From a construction worker who spends his off-days teaching English, to a former domestic worker who volunteers at a shelter, they inspire us to make a difference.
Over half of our foreign workforce is made up of 587,000 foreign domestic workers and construction workers here in Singapore¹. Beyond just keeping our homes clean and building flats in our urban jungle, these individuals have risen up to give selflessly to their community and build bonds that impact, encourage and support their fellow members. We look at the lives of three amazing migrant workers and their giving journey below.
“I am a leader and I can encourage others”
Twelve years ago, Jofel, 39, came to Singapore to find work as a domestic worker.
Her journey hasn’t been easy. She was accused of a wrongdoing by her employers in 2018, prompting her to seek help at HOME (Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics), a charity that supports migrant workers suffering abuse and exploitation. HOME helped Jofel mediate her case, and also housed her at its shelter.
But thanks to Jofel’s upbeat “can-do” attitude, she was asked to become a shelter leader during her stay. Although it was not an easy task to support and care for the shelter’s 60 to 80 residents, she gamely took the role on.
Many shelter residents arrive traumatised and stressed, and have come from difficult situations. It was not easy to Jofel to learn to manage these situations, to be firm but patient and gentle. She even sought practical tips from YouTube on care and counselling, and observed how the other staff and mentors cared for others.
Jofel has learnt though, that taking on the role of a buddy and leader and sharing her own experience is the best way she can care for the shelter residents. The multi-tasker even works in HOME’s office to schedule appointments and has a first-aid certification – a skill that may come in handy as some residents pass out due to stress.
Ultimately, what drives Jofel is a desire to to pass on the kindness others have shown her by supporting those in similar circumstances like her. She will leave HOME and Singapore once her case is closed.
” Bad experiences and unkind people made me stronger; the love, friendship, empathy and humanity that I found at HOME empowered me, and writing about my wounds healed me… So keep the faith. Don’t let anything steal your dreams. “
JOFEL DOSANO VILLARUEL (39)
HOME Shelter Leader and Resident
“I can make a difference in my community”
Meet Daryati – a 37-year-old soft-spoken woman who has been working in Singapore for nine years as a domestic worker. She is a student at Aidha, an organisation that equips foreign domestic workers and low-income women with financial literacy and entrepreneurship skills.
When Daryati first enrolled with Aidha, she could barely communicate with others due to language barriers and her natural shyness.
Today though, she has found friends and mentors to share her life – and budding business ideas with. In fact, she lets on that her dream is to start a social enterprise in her hometown: A childcare centre where children from lower income families can come and learn as well.
It’s not all about making a living. Daryati is also passionate about making a community. Together with her mentor Celyn, who is an Aidha alumni, Daryati has started ground-up initiatives and events to build a sense of kinship among fellow domestic workers – these include meetups and celebrating festivals together.
Besides Aidha, Daryati also volunteers with the Foreign Domestic Helper Association for Support and Training (FAST), a community for domestic helpers who take part in weekly activities – from cooking classes to Zumba and Yoga exercises. Daryati’s role is to help integrate new members to the community by getting to know them, and just being a friend. If members need help in other areas – such as in their emotional needs or financial planning – she also takes the initiative to link them up with relevant organisations.
What gives her joy? Engaging with her community, and helping to grow it from strength to strength.
” Sometimes emotionally we get down, sad and disconnected. I would like to build a community and keep the people in my community and engage them. “
DARYATI WASTAJA (37)
Student of Aidha and Volunteer Leader
“I empower others with my knowledge”
Nazrul Islam, 34, from Bangladesh, has been in Singapore for 11 years and works in the construction industry.
If there’s one thing Nazrul believes in, it is that people can never stop learning. When he came to Singapore, not being able to converse in English caused Nazrul and his fellow workers to not reach their dormitories on time. This experience motivated him to constantly develop himself. So he picked up English classes and is now fluent in the spoken language. Since then, he’s not stopped learning. He once even offered to clean a shop at Sim Lim square after his night shift in exchange for them teaching him computer skills.
What’s special is that Nazrul also volunteers to share his skills with others during his precious time off. He runs English classes for fellow migrant workers at their dormitories on Fridays at 10pm, when they’ve knocked off work. He even gives public talks to encourage everyone to volunteer on a regular basis, with groundup Sama Sama – an initiative that empowers and advocates for migrant workers.
With his busy schedule, finding time to give back is a real sacrifice. But he does it because he believes in sharing his knowledge.
After all, Nazrul feels the best investment is in one’s education. While the payoff isn’t immediate, it will bear fruit in the longer run and uplift the community. In his words: “Self-development for migrants is worth the investment”.
“If I, a migrant who works 28 days a month and some weekends, can find time to volunteer, what about those who work a five-day work week, with weekends off?”
NAZRUL ISLAM (34)
Lead Workplace safety and Health practitioner, Volunteer Leader
It is often the power of a collective that outweighs the individual – as shown in the stories of Daryati, Jofel and Nazrul. They have been helped by the community and become givers who make a difference in others’ lives. Who is a part of your community? Does it only include your friends and family, or could it extend to those who have been left behind?