Updated: Nov 12, 2020
As Singapore's Covid-19 infections surge daily among the army of migrant workers who keep the island running, the question the Ocean Purpose Project asked is "What can we do to help?"
The outbreak among migrant workers have seen many articles from several news outlets shedding a light on the plight of these workers, living among cockroaches and dirty toilets. Workers have also said that housing arrangements with 12 to 20 people sharing a room has made it impossible for them to keep a distance from each other. The largest cluster of infections in Singapore is the S11 Dormitory @ Punggol, with 2,263 cases as of 24 April 2020. All other large clusters are also linked to dormitories transmissions. Right now, there are 25 dormitories in Singapore that have been established as isolation areas.
Migrant workers residing in these dormitories are not allowed to go to work or visit other blocks within their dormitories. They are also advised to keep interactions with others to a minimum. They are not able to leave to buy food or basic necessities for themselves, and they have to rely on the government and other organizations to provide them food and basic essentials such as reusable masks and hand sanitizers. This is an extremely scary and difficult time for them, as not only are they away from their families, they are also being isolated from their friends and the outside world, unsure of when this will come to an end.
Migrant workers in Tuas dormitory with their haul of soaps, shampoos and shavers
The current plight of migrant workers is being tackled by the government but as Singaporeans, we should all pitch in to help, in whatever ways we can. COVID19 has also dragged many in the event and social impact industries into economic turmoil during the circuit breaker. Even so, Ocean Purpose Project is running initiatives with partners to take small steps in helping as much as we can. These migrant workers have worked so hard to help us build our nation, and now it’s our turn to say thank you and help them. We have two key initiatives to support migrant workers at this time- feel free to join us!
Food Packing Volunteer Initiative
Ocean Purpose Project is partnering with Mayura Catering to prepare and pack food for migrant workers, as well as Pandora Weddings who deliver the food to dormitories around Singapore. We put out a call on Facebook and Instagram last week seeking food packers who are Singaporean or Permanent Residents to join us and pack food for our migrant workers and we are very grateful at the diversity of races, faiths and backgrounds of people who stepped up to help us.
One of the most eye-opening experiences in working alongside our partners such as Mayura Catering is how a family comes together during a time of such crisis. The company is run by a patriarch and his two sons- Prakesh in the photo is one of them. From cooking to packing to loading up the delivery truck, he leads from all directions. In fact their entire extended family steps up to volunteer, humming along to Tamil songs on the radio and never once complaining or asking each other why should they do this hard work, why not leave it to others? After a shift, we all sit together and have a meal, yes the same one cooked for the workers. I've seen a lot of posts about other caterers sending spoilt rice and watery curries to the workers. Having eaten this food that is cooked right before my eyes, I compare it to the rich food at an Indian wedding. In fact, the chefs often tell me to add in an extra piece of chicken or fish here and there and top up the curry more saying in Tamil, "don't put so little, make them happy put a bit more." It's hard not to be emotional witnessing the power of caring for one another in the simplest action of being able to feed someone.
All of us began this initiative on 19 April 2020, packing over 1200 meals a day around the clock 24 hours a day to ensure that our migrant workers will not go hungry. (UPDATE: As of October 2020, this partnership sent 220,000 healthy meals with protein, vegetables, rice and fruit to migrant workers in Tuas South dormitory purely through collaborations) Our partners Mayura Catering and Pandora Weddings have also been kind enough to provide a basic allowance to cover transport and a complimentary drink and meal of rice and curry as a meal per shift.
The only part that makes us worry is the sheer volume of plastic packaging that is needed to fulfill such food orders. Our partners routinely tell us that plastic containers have gone up in price to as much as 50 cents a container. Supply chains and logistics are also a massive challenge as bioplastics are stuck in overseas markets and ports due to global lockdowns. In fact, even current plastic packaging is in sharp demand. Thinking of the amount of plastic wastage that is generated is truly a worry and we are also actively trying to get sustainable packaging partners to work with us as well as ensure government hygiene standards are in place. We are in a real quandary- provide meals that will feed thousands or worry about the plastic packaging those meals are packed in?
This initiative is running till June and if you have solutions to this problem we are facing or would like to be a food packer, email us via email@example.com or DM us on Instagram @oceanpurposeproject. Please support our partners when COVID19 is lifted and you are planning weddings again, Mayura Catering http://www.mayuracatering.com/ as well as Pandora Weddings https://www.facebook.com/pandora2morrows/
Donation of Soap, Shampoos and Shavers for our Migrant Workers
Seeing reports of the unsanitary and cramped situations in dormitories is truly heartbreaking, as practising good personal hygiene and frequent hand washing is crucial to decrease the risk of contracting the virus. In Singapore, cases among migrant workers in dormitories were soaring mainly because they had no access to hygiene products- they were not allowed to go out, shops within the dorms had closed. One migrant worker messaged me to tell me he had not bathed with soap for a month or even had a chance to shave and shampoo his hair because it was just not available. Being able to have a shave and shower with soap is not just a basic dignity as a human being to me, but in this pandemic is literally saving lives. I felt something had to be done and put a little soap donation box outside my door, messaging my neighbours to donate soap and shampoos to me.
The word spread like wildfire and every single household started leaving soaps and shampoos outside my door. My next door neighbour even started learning how to make goat milk and lavender soap from pinterest as a hobby just to "send them something nice". Friends from dragonboat teams, LinkedIn connections and production houses I worked for started sending Grab Deliveries and Lazada deliveries of shavers and toiletries to my house.
Musicians and events people who had lost their jobs started taking my posters and putting them up around their HDB estates, mobilising other musicians to join in. Among them Skye Sirena, Colin Yong, Michelle Yap and Phoebe Ong led the charge with many other musicians joining in- Amos Tadete, Benson Kong, Miin Tong, Miss Lou, Feng and Gen and many more took part. These were people who I used to sing and perform with in the most glamourous places in Singapore, now unable to perform for months, stepping out of their misery to step up and help others. It seemed as if everyone had found a way to forget the pandemic just for one short moment and think of something positive.
Our difficulty was in reaching out to the migrant workers in the dormitories as we did not have the contacts. Thus, Ocean Purpose Project teamed up with our fellow Singaporean social enterprise Soapcycling Singapore to help our migrant workers get access to basic hygiene products to stay clean and safe during this difficult time. We put out a call on our social media platforms for people to mobilise their communities and donate what they can of soaps, shampoos and shavers to donate to us. In the first week, we sent over 220 sets of soap, shampoo and shavers to migrant workers in Tuas and Punggol. The word spread among my journalist friends who had contacts within the dorms. From there music events company Highnotes Music came forward to donate logistics via their vans and trucks.
Dale from Highnotes Music was so inspired, the company purchased 3000 bars of soap and sent them to dormitories in Bukit Batok which are a stones throw away from their factory space. He has even called on all musicians in his company to take the step forward and donate their toiletries. Seeing the buzz generated on social media, iNOVA Pharmaceuticals Singapore and Zuellig Pharma came forward to send us 1600 shampoos. (UPDATE: As of October 2020, 5000 sets of soap, shampoo and shavers were delivered to dormitories around the island.)
If you want to volunteer in the soap initiative, here's what you can do!
1. Collect soaps, shampoos and shavers at home, spread the work and encourage your family, friends, neighbours and colleagues to do the same! Once you have collected a minimum set of 50 soaps, shampoos and shavers that are in good condition, you can arrange for grab deliveries to get all the donated items and send them to us! Please ensure that you have at least 1 full box of 50 items (or more would be great too!) and drop us an email us via firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us on Instagram @oceanpurposeproject to coordinate a pick up point for the items.
2. If you work with or know of any beauty and toiletries brands, companies or shops that may be willing to donate their products to support this cause, please ask them to contact us via email@example.com
3. If you prefer to donate money, please visit our partner Soapcycling Singapore to make a direct donation: https://www.soapcycling.org/singapore
4. You can help us spread the word of this campaign by sharing Ocean Purpose Project & Soapcycling Singapore’s posts on social media with the #soapforsingapore. Don’t forget to tag us @oceanpurposeproject too!
Who would have thought that soap and shampoo would be able to save lives- unfortunately this is the reality we are living in. The sooner we can get these hygiene products to our migrant workers, the better. Giving them access to basic hygiene products to stay clean and safe during this period is of paramount importance. These donations might prevent them from contracting the virus. After all, they have worked so hard to help us build our nation, and now it’s time for us to say thank you and support them during this difficult, trying time.
Granted, all businesses, startups and social enterprises are suffering and we are unable to continue with many of our usual business operations. As employers, the worry of cash flow, retaining staff and even wondering if our business or industry will be standing tomorrow is insurmountable. But if everyone bands together to work on projects and initiatives to help, we can interrupt this narrative of powerlessness. We can all do a LOT more together than going it alone by ourselves.
Now is the time to focus on WE projects and not ME projects, and who knows what good can come from such a terrible time. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let's make a difference together!