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S'poreans give back to foreign workers

HEARTFELT THANKS: Ms Mahita (back to camera) handing out an apple to a foreign worker in Bukit Timah. The housewife has been giving out fresh fruit to foreign workers in her neighbourhood once a week, for the past six months.
S'poreans give back to foreign workers

REACHING OUT: Hwa Chong Institution students, including Edward (with orange shoes), at a beach outing with a group of foreign workers on Labour Day last year.


    Sep 25, 2015

    S'poreans give back to foreign workers

    ONCE a week, housewife Mahita Vas gives out fresh fruit to foreign workers she spots in and around her neighbourhood in Holland Village.

    She hands out the fruit, along with a "thank you", to small groups of foreign workers hard at work in the HDB estates, by the road or near construction sites.

    The 53-year-old has been going on such rounds for half a year and has reached out to at least 100 workers so far from countries such as China, Bangladesh and India.

    She had been inspired by a stranger's Facebook post in March that cited a report on poor nutrition in foreign workers' diets, encouraging people to give out boiled eggs to such workers.

    The post was uploaded by Leong Ching, who works at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

    Dr Leong, 46, told My Paper that she had been distributing eggs to foreign construction workers for a few years.

    "I think reaching out to people who need help is important, local or foreign. And food is a very easy, natural thing for me," she said.

    Dr Leong's Facebook post resonated with netizens, some of whom offered other ideas.

    Said Jacqueline Koh: "My mum freezes water in plastic bottles and hands them out. Ice takes time to melt, and the workers get chilled water over a one-hour period."

    Ms Mahita chooses to give out fruit, chocolate milk or cakes that she baked. She has spent about $250 so far.

    "Fresh fruit keep for longer and are easy to consume on their own, at any time," she said. "I'll buy 10 or 20, get a few plastic bags and pass them to men working in small groups (of four to six)."

    The reactions from the workers have been positive, said Ms Mahita, and this proved true when My Paper accompanied her on one of her rounds in Bukit Timah on Wednesday.


    Some of the workers were initially hesitant to accept the gifts, but once they were told that it was to thank them for their contributions to Singapore, their faces broke into broad smiles.

    One Indian national, Balanivel, who goes by a single name, had been reflooring the lift lobby at Block 21, Ghim Moh Road, when Ms Mahita passed him some oranges.

    The 32-year-old's initial bewildered look was soon replaced with a huge grin and he happily took the bag of oranges.

    Mr Balanivel has worked in Singapore for 10 years, but said this was the first time he has received anything from a stranger.

    Asked how he felt, he struggled to answer before bursting into laughter.

    "Very happy," he said, thanking Ms Mahita profusely.

    The encounters were brief enough not to be disruptive, and the workers could put the fruit aside to eat later, although most of those given apples polished them off quickly.


    Ms Mahita and Dr Leong are not the only ones showing their appreciation to migrant workers.

    A group of 17-year-olds from Hwa Chong Institution has been organising activities for labourers who work in shipyards, landscaping and construction since 2013.

    The eight students reached out to as many as 300 workers from countries such as China, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

    The students worked with voluntary welfare organisation Healthserve, organising sports sessions, cinema trips and outings to the beach and library.

    Said Edward Tan, one of the group members: "There is a preconceived notion by workers that libraries are reserved for Singaporeans only, but they are for everyone."

    Their efforts culminated in a Labour Day concert in May, involving 200 foreign workers and 200 locals.

    Edward said his group felt it was "important to start a healthier recreational culture" for migrant workers, who are isolated both geographically and socially.

    And this is just the beginning, as Edward's group, Dr Leong and Ms Mahita intend to continue their acts of appreciation. Their collective hope? To inspire others.

    Said Ms Mahita: "Do you see the smiles on their faces? That's why I do it. It says to them 'I value you' in a place where they are largely invisible."