June 7, 2021
Photos and words by: Tan Jean Hann
(Photo above) Siblings Peace and Daniel Lim, 18 and 15, pitching in to distribute items at the International Migrants’ Day cum Christmas event organised by Crisis Relief Alliance in December 2020. The two continue to help out even now, through the school term, especially in the busy lead up to festive occasions.
It didn’t take much for Peace and Daniel Lim to slip into crisis relief mode when pandemic restrictions sent most everyone else indoors for two months last April. They’ve since sustained their work over the past year, ramping up efforts especially ahead of festive occasions.
Then again, the siblings, aged 18 and 15 respectively, are experienced volunteers, having accompanied their parents — social worker, Ms Ong Bee Yong and medical doctor, Dr. Michael Lim — on multiple trips to six disaster-hit countries so far.
In fact, Peace was three months old when she went with her family to Bam, Iran, on a five-month stint to assist those affected by the 2003 earthquake. Her younger brother Daniel was seven when he went to Cebu, Philippines, after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, where he helped children there with simple balloon sculpting activities.
All four are active volunteers with the Crisis Relief Alliance (CRA), a not-for-profit organisation providing post-disaster relief to neighbouring countries. With the Covid-19 pandemic, CRA turned its attention homeward, primarily focusing on the needs of migrant worker communities.
These restrictions hit the migrant worker community especially hard. By the middle of April 2020, all dormitories were gazetted as isolation areas, and migrant workers were under strict orders to keep to their rooms.
So on April 7, 2020, as Covid-19 infections sent Singapore into Circuit Breaker mode, their parents immediately joined other CRA medical volunteers at dormitories to conduct needs assessments, and provide counselling services and medical support. Meanwhile, others in the CRA team got involved in the delivering of food and supplies to the dormitories every day.
It would take another five months to finally stabilise the situation and contain the outbreak in the dormitories, and it was not until early November 2020 that a majority of workers were finally given clearance to safely resume work.
Once restrictions eased in June 2020, they got involved in packing and distributing items at dormitories and Kranji Recreation Centre over those months.
(Above) The Lim siblings, Daniel and Peace, see their contributions to the migrant worker community as going beyond pandemic assistance, but helping them feel welcomed into the larger Singapore community.
The helping others principle
“Helping others” was a phrase that was deeply ingrained in them as children. In the Lim household, said Peace, a year six student from Anglo Chinese School (Independent), it was part of everyday conversation.
“For my parents, these relief trips and projects were opportunities to teach us exactly that. And they would make sure that we were actively involved and participating in the process, not just watching by the side.”
“Our parents didn’t ‘force’ us to volunteer,” said Peace with a laugh. “I really wanted to come, because I felt that it hasn’t been easy for the migrant workers, with Covid-19 and being confined to their rooms. I wanted to give back and help them, and at the same time also show my appreciation for all the work they’ve done in Singapore.”
The siblings have been volunteering for close to a year now. During the school term, they will head over to the packing centres at least fortnightly, during weekends. But in the lead up to festive occasions such as Deepavali and Christmas, they go almost every day to pitch in, packing the influx of donations to migrant workers.
The latest surge in Covid cases has since put a damper on CRA’s plans for a Hari Raya onsite-event at the recreation centre. But if there is one thing that the last unpredictable year has taught them, is to be adaptable to swift changes. The work still continues. The last few weeks have been busy for the Lim siblings, as they jumped right back into packing and delivering of goodies to several small dormitories once again, just in time for Hari Raya.
Though the current work echoed in some ways with their past overseas volunteering experiences, they found added significance in helping a community that “we see almost everyday in Singapore, yet hardly mix and interact with at the same time.”
To the Lim siblings, their work was not just about providing assistance through the pandemic, but to also “help the migrant workers feel part of the larger Singapore community, and feel welcome here”.
Catching glimpses of the dormitory conditions and hearing directly from the migrant workers has been for them eye-opening and humbling.
“Many of them don’t have much, because they send most of what they’ve earned back home,” said Daniel, a secondary three student from Fairfield Methodist Secondary School.
“Once, we were distributing blankets, and a few of them asked if we had pillows or bolsters instead, which we didn’t. But they were still appreciative of what they received and there were no complaints. It made me realise how privileged we are, and that we really do take many things for granted.”
With CRA’s plans to continue their migrant engagement work for the long-run, the Lim siblings are likewise committed to support these efforts.
Peace notes that she doesn’t have to look to faraway causes to make a difference. “I’ve learnt to open my eyes and look around me to see who I can help and reach out to here at home in Singapore.”
It could also just simply mean greeting and being friendly to the migrant workers we meet, which is something that she now actively does. “They’ve come all the way from their homes and stayed in Singapore for a long time — some for 20, 30 years even, but we hardly talk to them or show our appreciation to them. But they are really approachable and willing to talk to us, with so many stories to share.”
Her brother added: “Not everyone may be physically or financially able to go overseas to volunteer, but it doesn’t take much to just say hello to the migrant workers we see everyday. It’s something that each person can do to help bridge the gap between our two communities.”