchen and cooks to prepare meals for the workers at a minimum rate, while lawyer Sudhershan Hariram regularly posts on Facebook - urging people to donate and listing the different caregivers.

Three members of Seva Singapore, a charitable organisation, have been stitching 300 masks at their homes. "About 150 have already been delivered to dormitories in Punggol," said Mr Rajan Vadakkepat, its vice-president.

Ms Ranjani Rangan, a director at consulting firm CPA Partnership, has ventured to teach the workers "everything about e-remittances". "It will also help them understand how to pay for phone cards, sending money and ordering grocery online," she said.

She is also spearheading an initiative by Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society's alumni to provide a series of live dance and music performances.

"This has been on from April 20 and will continue till May 5," said Ms Rangan, who is SIFAS' assistant treasurer. "We have informed most of the dormitory operators about this series and hope it will provide peace and calm to the workers."

The High Commission of India too has been backing MOM's efforts to provide relief to the workers.

"I (along with Singapore ministers and MPs) have spoken to the Indian workers at different dormitories," said India's High Commissioner to Singapore Jawed Ashraf.

"I have told them to remain calm and assured them that the Singapore Government will take care of their salaries and daily needs. The High Commission also has a 24-hour dedicated helpline through which the workers can reach us."

Staff at the High Commission have been encouraging Indians in Singapore to help the workers through the right government channels. They have also relayed motivational messages from personalities such as film star Rajinikanth, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and musician Shankar Mahadevan to the workers.

"We are well looked after at our dormitory (PPT Lodge 1A at Punggol)," said construction worker Sekar Ramesh, who is from Pudukottai in Tamil Nadu. "I understand that some of the food we get is provided by Indian groups and individuals. This is much appreciated.

"I am not worried that we will run out of food or personal items. My only fear is the virus. I don't know for how long it will last."

 santosh@sph.com.sg

"The workers get a nice meal of spinach dal, rice and fish or chicken curry. It is sometimes the highlight of their day." - Ms Mathilda D'Silva

 
 
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