The issue of foreign talent has long plagued our daily coffee shop discussions, inciting countless passionate debates on job security and immigration. It is unfortunate that Singaporeans have almost virtually reduced our foreign worker population to a mere statistic in our daily lives. The common narrative being passed around is that their growing numbers have resulted in supposed growing ‘pains’ for Singaporeans.
We tend to see the foreign worker (FW) population as clogs in our society, as the people who make our waiting time at hospitals longer and increase the peak hour crowds on public transport. However, our associations of FWs with obstacles for us to overcome in our daily lives further limits our opportunities and willingness to understand the people that make up more than a quarter of our population today.
Many of them come from poverty and have made personal sacrifices to be away from their families in search of financial stability. In addition to that, they have been transported to a country that bears almost no semblance to their origins. And while there have been improvements to FW dormitory conditions, their lodgings are nowhere nearly as hospitable as the HDB flats we live in today.
To paint our society against such doomsday backdrops is however to discredit the efforts of many Singaporeans who envision a more inclusive society for our foreign friends. Social movements such as The Base of Pyramid Hub and Young Change Makers have all contributed to this cause, with events like International Migrants’ Day increasing in popularity since its inception in 2009.
Many tend to overlook the difficulties that foreign workers have to endure day in day out due to their lack of proficiency with the language we are so accustomed to using in Singapore. This is why SDI Academy has made it their mission since October 2013 to normalize the use and understanding of English amongst the FW community. They aim to eventually make their interactions at the coffee shop, doctor appointments and more critically daily safety briefings a smoother experience.
The ‘Trust Me I’m No Stranger’ campaign, launched on the 15th of May 2017, aims to neutralize the social stigma attached to Foreign Workers and raise funds for SDI Academy’s new book, Dr English, which will be donated to a FW with every purchase of a “Trust Me I’m No Stranger T Shirt” made. Accompanying the campaign will be a series of weekly events and videos organized by our dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers.
Some may feel that we as Singaporeans still have a ways to go in terms of integrating and assimilating these people into our society. However, when we take the first step to open up ourselves and our lives to FWs, the walls that have been erected between us may not seem as concrete anymore. For as long as Singapore aims to be a vibrant cosmopolitan city, foreign workers will remain an integral part of our lives.