The thing about being on a doctor’s rest order is that it forces you to stop running around like a headless chicken, doing ever more things, and instead leaves you with time to actually, wait for it…*gasp*, think. Yes, that’s right. Another thing about being on a no-travel rest order is that unlike so many a National Day come and gone, I spent this one in Bali (2009), Kuching (2008), Bangkok (2007, 2006, 2005), Perhentian (2004), familiar ol’ Bedok, reflecting on what will be the twentieth year of my love affair with Singapore.
Twenty years ago today, this newcomer drew a birthday cake for her newly adopted country’s birthday, and in true-blue Singapore style, won a prize for it. And thus began our relationship. But as with all relationships, we’ve seen our fair share of ups and downs, extremes of intense love, and intense hate. And as it turns out, I’m slowly coming to grips with being the island girl with the blue IC whose traitorous heart, damn it, can’t help but swell to the tune of “Majulah”. So today, at home, with space to think, my thoughts turned to the “Magic of Marikita” (kudos to the ever spot-on Colin Goh for coining the term) – what it means to me and more importantly, what I want it to mean to me.
This time thirty days ago, I was admitted to Changi General Hospital. They didn’t have enough beds in the orthopedic ward then, and so I was initially placed in the Accident & Emergency Department’s observation ward, together with what at 1am, was about twelve other people. After the nurses, doctors and my friends were done fussing over me, utterly exhausted from the ordeal, I managed to get some sleep despite the persistent light and noise, only to wake up and find that while I had been sleeping, the ward had so completely filled up that access to my bed was now completely blocked by other beds. Of the three beds placed at the foot of my bed, two were occupied by migrant workers who appeared to have sustained injuries in worksite/industrial accidents. One guy was unconscious and wearing a cervical collar. The other guy was conscious but could only lie on his front because his back was in so much pain. Asked if anyone had accompanied him, his heartbreaking response was, “No one.”
No one. I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s a scary situation to be in. In pain, miles away from family and friends, terrified if you’ll have enough money to cover the medical fees, but most of all, scared of what will happen to you, and unable to find out the exact details of your situation because these people, they don’t speak your language, and you, you’re not all that proficient in theirs.
When I was doing the hospital admission paperwork, I momentarily fretted over the prospect of the hospital bills, but the hospital staff were quick to remind me about MediSave and MediShield, should all else fail. Over the next few days, my supportive, understanding employers told me to concentrate on getting better, and not to worry about finances; that they’d have everything covered. Today, a whole month after the accident, I’m still on medical leave, and a complete recovery of the use of my ankle is not guaranteed. Whatever the eventual outcome may be, I still have an income, and the job I love to return to. What of the two migrant workers who lay in that observation ward with me that morning though? Will their injury have permanent repercussions, and if so, will they have a job to return to?
Lying in the same ward with injured migrant workers – the people who’ve helped build our roads, schools, hospitals, offices, homes and countless other essentials, I worried about their welfare but felt powerless to help. The good people of The Cuff Road Project though, are doing something about it. A project by Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) and ONE (SINGAPORE), The Cuff Road Project provides daily meals to homeless and jobless foreign workers, workers who have had their employment terminated due to injury or whose errant employers haven’t paid them their wages. But a sharp increase in the number of migrant workers seeking food aid from the project is threatening the survival of the project. To continue the programme, the group launched an urgent appeal for funds from individuals and corporate bodies, stating in a press release last month, that:
“Some 450 men depend on the programme for their daily meals. But without new donations or grants, the project’s funding risks drying up within a month.”
Of course, a food aid kitchen isn’t a permanent solution to this problem, but that isn’t their aim. As Sha Najak, TWC2’s Communications Manager puts it,
“…as a charity, we would rather create an environment where migrant workers do not need our assistance.”
While they work towards such an environment, there are daily needs today. In the state I’m in, I can’t run over and volunteer my physical help, but I can and have donated funds for 100 warm meals with a little clicking at GIVE.sg. It’s not much, but it’s a start.
Mari kita… Come, let us…
Help each other do something, however much or little we can, to build the kind of community we want this to be.