What inspired you to get started on this work at Migrant X Me?
I was based in Seoul, Korea for the past few years – studying, working and living away from home. Even though my job as a full-time designer was stable, I wanted to do something with purpose and grow in my creativity. In 2018, an opportunity came to help with the conceptualising of Migrant X Me’s branding when the organisation was still starting out. It was through this experience that I saw how design can be used for good and have the power to impact others! That was my first exposure to the work at Migrant X Me.
What is the most challenging part of the journey so far? What was it like for you when you decided to pursue this as your full time job? What were your considerations and fears, if any?
I am trained as a graphic designer, so although I am experienced in communicating through visual design, I am not the most well-trained in speaking. On top of the creative special projects at Migrant x Me, my main role is in building partnerships with schools and organisations to run our educational programmes that reach and impact youths. Thus, I was worried if I could do my role well. Fortunately, I was glad that there was support from Migrant x Me where I was able to attend trainings in communication by an external trainer who is constantly guiding me and providing practical tips on how I should pitch my presentations.
Share one or two moments / experiences that you feel have been most meaningful.
One of the most meaningful experiences was when I was collating some of the students’ post-programme feedback. A Primary 4 student shared that our sessions helped her realise that migrant workers actually contributed so much to the economy and country. It was fulfilling for me to see how the content we curate and design impact and change the perspectives of the younger generation towards the migrant worker community.
Connecting with migrant workers is probably the furthest thing from most Singaporeans’ minds. What drives you to keep doing the work you do? Share with us your motivation.
When I came back to Singapore in 2019, I remember an interaction with an injured migrant worker who shared about his struggles after he was injured. I remember empathising how helpless he must have felt not knowing what to do and being alone in a country that does not speak his language. I wondered what my role was as my heart for the migrant community grew. For foreigners working and living away from home, being in an inclusive and welcoming society would have made a difference to the well-being of an individual.
Tell us about your family and friend’s reaction to you doing this work full time + Who is your role model and why?
I am fortunate to have grown up in a family where both my parents are very supportive of my brother and I pursuing our dreams and passion. So, when I made the decision to pursue the work full time, my family was very encouraging! Since I was already volunteering with Migrant x Me’s from 2018, they were also already aware of the work we were doing. Similarly, my father is also working part-time with our partner NGO, SG Accident Help Centre, that assists injured migrant workers.
In that sense, he is my role model. Unlike the stereotypical asian father who is strict and a man of few words, my father is the complete opposite! He is very easy-going, generous with such a big heart for people, including the migrant worker community, and he never complains no matter how difficult things can get. He really sets the example for me to be compassionate towards others so I am grateful that he has embodied these values that have framed my attitude and heart towards everything that I do.
Many people feel that migrant workers are here because life here is better compared to being back in their home country, hence their decision to be here. There is therefore no need to do more for them. What would your response be?
It is accurate that migrant workers leave their home country seeking to earn more to support their family financially. But whether that happens and how it happens, should be looked at more. For example, their agent fees – many Bangladeshis pay exorbitant fees just to come to Singapore before they officially start work. “In 2016, TWC2 conducted a pilot survey which showed that first-time Bangladeshi construction workers in Singapore pay an average of $15,000 in recruitment costs, and require an average of 35 months of work in Singapore to pay off the debt.” (TWC2 Research Report 2020: End Injustice in Migrant Workers, 2021, p.7) Meaning that the money that is remitted directly back to their families at home might not be immediate once they get their first pay.
Additionally, that does not discount the way they are treated here in their workplaces or even within society. They are financially better off, but physically, psychologically, emotionally, mentally, are they really better off than being back home? How welcoming are Singaporeans towards them? Like the FB video that went viral in 2019, that shows a Singaporean uncle scolding and chasing away a foreign worker who was resting under the HDB block. This NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) attitude is still prevalent in our society even though migrant workers are the people who are very much in our backyard cleaning our estates, painting our flats and building the homes we live in.
What are two things you would like to address in Singapore, with regards to migrant workers?
1 – Although our migrant workers come from a different cultural background, at our core we are all human and desire the same things, love, connection, friends and family. And so if everyone remembers and understands that they are also human, I believe that the segregation between Singaporeans and the migrant community will be lessened and they would be treated equally with more dignity, kindness and love.
2- Each and every one of the migrant workers are someone’s son, father and brother who have sacrificed their life with their family to come to Singapore to work. If we put ourselves in their shoes and imagine if our own family members are the ones facing such treatment while working in a foreign country. We would definitely feel angry and sad and would not want them to be treated this way. So I hope that more and more Singaporeans will come to appreciate and respect the migrant community who have contributed so much in building the homes and buildings that we live and work in.
Having gotten to know migrant workers and made friends with them, share with us some things that we should know about them?
During festive seasons or birthday celebrations, my dad and I will gather and celebrate with the Chinese workers at our partner NGO. From the conversations, they would share fondly about their lives and how much they treasure quality time with their loved ones.
One of the Chinese migrant workers, Zhong Zhu, stood out particularly to me. Having been an injured migrant worker beneficiary from the NGO himself, he uses his own stories to encourage and help other workers who are going through a similar situation. On his off-days, instead of resting, he will volunteer at the centre, cooking for the other workers and providing a listening ear for them; they carry such a resilient spirit despite having gone through their own challenges and struggles! Their strength and sense of empathy towards others is really admirable and something that we can all learn from.
What does thriving look like to you?
To me, thriving is just like how a plant needs the right environment to grow; the right soil, amount of sunlight and water. Every plant is also different and unique in their own way, some have flowers, some only have leaves.
If we provide an environment that is filled with kindness, inclusiveness and mutual understanding, any individual, whether a local or a foreigner, despite how different we are, will thrive.