Zumba, poetry readings on day off

Zumba, poetry readings on day off
Volleyball is one of the many team sports that workers can play at the migrant worker recreation centre.

From Monday to Saturday, Mr Jahir Islam from Bangladesh is one of the more than 300,000 foreign construction workers toiling at worksites here.

Come Sunday, on his day off, the 39-year-old transforms into a cricket player.

He is taking part in MoneyGram Cricket Ke Badshah, a tournament organised for migrant workers by remittance firm MoneyGram and Singapore Cricket Association.

He says: "I have always loved cricket and am happy that I can play in a league in Singapore."

The event is among various weekend leisure activities for migrant workers held by companies, non-profit organisations or individuals.

The list of fun pursuits runs the gamut from yoga to poetry recitals to movie screenings - either for free or at a nominal fee.

The cricket tournament was launched this month. About 400 migrant workers of Bangladeshi and Indian descent will battle it out for the next six Sundays at the large field at Farrer Park. The winning team gets a cash prize of $2,500.

Mr Yogesh Sangle, MoneyGram's senior regional director, says the tournament was conceived as a "source of entertainment" for workers who are fans of the sport, "but hardly get a chance to play in Singapore".

There are plans to hold the tournament over three years, with two to three leagues held annually.

Migrant workers who prefer to kick a ball or smash a shuttlecock instead can go to Penjuru Recreation Centre in Jurong East, where monthly tournaments are held for sports including football, badminton and volleyball.

It is coordinated by the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC), which also holds free English, Tamil and Bengali film screenings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, with free popcorn to boot.

The attendance rate for such activities has risen over the years to more than 600,000 since 2009, says MWC executive director Bernard Menon.

The artistically inclined migrant worker can join Dibashram, a weekly gathering where they can unleash the hidden poet, actor, singer or writer in them.

Forty to 50 workers would meet to have poetry recitals as well as hold drama and musical performances. They used to gather in a shophouse in Little India, but had to vacate it due to unforeseen circumstances, says Dibashram executive director A.K.M Mohsin. He is also the editor-in-chief of Bengali newspaper Banglar Kantha, which is distributed here.

He is looking for a new space in Little India and hopes to find one within the next month or so. In the meantime, they continue to meet every Sunday evening at an open field behind Berseh Food Centre in Jalan Besar.

For engineer Mohammad Jahangir Alam, 41, Dibashram is a "home away from home" where he feels empowered by writing poetry. He has been attending the Dibashram meetings since it started in August 2011.

He says: "I look forward to Sundays as I can meet my fellow brothers and share whatever issues we have at work throughout the week. If not for Dibashram, I don't know where I would go."

Even the injured and out-of-work need not stay in their dormitories.

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), a migrant workers advocacy group, holds bi-monthly outings to places including East Coast Park, Gardens by the Bay and Singapore Zoo under the Discover Singapore programme. All these outings are free.

These workers, who are recovering from injuries, are sometimes ferried in hired buses if the venue is in a remote location. If not, they go there by public transport.

Launched in 2013 and run by volunteers Terence Kek and Irene Ong, the programme aims to help workers who are recovering from injuries and out of work "take their minds off their plight".

Mr Kek, 43, says: "We want to let the migrant workers see places or take part in activities that they normally would not have the chance to."

To date, 40 outings have been organised and more than 500 workers have benefited from the programme.

Foreign domestic workers have their own clubhouse to meet friends, hold parties and attend recreational activities.

The 2,800 sq ft clubhouse, located at Raeburn Park near the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, is run by the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training.

For a sign-up annual fee of $4, the 2,000 members get to enjoy classes such as hatha yoga, zumba and line dance on Sundays.

Ad-hoc sessions in origami, ikebana or sushi-making are also conducted to expose the workers to alternative skills.

Association executive director William Chew, 58, says: "The clubhouse was set up to provide an option for those who want to unwind in a space they can call their own. Just like Singaporeans, they want to go to a club to get their fitness fix or just relax with friends."

Filipino domestic worker Rosana Salay, 44, has been a regular at the clubhouse since it opened in May last year.

She says: "I would rather be here doing zumba and spending time with friends than hanging out at Lucky Plaza. This is a place for us, so why would I want to squeeze with the crowds in Orchard Road?"


This article was first published on May 24, 2015.
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