MALAYSIA - Freelance photographer Sam Ruslan never bothered to really look at the foreign faces serving him coffee, until he found himself behind the coffee bar.
"Working closely with foreign workers as baristas made me see them in another light," he shares. "I was shy and awkward, but they were so friendly and helpful. We ate together, joked and laughed. I started to see them as real people, like you and I."
His other discovery opened his eyes wider.
"While it is true that many work here to earn money, it is not just to survive. They want better lives too for their families and children," says Sam.
"For one of my Filipino colleagues, Ben, barista work is actually his dream. He loves coffee and he is good at what he does. Migrant workers are like us, they have hopes and dreams too."
Inspired by Ben, Sam started taking portraits of his migrant co-workers, two of which he exhibited at a recent photo exhibition organised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to commemorate the International Migrants Day.
Anne Muhammad, another young photographer invited to participate in the exhibition at mapKL@Publika, Solaris Dutamas, says she has also gained better understanding of migrants workers the closer she tried to get to them.
To her surprise, she found many shared similarities, which drew the fresh graduate to capture more photos of their lives.
"It started just as a job assignment when I was asked by Tempo Jakarta to take photos of Indonesian migrant workers. But in my search, I got to know the workers and their experiences, how they miss their families and homes," she says. Anne was heartened that an Indonesian family even invited her into their home, giving her the chance to get to know the whole family. The experience opened her to a new view of the migrant worker community.
"I was touched by their common concerns and feelings, and I now find the negative attitudes of the average Malaysian towards migrant workers very distressing."