SINGAPORE: Corporal (NS) Muhammad Sufian Supardi was overseeing COVID-19 swab operations at Blue Stars dormitory in June when he received a phone call from his pregnant wife.
He had expected the call, but the message came as a surprise.
“She told me the doctor said that the baby is in good health and everything is fine,” recalled the 27-year-old.
“And she said: ‘Guess what? We are having a baby girl.’ I was surprised and shocked and happy at the same time.”
Ordinarily, CPL Sufian might have been with his wife at the check-up.
But the Police National Serviceman (PNSman) chose to temporarily stay away from his family for health and safety reasons, given that he had responded to the call for volunteers to be part of a Forward Assurance & Support Team (FAST) team at the dormitory.
“Sometimes I did feel that I am away from my family and maybe she needs me and I need to be there,” said CPL Sufian. “But when I think and relax (by reminding myself) … that this situation won’t prolong for so long.”
FAST teams, comprising officers from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Home Team, were set up and deployed to migrant worker dormitories in early April, as COVID-19 cases in those living quarters spiked.
The Home Team in particular oversaw the management of 21 purpose-built dormitories and two decant sites which housed more than 160,000 migrant workers. Their roles include attending to the essential needs of workers, implementing safe living measures and facilitating testing.
“(It’s) something new, and I wanted to learn more about this and do the best I can do to contribute,” said CPL Sufian, who works as a technician.
“I am the type of person who loves to go for challenges. My mind was like, okay this is something that I can contribute, what I can do to help the people there ... So I didn’t think so much and went for it.”
With the setting up of the MOM’s Assurance, Care and Engagement (ACE) group, the Home Team’s officers stood down from their deployment on Tuesday (Sep 15).
READ: How MOM’s new ACE Group intends to fight COVID-19 infections at previously cleared dormitories
For the 50 days that CPL Sufian was involved in FAST team operations, he would return home once a week for a few hours, but made sure not to have physical contact with his loved ones.
His mother-in-law is a dialysis patient.
“To her (my wife), health is also important, because she knows it is not just her but her mother as well. So she agrees with what I did,” said CPL Sufian.
“She was a bit sad but as time went by, she (got) used to it and was quite supportive ... She could understand that this is something once in a lifetime that I could contribute to the nation. So, she was okay with it.”
‘PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY CHALLENGING’
Station Inspector (SI) Sheik Ismail Mohamed Ashad was part of a different FAST team deployed to the S11 dormitory @ Punggol, which was Singapore’s largest COVID-19 cluster.
“Some time in early April, my management informed me that they required volunteers for COVID-19 related operations at the dormitories. And I thought I would volunteer for it because it was a nationwide crisis and I wanted to do my part,” he said.
“I did understand the health risk … (also) considering the fact that I am staying with my parents and they are elderly, and that I may have the chance of contracting the virus and may pass it on to my next of kin at home.
“But I also thought that I needed to do this, because I felt that urge that this is something I need to do for the nation.”
Describing the work as “physically and mentally challenging”, SI Ismail recalled how things were not easy in the initial stages.
“The first weeks were quite tiring, because we had to work long hours - sometimes up to 16 hours every day until we had more men joining us. And then we started to work shift hours, one day work and one day off.”
Given that he could speak Tamil, SI Ismail found himself being able to connect with some of the workers.
“I felt that I was able to gain their trust ... (During) my deployment, I got to see more and more workers approaching me and telling me their issues and their concerns and what was the help they required,” said SI Ismail.
Some of the workers’ worries included salary matters and their employment prospects, he added.
“They have concerns whether they still would be employed in Singapore, because ... nobody knows what's going to happen and when they are going to start work again,” said SI Ismail.
“There are companies closing down and all, they have doubts whether they will be able to work, whether they are able to go back to their country and they are also worried about their family members.”
SI Ismail was also able to leverage his experience as a senior investigation officer in the Singapore Police Force’s commercial affairs department when he helped a worker who was a victim of a bank phishing scam.
Having spent a total of about three months over two stints as a member of the FAST team at the S11 dormitory, SI Ismail considers some of the workers there as friends.
“I still keep in contact with some workers. Even last week, one of them called me just to check on me and say how are you, and he was just telling (me) how things are,” he said.
One particular instance that remains close to SI Ismail’s heart was when a migrant worker gave the team some Bangladeshi sweets on Hari Raya Haji.
Said SI Ismail: “It was quite touching, it made me feel that people appreciate the effort that we had been doing there.”