When the number of COVID-19 cases started escalating in migrant worker dormitories, healthy workers were quickly moved into various facilities such as refurbished HDB blocks in Redhill Close and Yung Kuang Road, so they can continue to deliver essential services such as cleaning and facilities management.
Enter Welcome In My Backyard (WIMBY), a ground-up, volunteer-run initiative which aims to welcome migrant workers into the local community.
(L-R) Ethel, Nicole, Nicholas, and Michelle are WIMBY volunteers
Reaching Out with Heart
“One of the first designated rehousing sites was in my neighbourhood at Redhill Close. I started volunteering with WIMBY after learning about the ‘Not-In-My-Backyard’ attitudes towards the rehousing of migrant workers in residential estates,” says Ethel Pang, a 22-year old undergraduate.
Ethel now co-leads a team which runs programmes that help foster positive relationships between residents and rehoused migrant workers. Their activities include sharing sessions with students from schools near re-designated housing sites, and delivering care packs to migrant workers with the help of youth networks.
WIMBY collaborated with residents from Taman Jurong Youth Network to deliver care packs to migrant workers housed at Yuan Ching Road
21-year-old Nicole Nazareth is a WIMBY ambassador who lives in an Yishun neighbourhood where a temporary dormitory was recently built. After reading and hearing the negative news surrounding migrant workers, the undergraduate was motivated to help debunk stereotypes about them.
“There were negative reactions, with some calling the dormitory an ‘eyesore’. I explained that migrant workers are also part of our community and after our conversations, my family and friends better understood the lived realities of migrant workers. I’m glad to be able to provide them a different perspective on the issue,” she says.
Creating a Welcoming Presence
‘Welcome Notes’ is another initiative under WIMBY, where supportive messages from residents are collated and translated by volunteers, then delivered together with care packs to migrant workers. To date, more than 800 Welcome Notes have been collated and translated, with over 1,700 copies of the notes delivered.
Welcome Notes are translated to different languages, including Tamil (as pictured)
“Notes of encouragement help lift spirits, especially during challenging times like these,” says 24-year-old undergraduate Nicholas Oh, who leads the initiative. He also says the community has been supportive, citing two stand-out incidents—an Ulu Pandan resident who volunteered to deliver the notes personally; and a Redhill Close resident who came by with food and drinks for the migrant workers.
In turn, migrant workers are glad to receive the Welcome Notes, which included heartfelt words of appreciation. “It’s a good initiative,” shares 25-year-old Islam Rockybul, a construction site safety coordinator. “It makes us feel happy as the notes are from the local community.”
Migrant workers who have received the Welcome Notes
Dispelling Negative Attitudes Through Increased Awareness
WIMBY also conducts virtual dialogue sessions, called #BackyardConversations, which discusses various topics related to migrant workers, from inclusion and how society views them, to the living condition in the dormitories.
WIMBY usually invites residents, migrant workers, and professionals—such as an academic on immigration and society, or a lawyer who has represented migrant workers in injury compensation claims pro bono— to be part of the panel.
#BackyardConversations encourages constructive conversations about the various issues that migrant workers may face
“We hope to provoke deeper thought on issues that migrant workers may face through these conversations,” explains Michelle Yeo, a lawyer and core WIMBY member. The 31-year-old witnessed negative attitudes towards migrant workers whilst growing up and now wishes to dispel them and raise awareness of the issues at play.
Michelle says the community has been receptive, and #BackyardConversations has even spurned initiatives inspired by the dialogues. For example, an audience member created jewellery inspired by one of the panels and donated the proceeds to WIMBY. “I’m deeply moved by the reactions to our sessions,” Michelle shares. “It’s heartening to see how our efforts have resonated with Singaporeans on an emotional level.”