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A place to call home for returning long term pass holders

Beginning February 2020, Tzu Chi works with a dormitory operator to make it easier for returning foreign workers to serve their stay home notice at the temporary facilities set up for those who has difficulties returning to their rental places.


SG20200305 GNA WSX 022(Photo by Wong Twee Hee)

"To be quarantined here for 14 days is quite a lot to bear, so we hope to make them feel at home by showing them some care,” shared Mr. Oh, the operator of the dormitory. 

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Singapore government has issued a 14 day Stay Home Notice to returning Singaporean citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders who have been to China, Iran, northern Italy and South Korea in the past 14 days. 

Those who are served with a stay home notice are not allowed to step out of their home entirely within the 14 days. However, there are some returnees who are not able to comply with the stay home notice at their rental homes. According to media reports on 3 February, some returnees could not find a place to stay after being evicted by their landlord due to fear of infection. Most of these returnees are of Chinese nationality who work in the transportation and construction industry.

Settling down with physical and mental ease

To solve the issue of accommodation for these “temporarily homeless” returnees, the government has engaged dormitory operators to set up temporary facilities that provide three daily meals and necessities to facilitate the quarantine measure. After receiving the request from the government on the third day of Chinese New Year, Mr. Oh immediately assembled all his resources and get the dormitory ready within 48 hours.

"Some of their landlords refused to let them in while most hotels reject their stay. Without a place to stay, they might get infected if they sleep on the street," said Mr. Oh. With a sense of duty to prevent the virus from spreading, Mr. Oh and his colleagues set aside their Chinese New Year festive mood and sprang into action immediately.

Although the basic needs are in place, Mr. Oh thought it will be better if someone could come in to provide the “software” to these returnees during the quarantine period. The thought reminded him of his few friends who are members of Tzu Chi Singapore's Entrepreneur Association.

 “I have heard of Tzu Chi for many years and have always admire Tzu Chi’s humanistic spirit,” shared Mr. Oh.

With that in mind, Mr. Oh visited Tzu Chi’s Jing Si Hall in Pasir Ris and have a discussion with the foundation pertaining to the matter. Having received the request from Mr. Oh, Tzu Chi Singapore’s Epidemic Relief Committee launched a “Temporary Settlement Programme for Returning Workers” which covers the following: -

(1)   Dormitory decoration;

(2)   Distribution of blessings gifts; and

(3)   Broadcasting of music and useful updates at the temporary facility.

On the same day as the meeting, the committee visited the facility with 28 bedrooms that could accommodate 392 male returnees.

Software for a cozy home

"There is a locker for them to keep their items. There are 14 beds, 3 bathrooms and 3 toilets in each dormitory," said Mr. Oh as he shows the committee members around the dormitory. Despite having very limited time to set up the dormitory, he and his team managed to get most of the basic facilities ready due to their many years of experience in this field.

After surveying the site, the committee proposed to add some bookshelves inside the rooms and decorate the room with Jing Si Aphorisms. Indoor plants and books will be placed on the bookshelves.  All this was planned to give the occupants a place to calm themselves during the quarantine period.

Yang Hong Liang, a dormitory staff from China, exclaimed, "You guys have filled so much warm into this place with plants, books, and the Jing Si Aphorisms. All this will definitely make the occupants feel less lonely when they entered the room.”

As returnees will arrive at the dormitory at different time of the day, some adjustments were made to the manpower of Mr. Oh’s company to ensure that the operation can be carried out around the clock. As most of the company's employees are of Indian descent, Yang and another Chinese cleaner are also transferred to the dormitory to make the occupants feel more at home.

SG20200213 GNC WSX 019Jing Si Aphorisms are fixed to the walls of the dormitory to add warmth to the space. On the right is Mr. Oh in white top. (Photo by Wong Twee Hee)

Blessings gift with sincerity and Love

A letter expressing Tzu Chi’s sincere love for the affected was placed in the gift pack with other items. There is even a tear-off section underneath the letter for the occupants to convey their needs or concerns. Their request can then be handed over to the dormitory operator and Tzu Chi for further attention.

There are three phases on Tzu Chi’s “Temporary Settlement Programme for Returning Workers” during the 14 days quarantine period; which is calming down physically, calming the emotions and finally a calming life. The blessings gifts for the occupants vary for each of the three stages as every returnee will receive one gift pack before checking in, during the stay and before leaving in a five days interval. Having considered most if not all the returnees are from China, a bottle of China made chili paste was added into the gift packs to make them feel at home.

Executive Secretary of Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore), Khor Chooi Kim said, “The first five days of the stay is the first stage, where we settle them down physically. The second five days is to settle their mind. While the third five days is to settle down their life. We hope to interact with them and care for them, and be able to inspire them in the future, so that they can also become givers.”

A third blessing before leaving the dormitory

On the last day of the stay home notice, Tzu Chi volunteers personally came to hand over the third blessing gifts to occupants who have completed their stay home notice. Entrepreneur volunteer Sim Sem Peng, who lives near the dormitory came almost every day, bringing along other business friends to interact with the occupants.

Sim explained, “There are fewer Tzu Chi activities during this period, so I am seizing every opportunity to be able to give.”  

The third blessings gift contains an introduction leaflet of Tzu Chi Singapore, a bamboo coin bank and several other items. Sim had also briefly introduced Tzu Chi Singapore and the spirit behind the Bamboo Coin Bank to the returnees and encourages the returnees to invite their family members to participate in Tzu Chi’s activities back home in mainland China.

After spending 14 days in isolation, most of the occupants couldn’t wait to go home. Although the briefing has taken up a little bit of their time, Sim still hopes that the briefing can instil the seeds of kindness in their hearts.

SG20200214 GNA CRJ 008Business owner Sim Sem Peng (first on the right) seizes every opportunity to serve the community. (Photo by Tang Zou Cie) 

SG20200305 GNA WSX 017
Returnees are seen Returnees recording the contact number of Tzu Chi volunteers before checking out. (Photo by Wong Twee Hee)

Doing broadcasting for the first time

Besides decorating the dormitory and handing out blessings gifts, Tzu Chi volunteers will also be doing broadcasting to update the occupants with the latest information and sharing music, songs, health and medical information, motivational stories and other information through the dormitory broadcasting system.

Unhindered by the lack of experience in broadcasting, volunteers in Tzu Chi’s education mission have brace themselves to take up the challenge. Tzu Chi initiative is also supported and sponsored by Playground Studio, a recording company. Besides the pre-recorded programs, Tzu Chi volunteers also headed to the broadcasting room in the dormitory on weekend evening to interact with the occupants on-site through the broadcasting system and WeChat. There was also a song selection airtime for occupants to select their songs and send their messages.

According to media reports, there are around 30,000 Chinese workers who have yet to return to Singapore due to the long Chinese New Year break. To coordinate the return of the foreign workers in batches, the government has stepped up its review to ensure that these workers can comply with their Stay Home Notice at their own place of residences, hence reducing the number of occupants who need to move into temporary facilities.   

On the other hand, Tzu Chi has also stepped up on its cooperation with the dormitory operator to ensure that every occupant who check in at the temporary dormitory at the last minute can also receive the blessings from Tzu Chi.


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