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A Heart for Migrant Workers – A Story of Singapore Amidst Crisis

Eighteen years ago, I returned to my birth region and moved to Singapore. Often, friends would ask me what is like returning to my Asian root? In the beginning, I always had to explain where is Singapore, talked about its political system, its business-friendly economy, etc. Now, I no longer need to go through the text-book explanation because almost everybody I meet already knows about Singapore.

Yes, in the last decade, Singapore has gained world recognition as one of the most admired economies and the best-managed countries in the 21st century. The glamour of its F1 city circuit and the avant-garde airport terminal have been featured on television programmes, and scenes of city-state appear in international films. So, what would I want to share with my friends about Singapore today?

For those versed in the history of South East Asia, we knew it is a region built by migrants. I, for one, am a 3rd generation Chinese; my grandparents migrated from China and settled in the region in the early 1900s. Strictly speaking, Singapore, similar to its ASEAN neighbours is a migrant country; the success of Singapore is the efforts of its forebears, many of whom from lands beyond the island city.

TCG newsletter 2020 July - Marina Bay Sands

In recent days, I have been following the daily reporting of Covid-19 cases in Singapore. Besides the numbers, I am intrigued by how Singapore handles the outbreak amongst its migrant workers because most of the cases are from the workers’ community. Instead of dispatching the workers back to their home countries, Singapore’s government has assumed full responsibility. Affected migrant workers are given proper healthcare, and social support unmatched that of their homes, and many Singaporeans have also stepped forward to provide social and financial support to the workers.

In a crisis, we see the best and the worst of human nature. Here, we see the respects and care of a human for another fellow human. While the country continues its quest for economic success, handling the pandemic crisis shows that the Singapore people have “hearts.” This is a touching episode of the Singapore story I hope to share with friends outside the country. I also hope my Singaporean friends will take pride in this virtue more than any material things and economic success the country has achieved.

The video clip below is one of the three-part video series by a group of talented Singapore musicians (The Teng Ensemble). It spotlights the critical role of migrants in Singapore, and the group aims to promote a more inclusive society for the community. Take a look at the clip; it is a part of Singapore’s story:

TCG Newsletter 2020 July - Singapore videoclip

Singapore is not the only country. If we look around the world today, there are very few developed nations that have not been built by migrants. Australia, the USA, Canada, etc. are all migrant nations. In fact, we each can trace an ancestor in our family who was once a migrant.

The question is: When did the migration take place?

Our genetic footprints showed that we (Homo sapiens) are of species with common ancestors. Humans migrated out of Africa some 60,000 years ago and spread across the globe. Check out the map of “Human Migration” by National Geographic’s Genographic project below. We will soon realise that every one of us is a descendant of a migrant and thus genetically a family member of one another at some point in time.

TCG Newsletter 2020 July - National Geographic map

With that in mind, perhaps we can be more welcoming and inclusive to those new to our community. For some time ago, just like the migrant workers, one of our forebears was a foreigner who decided to venture into a new land, searching for a better life. After all, the new “foreigner” is a member of our family, sharing the same gene of a common ancestry around 60,000 years ago. 

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