Giving Hope in Tough Times, Caring for Our Migrant Brothers and Sisters
Nearly two years on, COVID-19 continues to upend our lives. Everyone has deeply felt the ramifications, but our migrant workers are from one of the most impacted communities.
They face restricted movements, grapple with isolation, job uncertainties or unprecedented situations, causing them to experience feelings of despair, hopelessness or even loneliness. It’s not surprising that their stress, anxiety, or depression levels have heightened, leading to increased mental health concerns amongst them. Many are here alone without a proper support system, and they don’t always know where or how to seek help.
Despite it all, our migrant friends push on and contribute to the building and upkeep of our beautiful nation. Domestic helpers who live in our homes continue to maintain our households, taking care of our young and elderly.
Currently, there are around 850,000 migrant workers in Singapore. They have families and interests, and came here to build a better future for themselves and their loved ones.
So in the lead up to International Migrants Day, here are some ways we can all help to lift their spirits and improve the mental and physical well being of our migrant brothers and sisters.
Photo courtesy of HealthServe
What they Do: HealthServe is a medical NGO that provides affordable holistic healthcare and social assistance for the migrant worker community through medical and mental health programmes, casework, social services and other support services. By bringing healing and hope to the often-marginalised community, they seek to build a society where every migrant worker lives a life of dignity.
Impact: When COVID-19 hit the dormitories hard in early 2020, HealthServe pivoted its clinic operations to a hybrid telehealth solution that allowed its medical team of staff and volunteers to continue supporting the growing needs on the ground, which includes chronic disease management, dental services as well as rehabilitation.
Recognising that the pandemic was also causing a toll on workers’ mental wellbeing, HealthServe scaled up its mental health support offerings – from individual in-person and tele-counselling to virtual group intervention sessions. More recently in September, they launched Singapore’s first 24-hour crisis helpline for migrant workers, manned by trained staff and volunteers.
As a key member of the “Project DAWN” taskforce led by MOM to boost mental health awareness and support for migrant workers, HealthServe has been rolling out complimentary mental wellness education in the form of self-care webinars, peer support leader trainings and mental wellness workshops for employers. They continue to hold regular health and wellness-themed outreach and engagement initiatives like care pack distributions, excursions and health screenings at recreation centres.
How you can help:
- Support migrant workers’ healthcare needs by donating to HealthServe’s medical services today.
- HealthServe is on the lookout for volunteers in areas such as their Crisis Helpline (training will be provided), interpreters/ translators, and research volunteers. Proficiency in workers’ native languages - Tamil, Bengali, Mandarin, Burmese or Thai - will be a bonus. You could also connect with them on Facebook for more opportunities.
- Should you know of any migrant worker in distress, or anyone who wishes to seek assistance for migrant workers, call HealthServe’s 24-hour crisis helpline for support: +65 3129 5000.
Alliance of Guest Workers Outreach (AGWO)
Photo courtesy of Alliance of Guest Workers Outreach
What they Do: Alliance of Guest Workers Outreach (AGWO) partners with various NGOs, voluntary welfare organisations, government agencies, dormitories, businesses and religious groups to channel resources and services that aid migrant workers. AGWO seeks to provide our migrant workers with holistic care in a sustainable manner. Their goal is to provide our migrant brothers with a standard of quality we would want for ourselves.
Impact: During the 2020 circuit breaker, AGWO aligned itself with the on-ground needs of the migrant workers to cater programmes and initiatives that focused care in the areas of mental and emotional well-being.
Adopt A Dorm (AAD) was launched to encourage communities, organisations and corporations to connect and invest in a particular dorm. Through AAD, aside from providing migrant workers with essentials, AGWO also facilitates weekly visits for the volunteers to interact and socialise with them. Another AGWO initiative that builds on the importance of interpersonal connections is ifriend - a befriending programme that guides volunteers to get to know, care and respect migrant workers. Volunteers are encouraged to engage with their migrant friends through regular calls and, where possible, to meet with them at least once a month through AGWO facilitated arrangements. The AGWO volunteers are trained, by professionals, to identify mental health needs amongst migrant workers and direct them to counsellors.
On a larger scale, AGWO also organises weekly recreational activities for the migrant brothers to enjoy an afternoon outside of their dorm for a much-needed distraction. These weekly sessions include activities like the celebration of festivities, mental health talks, an afternoon of games, educational programmes, and religious services.
Overall, AGWO advocates the importance of human connection and interaction as the best way to help improve the mental and physical health of our migrant worker friends; this is at the core of every programme or initiative that they organise.
How you can help:
- Sign up to the Adopt a Dorm programme to help look after their physical and social needs.
- Join as an ifriend volunteer and make new friends. AGWO’s facebook page is also kept updated to highlight their weekly recreational activities, which provide many other volunteer opportunities.
COVID-19 Migrant Support Coalition (CMSC)
Photo courtesy of COVID-19 Migrant Support Coalition
What they Do: COVID-19 Migrant Support Coalition (CMSC) is a volunteer-run ground-up initiative that comprises local and migrant volunteers. CMSC focuses on protecting the welfare of marginalised migrant workers in Singapore by engaging and collaborating with not just the workers but also the dorm operators/employers, and the wider Singaporean local community.
Impact: CMSC provides support in the following areas: ground engagement activities, health and wellness activities, legal and casework support, as well as ground/policy feedback and community awareness.
Some of CMSC’s health and wellness programmes include WePals, WeTalk and WeGarden. WePals came about as a befriending programme during COVID-19 because more migrant workers were feeling distressed during the lockdown. What WePals aspires to do is connect migrant workers with Singaporeans so that through this friendship, the migrant brothers might open up about their struggles. The befrienders are then able to channel help their way. All volunteers are trained in psychological first aid and facilitator skills. If a befriender identifies a migrant brother in need, they can share the relevant support resources with them. This friendship helps build a safe space and fosters psychological support.
WeTalk is another befriending programme that organises fortnightly Zoom sessions, ranging from conversation to games and talent showcases. The objective is to foster cross-cultural awareness and community amongst Singaporeans and migrant workers living here.
Earlier this year, to promote greater mental health and better nutrition, CMSC launched WeGarden. This initiative empowered the migrant workers with nutrition and gardening knowledge and skills to plant their own produce. They could also go online to share their experiences and exchange tips with other fellow gardeners within the wider community - a great way to build bridges through shared interests.
How you can help:
- You can volunteer to be a WePal befriender or participate in the WeTalk sessions. Volunteers must be at least above 21 years of age.
- If you know of a migrant worker who is in need of a friend, you could direct them to the WePal Befriender programme.
- Drop them an email to find out how you can support or contribute to WeGarden.
Find out more: You can read OBW’s story on CMSC or visit their website.
Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME)
Photo courtesy of Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics
What they Do: Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) is a Singapore based charity dedicated to empowering and supporting migrant workers who experience abuse and exploitation.
Impact: HOME provides assistance based on its three-pillar goals: welfare, empowerment and advocacy. They provide refuge, food, medical care and counselling services for vulnerable domestic workers. These shelter residents may stay for a few days or over a year during this period of crisis. Their other initiatives include direct assistance via specialised helpdesks, educational and vocational training or free legal aid for all migrant workers. They seek to promote inclusion, justice, equality and dignity for all.
How you can help: HOME relies on support from the community. Your donations will go towards rebuilding the lives and restoring the dignity of our vulnerable members of society.