Injured foreign workers get to 'Discover S'pore'

Discover Singapore brought a group of injured workers to the Treetop Walk at MacRitchie Reservoir in June, to show them a side of Singapore they rarely get to see.

SINGAPORE- Out of work and strapped for cash.

That is the reality for foreign workers who become injured in the course of their job, which also leaves them with limited options for recreation.

But one volunteer group is trying to remedy this by organising outings "to take their minds off their plight" and show them a side of Singapore they rarely see.

Named Discover Singapore, the group is a project under non-profit organisation Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2).

Since May, it has organised outings for groups of 30 to 40 workers to places such as Marina Bay to fly kites, or to fish at East Coast Park. There are about two outings a month, and yesterday's trip to the Singapore Zoo was the 16th to date.

"We wanted to take them to places they usually wouldn't go to," said volunteer Terence Kek, 41, who helps organise outings.

"Our first priority is injured workers, because a lot of them have nowhere to go," added Mr Kek, who took a year off from his previous job as an engineering director, and now does full-time volunteer work.

Most of those who sign up for the outings are Bangladeshis who are typically from the construction and shipping industries. They have back or leg injuries and are awaiting compensation.

Shipyard worker Shahjahan Abdul Aziz, 28, has been on about eight outings so far. He was hit by a lorry in March last year, and now suffers occasional epileptic fits.

He told The Sunday Times: "The jalan-jalan (Jalan-jalan is Malay for walking) was very fun.

"I sent pictures home to Bangladesh for my mother and my wife to see."

Under Ministry of Manpower rules, foreign workers awaiting injury compensation have their work passes cancelled and are issued with special passes. This means they can remain in Singapore legally but are not allowed to work.

The excursions are free for workers, but funding remains a constant issue for their organisers.

Sometimes, they are able to secure sponsorships for their activities - like when they took a group on a tour of a kitchen at a McDonald's restaurant in East Coast in July.

More often, the group is only able to get subsidised rates, with volunteers paying the rest out of their own pockets.

The cost of an outing is about $200 on average, with transport taking up more than half the budget.

"Our biggest challenge is still funding," said retiree Irene Ong, 62, who helps to organise outings.

"It's easy to get the initial funding, but you can't ask your friends every time."

In future, Discover Singapore hopes to organise workshops to teach the workers skills like photography. But for now, just talking to them is enough.

"You can make a difference just by talking to them," said Ms Ong.

"They just need someone to talk to them as a friend, not like a boss."


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