Bringing the spirit of community to our migrants
The upbeat jingle of Bollywood hits and the bustle of human activity has transformed a restful living quarters into a festival-like atmosphere.
There are some 3,000 smiling faces at a workers’ dormitory located on the northern tip of Singapore, with views of Malaysia across the Johor Strait. They queue to fill bags with fresh vegetables and fruit, while others wait for a free health check-up and bond over games.
Thanks to Project Chulia Street, migrant workers here look forward to these fiestas, where they can eat, have fun and socialise.
Project Chulia Street began in 2016, after co-founder David Goh visited a workers’ dormitory in Mandai and heard about the difficulties migrant workers faced in Singapore.
The organisation focuses on three aspects – nutrition, healthcare and learning – and brings the relevant resources to migrant worker dorms.
“I start to learn that these are the issues they [migrant workers] have, this is the difficulty, these are the reasons they are in Singapore, and it kind of worked in my heart to say, we’ve got to do something.”
David noticed that migrant workers tend to “live a separate life from the rest of us”, and wondered how Singaporeans could improve their lives.
It started off as a small project. Someone had sponsored barramundi fish heads. David rented a central cooking facility, and with a team of volunteers served up 500 plates of fish head curry.
Three years on, Project Chulia Street now organises large-scale fiestas, several times a year, to improve the well-being of migrant workers.
Corporate sponsors have made these events possible, says David. The businesses get involved and encourage their employees to volunteer, because they want to show their gratitude to the migrant worker community for its indispensable contribution to building Singapore.
“It’s a way for Singaporeans to express their Singaporean-ness, which is actually a lot more kampung spirit in a way,” says David. “We give opportunities for them to come and say thank you.”
Fiestas also provide a space for migrant workers and Singaporeans to interact, make friends and understand each other.
Ang Huan Ting, a volunteer with Project Chulia Street, had her first interaction with a migrant worker through a fiesta. “His name was Hassan, and he mentioned that out of the six years that he was in Singapore, this was the first time he was speaking to a Singaporean. And that really struck me,” she says.
Huan Ting believes that migrant workers are more similar to Singaporeans than previously thought: “They have hopes, they have dreams, they have ambitions. But perhaps they don’t have the chance to really showcase all of this.”
She says that everyone can do their part by treating migrant workers with care and respect, to make their experience in Singapore more enjoyable.
“I hope we can provide opportunities to be with them,” she says. “To build friendships with them, to invite them into our houses, and having a connection with someone in Singapore that will last a long time.”
This International Migrants Day, we honour the contributions, sacrifices and rights of low-wage migrant workers as they toil behind the scenes. Explore more of their stories here, and find out how you can support the dedicated communities giving back to them.