November 15, 2020
Photos by: Bryan van der Beek | Words by: Audrey Leong

(Photo above) While most migrant worker visitors to the Terusan Recreation Centre were happy to relax after a filling meal, a handful of revellers decided to celebrate Deepavali by dancing in the multi-purpose hall to their favourite tunes on the PA system, provided by the Crisis Relief Alliance to help celebrate the holiday.

Three hours were all they had to celebrate the Festival of Lights. Covid-19’s preventive measures dimmed Deepavali’s usual celebrations by keeping migrant workers from their friends and loved ones outside their living quarters, they said. Still, they weren’t about to waste precious time fretting.

For roughly 300 gathered at Terusan Recreation Centre in Jurong during Deepavali celebrations run by the Crisis Relief Alliance (CRA) on November 14, those three hours would be the only holiday respite out of their dormitories, before they returned to work the next morning. Many of them walked to the celebration from their dormitories in the vicinity.

Good cheer prevailed. Hearty laughter accompanied packets of biryani and muruku donated by CRA volunteers, all washed down with beer.

“We’re very happy that people have come forward to give us food and care, but we wish that we had more time to rest and do our groceries,” said Mr Arun Pandian, 30, a worker from Tamilnadu, India.

Crisis Relief Alliance distributes food to migrant workers for Deepavali 2020

(Above) Volunteers from the Crisis Relief Alliance hand out briyani meals to migrant workers at the Terusan Recreation Centre on November 14, 2020 to celebrate Deepavali. Over 500 meals were given out over two days.

Gathered with four other mates at a round table, he pointed out that a lot of those three hours would be eaten up attending to Covid-related administrative matters, such as checking in and out of places, and completing grocery buys at overcrowded shops.

Another worker, in his 30s, who preferred to remain anonymous, said this year’s celebrations were bittersweet. 

“We’re not looking to complain, we just want to give suggestions. It’s hard when we end work late the day before our rest day and want to apply for a permit to leave the dormitory. It doesn’t come in time for us to go out to meet our friends and families outside the dormitories.

“We can’t wait for the day that we can go out and celebrate with our friends like many other Singaporeans on Deepavali.”

Volunteers bring cheer
As part of the CRA Deepavali celebrations, 500 boxes of biryani and muruku were distributed to the migrant worker recreation centres at Kranji and Terusan over two days.

Crisis Relief Alliance distributes food and hygiene products to migrant workers for Deepavali 2020

(Above) A CRA volunteer hands out mouthwash and masks as well as briyani meals to migrant workers visiting the Terusan Recreation Centre on November 14, 2020 to celebrate Deepavali.

In total, the team had prepared 10,000 care packs for distribution to about 80 other smaller dormitories in Singapore. Twenty volunteers from all walks of life gathered wearing masks and face shields, to assist in giving out the food and necessities. 

Ms Juriyah Yatim, one of the volunteers who was looking after the muruku table for the majority of the event, said that many of the workers were in good spirits.

The nurse in her 50s had been a part of the task force that monitored the Covid-19 situation within the migrant worker dormitories when the virus first broke out in Singapore. She had also volunteered for a Hari Raya event that CRA had previously organised.

“It really blows the mind when you think of how many migrant workers we actually have in Singapore. We don’t usually see them because they’re often staying in places that are off the beaten path.”
Dr Samuel Yeak, ear, nose and throat specialist helming the team of volunteers

“A lot of people came down from their dorms to attend the event. We’re so happy to be able to give out these goodies to them!” said Ms Juriyah.

Her co-worker and fellow volunteer, Ms Amy Lim, echoed her sentiments. Between giving out packets of Betadine mouthwash and masks, the nurse in her early 40s piped up: “We just want to be able to give them a small fraction of what they’ve given us.”

Both recreational centre events were planned within a week, with Dr Samuel Yeak, 57, a ear, nose and throat specialist helming the team of volunteers. Donations poured in from all avenues, including Allspice Institute, a culinary school, and Foochow Methodist Church.

Dr Yeak said with a chuckle, “I’m relieved that everything is finally coming together; it’s so meaningful to be able to bless them during this time.”

“It really blows the mind when you think of how many migrant workers we actually have in Singapore. We don’t usually see them because they’re often staying in places that are off the beaten path,” he said.

The festivities continued today at Kranji Recreation Centre.


 

The Storytellers

  • Bryan is still trying to figure a way to combine his three main loves. Can anyone help him figure out how to balance his whole family on a motorbike while riding and taking photographs?

  • A creative, curious individual, you can always find Audrey tinkering around the next big story. This is not her final form.

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