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Behind the 'Bangla'

Anonymous and invisible, the Bangladeshi migrant worker is often merely a nameless face in crowded Singapore.

He is the construction or shipyard worker, the cleaner, the Bangla.

Could there be more to his story?

Three young Singaporeans travelled to Bangladesh to find out.

One of the trio, Bernice Wong, said the group “felt it was timely and necessary to expand the narrative” beyond “the deeply-entrenched image of them as low cost economic digits or cogs in our industrial machine”.

“We went to unearth what is it that they are working so hard for? Why do they put up with the precarious realities of being a migrant worker here? What are they fighting for?”

The three found that while the economic impetus is a very compelling one, it is just one facet of the workers’ identity.

Richly-textured

They came across the stories of an absent father of two young kids, a young man determined to go home to marry and build his own house, a valiant romantic who goes against social conventions and a missing eldest son who cares for his sick father.

“Through their stories, we realised how richly-textured their lives are,” Bernice said.

“Like us, they are fathers, sons, husbands, storytellers and dreamers too. On so many different levels and roles, they are like us. On a very fundamental level, we are all equals.

“We tell their stories not to romanticise or valorise them. We share them because we have been inspired and lifted by them, and we feel that many more could be similarly encouraged as well.

However, it does not stop there. We hope that this would compel you to embark on your own pursuits, write your own stories, and one day pass them on to others too.


Beyond the Border, Behind the Men is an initiative interested in uncovering more about the many migrant labourers that dot the Singapore landscape. It pays tribute to these “builders” of the country, and those they leave behind. It celebrates their resilience and human spirit. Watch the short film.

Pictures and text by Bernice Wong

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