Masks, mats and more

SINGAPORE – Up to thousands of volunteers joined ground-up initiatives in April to help when dormitories went into lockdown, providing workers with everything from masks to prayer mats.

But many groups are unsure if they can keep up their efforts, due to falling donations and fewer volunteers. Others have found solutions such as applying for grants or converting into a social enterprise.

Existing NGOs that have worked more closely with each other said they hope to collaborate more with the Government to come up with long-term solutions for workers.

Ms Amy Kua, 38, co-founded The Helmet Project in April to send items such as masks, prayer mats and electric kettles to migrant workers.

Her group of 10 neighbours from Block 138 of Lake Vista condominium in Jurong had to scale back their efforts when donations of cash and kind plunged by 70 per cent in August. They have now stopped collecting donations but all-up collected about $8,000.

Instead of three times a week, they make deliveries every fortnight. One delivery helps about 500 workers and costs up to $1,500 in donations.

“People think the workers can return to work already,” Ms Kua said. “But some still cannot.”

In April, Mr Jason Leow, 40, co-founded translation initiative VisualAid, which has about 20 volunteers, to illustrate visual cue cards with healthcare terms and translations in six languages, including Bengali, Tamil and Myanmarese.

Doctors and nurses used the cards to ask workers who might have Covid-19 about their symptoms or to give instructions for a swab test.

But the efforts have slowed down. “Recruitment of new volunteers is difficult because it is hard to find people to translate languages like Myanmarese,” said Mr Leow, a web design entrepreneur.

Another group was the Covid-19 Migrant Support Coalition, made of volunteers from existing NGOs Citizen Adventures, Singapore Migrant Friends, ItsRainingRaincoats and MigrantxMe.

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One of its lead coordinators, Mr Cai Yinzhou, said the coalition, which provides workers with immediate needs from meals to mobile phones and mental health support, would downsize depending on donations received. As of September, the campaign had raised $834,000 of a targeted $1 million.

“The donations have slowed to a trickle,” he said. “At some point the one million crowdfunding campaign will run out of money.”

Owner of stainless steel company Brooklynz Stainless Steel, Mr Kabir Hossain, 39, hopes to continue providing free grocery deliveries to workers who order them through a mobile application he co-created in May called the Brooklynz Community Support.

“Their salary is already low,” he said, explaining: “Their dormitories are also far, if they order things like GrabFood, the delivery cost will be high.”

Customers purchase groceries from shops along Serangoon Road through the application, but are not charged for the deliveries. Four of Mr Kabir’s employees buy and deliver goods, but since June they have had have less time to do so.

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Another initiative, Contribute Sg, is run solely by Mr Jonathan Tan, 34, who gave out care packs of masks and sanitisers to 10,000 migrant workers, the elderly and special needs children.

The web design entrepreneur hopes organisations like the Youth Corps Singapore, which helped with packing, and the National Private Hire Vehicle Association which arranged private hire drivers, will continue to be involved: “The best way to sustain is to collaborate – I would not have been able to do so many deliveries if not for everyone,” he said.

NGOs noted there is a need to better coordinate efforts and avoid wasting resources.

President of non-profit TWC2 Debbie Fordyce said that as multiple NGOs and individuals were giving out meals to workers in Little India, some men collected as many as three packets of food for a single meal.

“It was almost impossible to coordinate everything so it was not the fault of the NGOs. They were just doing the best they could,” she said.

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In February, NGOs and activists worked together through a WhatsApp group. In April, they also held regular meetings via Zoom to identify overlaps.

In April, the Inter-agency Taskforce also worked with NGOs, businesses and individuals to donate food and other items such as backpacks and soap to migrant workers. The coordination was led by Minister of State for Manpower Mr Zaqy Mohamad.

Some NGOs involved include the Alliance of Guest Workers Outreach, Covid-19 Migrant Support Coalition and Migrant Workers’ Centre.

Managing director of non-profit Project Chulia Street Shaun Lee said: “I was grateful for the collaboration because we made sure all areas were covered.”

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