Foreign workers enjoy facials, massages at community event

Foreign workers enjoy facials, massages at community event
Welders Krishna Rai (in yellow) and Athi Ramamoorthy learning the art of massage at a “roadside spa”, guided by artist Ng Xi Jie, during the Kapor ChatParty held in the Singai Tamil Sangam Maya Dance Theatre at Kampong Kapor on 17 July 2016.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

The rain came down hard at 4pm and the volunteers had to move colourful Rangoli art materials, spa screens and chalkboards into the dance theatre.

But their spirits were not dampened, and by 5pm on Sunday, the rain had subsided and people of all ethnicities and ages began to stream in for the Kapor ChatParty, a get-together for residents, patrons and visitors of Little India in the Singai Tamil Sangam Maya Dance Theatre in Kampong Kapor.

A play on the word Chapati (an Indian flatbread), the Kapor ChatParty was organised by the Octopus Residency, a ground-up initiative to foster a closer sense of community in Little India (see sidebar).

It featured do-it-yourself facials and Rangoli artwork, foot massages, and a "Dear Neighbour" initiative.

At the facial and wellness spa, headed by freelance artist Ng Xi Jie, participants were able to stretch out on spa mats and apply homemade facial lotion. Volunteers also gave them foot massages.

Said Ms Ng: "I felt that migrant workers wouldn't really think of giving themselves facials or massages... due to budget constraints. But because their jobs are so tough, they would need it."

In the span of three hours, Ms Ng conducted facials and spa sessions for 11 migrant workers that day.

Ms Nagamah Jayaramm, a 40-year-old cleaner from Malaysia, said she felt much more relaxed after her foot massage.

"I stand on my feet cleaning six days a week and I get really sore after work," said Ms Nagamah.

"It's really nice for them to do this for us and I really appreciate it."

Art therapist Vijaya Mohan was also present to teach Rangoli making, a form of Indian floor art, with household items like pasta, rice grains, and recycled utensils.

Ms Vijaya, who holds several Singapore Records for Rangoli artwork, said her aim was to teach residents to do art that they could bring home with them.

She said: "Art can be very temporary and, sometimes, people are not able to enjoy the beauty of it.

"But when I show them that it's very easy and they can take back the piece and own it, they feel very happy and want to be involved."

Aside from the activities in the dance theatre, volunteers went around with a chalkboard and a camera. Residents were asked to write what they were thankful for on the chalkboard, and they would have their photo taken with it.

The initiative, called "Dear Neighbour", was organised by non-profit organisation Participate in Design (PiD).

Said Mr Larry Yeung, project associate with PiD: "I think it's a very interesting space. Usually, for other neighbourhoods we work with, it's very Singaporean - a lot of aunties, uncles and schoolkids. But this community is very diverse; we have tourists, foreign workers, residents."

Ms Jenifer Sanchez, 36, a housewife who lives in Little India, expressed her gratefulness for her father and husband, who both support and take care of her and her son.

"I am very thankful for his daddy and granddaddy, because they give us such a good home," said Ms Sanchez with a big smile.

Foreign visitors were just as appreciative of the initiative.

Ms Marie Le Hung, 23, a French student on an internship, said: "I think it's really awesome that there is something like this for the residents and free food for the workers."

She added with a laugh: "It's a great way to involve people in the area. If we had something like this (in France), we would have to pay to take part in it."

Ms Chua Ai Liang, director of arts & communities at the National Arts Council (NAC), said: "The Octopus Project has the potential to inspire meaningful interactions right where people live, work and play, while preserving the rich stories and memories of Kampong Kapor.

"With NAC's support through the Presentation and Participation Grant, I hope this community- based arts project will touch the lives of the residents there.

"It is wonderful to see more artists like Vijaya Mohan and Ng Xi Jie creating content that resonates with specific communities, such as Singapore's lesser-known migrant workers."

This article was first published on July 21, 2016.
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