Compassion in a Crisis: Singaporeans with a Big Heart

This National Day, we celebrate Singaporeans who stand in solidarity with their international friends amidst the challenges of the pandemic.

Lockdowns and safe distancing might have disconnected humanity from international travel, but the shared bond of a friendship goes deeper than that. 

Another year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Singaporeans continue to stand with their friends in international communities by rallying support for the marginalised.

This National Day, we celebrate the hearts of Singaporeans who remain steadfast in showing compassion towards others, driven by the meaningful friendships they have formed. 

Helping a neighbour in need 

Project Goodwill Aid (PGA) is a local volunteer group that has been supporting needy Singaporean families and the elderly with practical aid for the past eight years. Their reputation, spread through word of mouth, led to increasing requests for assistance, especially during the pandemic. 

One such call for help came from a Malaysian transient worker who was stuck in Singapore when borders closed between Malaysia and Singapore last year. Though PGA were originally focusing on Singaporean communities,  a budding friendship between the worker and PGA founder Siti Nurani, brought about greater impact. 

What initially started with sending food packs to a small group of 70 to 80 transient workers quickly grew to 500 within a week. At its peak, PGA was serving 1,000 transient workers weekly.  Each food distribution round also became a brief befriending opportunity and with the regular support provided over the past year, more friendships blossomed. 

During a Hari Raya distribution drive in May 2021, Siti was welcomed into the home of a group of transient workers. Together, they shared heartwarming moments of joy and tears in the virtual reunion of these individuals and their families. 

“His wife just gave birth to his baby [over the lockdown], and he shared with me that he never got the chance to help his wife, and also to carry the baby. If I were to be in his shoes, I'd be sad as well,” says Siti. 

She reflects, “We must have family bonding. Even if we are not able to meet them personally, we have video calls, social media, and Zoom that allow us to interact directly with them.” 

Being able to witness such moments also fosters a sense of gratitude within her. “Even though it requires my time and energy, it is my passion to help those in need and also to get to know our transient worker friends better,” she shares. 

PGA has since incorporated helping transient workers in Singapore as a permanent routine to what they do. 

Currently, five Malaysian transient workers also volunteer their time and energy to help PGA with their weekly food distribution rounds across Singapore to return the kindness and help their fellow countrymen here.

Friendships beyond borders 

Ben Cheong and Wangchuk Rapten Lama met on a humanitarian mission during the Nepali Gorkha earthquake in 2015. Their friendship quickly formed over a mutual interest in helping others and deepened over the years. 

As the founder of Magical Light, a home-grown non-profit organisation, Ben has been involved in the work of providing education, healthcare, and humanitarian assistance beyond the shores of Singapore since 2012. 

His motivation and inspiration stem from his countless travel experiences and the people he has encountered. 

“Every connection I have in all the different countries is very important to me. I am very blessed in my journey to have met so many people.”

Ben continues, “Each project means a lot to me. I am able to feel how they feel, and what they are going through, and I know I am able to help or at least make a difference.” 

Even while the pandemic has disrupted international travel and brought about prolonged distress and anxiety, Ben continues to find ways to help vulnerable overseas communities through the connections and relationships he has fostered over the years. 

Wangchuk is one example. 

In mid-2021, Nepal’s capital Kathmandu went into lockdown due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, and Wangchuk was unfortunately unable to commute back to the city. Despite poor mobile connectivity in the rural village Wangchuk was in, Ben managed to get in touch with him and learnt of the dire situation in rural areas. “A lot of people are dying because there are not enough oxygen concentrators,” says Ben.

Right after that phone call, Ben acted swiftly to raise funds for medical supplies. He coordinated with Wangchuk to buy the much-needed oxygen concentrators in Nepal and deliver them to rural villages via a helicopter. 

Ben shares, “For me, charity is not about giving to them. It is about helping them. These two are completely different, and it’s very important to understand what charity is about.” 

Almost a decade into establishing Magical Light, Ben remains steadfast in cultivating friendships in the region and brings impact through the work he does. 

Building bonds in town

COVID-19 Migrant Support Coalition (CMSC) has been a pillar of support in the past year as various challenges arose in migrant worker communities due to COVID-19. 

CMSC’s initiatives look into the welfare of marginalised migrant workers in Singapore, and provides opportunities for local volunteers to lend their support and appreciation to this community. 

WeTalk is an example of one of their befriending initiatives which connect local volunteers with migrant friends through online chats. 

“It’s really nice to meet somebody different —  from another country, a different walk of life, a different age and varying experiences. But at the same time, we still find things in common to talk about. I think I’ve learnt a lot from him,” says Catherine K, a WeTalk volunteer, as she describes her interactions with Rakibul Hasan, a safety supervisor from Bangladesh. 

“Calling our migrant friends ‘brothers’ reminds everybody that we are all friends living in the same space,” adds Shermaine Tay, a fellow WeTalk volunteer.

As the three of them convene via a video call on Father’s Day, they share stories about their fathers and observe similarities across their different cultures. 

The social interactions also provide additional emotional and mental wellness support in a time when the world has been plunged into social distancing, isolation and being far away from loved ones.

“He’s a positive and bright energy to be around, and always so grateful about everything. It reminds me that I need to appreciate the little things more.” says Shermaine. 

Social solidarity during social distancing

While the world continues to cope with the evolving pandemic and find ways to live purposefully, the relationships that have formed between Singaporeans and their international friends have formed the bedrock for positive impact. Bringing people closer together in compassion, empathy and solidarity.

Shares Siti, “Even though we are from neighbouring countries, our hearts remain as one”. 

About Meet the Singaporeans With a Big Heart

Find out how to support the organisations and initiatives founded by these individuals

Project Goodwill Aid is a volunteer-led group in Singapore that provides practical aid to marginalised communities and transient workers living in Singapore.

Magical Light is a charity that has been providing education, healthcare, and humanitarian assistance to local and overseas communities for almost a decade. They are also actively involved in coordinating relief packages to underprivileged communities in Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Malaysia and the Philippines. 

COVID-19 Migrant Support Coalition (CMSC) is a volunteer-run ground-up initiative that protects the welfare of migrant workers in Singapore. Their focus is on providing ground engagement in dormitories, online engagement in mental wellness, as well as legal and case work.  


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