SINGAPORE: Ground-up initiatives have sprung up to help foreign workers who have been affected by Singapore’s "circuit breaker" measures that are aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.
COVID Migrant Support Coalition, an informal group consisting of volunteers from Geylang Adventures, ItsRainingRaincoats, Singapore Migrant Friends and Migrant X Me, has been distributing lunch and dinner packs since Tuesday (Apr 7), when the measures were implemented.
On Thursday, they handed out S$2,178.50 worth of lunches and dinners - 254 packets each round - to eight locations, according to numbers collated by Geylang Adventures founder Cai Yinzhou.
Under the measures that came into play on Tuesday, foreign workers not staying in dormitories designated as isolation areas are allowed to leave their places of residence to purchase essentials.
READ: ‘Dedicated strategy’ to break COVID-19 spread in dormitories, including housing healthy workers in army camps
But without clear directives, some of these workers are worried about leaving their premises, while others have been told by their employers to stay inside, said Mr Cai, who is spearheading the effort to hand out the meals.
News reports stating that foreign workers are prohibited from leaving their dormitories have further drummed up the unease among the workers, he added.
Most of the coalition's beneficiaries are currently housed in factory-converted dormitories or temporary housing quarters on worksites, which are typically ran by the company that employs the workers living on-site, Mr Cai said.
These are different from the 43 purpose-built dormitories that house about 200,000 workers. These purpose-built dormitories are currently being co-managed by Government officers who have been deployed to work with their dormitory operators to run the places.
Five dormitories have been declared isolation areas, in which workers are not allowed to leave their dormitories for 14 days. The Government has stepped in to provide meals for the workers.
READ: Singapore reports a record 287 new COVID-19 cases with more than half linked to dormitory cluster
But for workers who live in factory-converted dormitories or temporary housing quarters on worksites, it is a different story.
Workers who need food will be referred through Singapore Migrant Friends, an informal organisation of foreign workers, who then inform the volunteer food distributors.
Besides transporting meals, the volunteers will use donations from members of the public to purchase other essentials, such as eggs, toilet paper and soap that will then be delivered to the workers. Some individuals have came forward to donate these items as well.
Other NGOs have been jumpstarting their own projects to help workers during this period.
From next week, SDI Academy is planning to give out at least 2,500 welfare packs that contain hand sanitisers, rice, oil and face masks.
It is currently collecting donations and putting the bags together, the organisation’s chief executive Sazzad Hossain said, and the packs will be distributed to workers living in factory-converted dormitories.
Separately, ItsRainingRaincoats is looking to hand out about 1,000 SIM data cards to workers, its founder Dipa Swaminathan said.
“We think that they need some form of entertainment when they're stuck in their rooms,” she said.
"Even though there's free wifi, (the system could crash if) 30,000 guys … have to get on it at the same time."
Project Chulia Street is aiming to raising S$358,620 this year to distribute care packets, containing items like soap and a prepaid phone card, to 43,000 migrant workers.
The organisation's managing director Lee Shaun Tzen said that they will distribute the packs to partner dormitories under Westlite Accommodation and North Coast Lodge, as well as those who have been relocated to alternative sites.
Mr Cai emphasised the need to address migrant workers’ mental health during this period. Volunteers from the informal coalition have been producing 15 minute to 30 minute educational videos that workers can access online. These include language tutorials and lessons on photography and art.
“The workers are unoccupied now and lack meaningful engagement,” he said.
“They may be okay now, but they will get restless after a while,” he added. “Being confined with 10 to 20 workers will have a huge mental impact on them. An idle mind is a dangerous place.”
Additional reporting by Ruth Smalley.