“When I saw Tzu Chi volunteers in Taiwan making face masks, I thought to myself, how good would it be if we could do this in Singapore too. Three days later, I found out that Tzu Chi Singapore was recruiting volunteers to make face masks, and I immediately signed up for it. I just feel happy to be able to contribute,” said Tzu Chi volunteer Fong Kwai Kin.
During Singapore’s Circuit Breaker, all non-essential activities must be suspended. Fong said that except for working from home, she had nothing much to do at home, therefore she wished to contribute in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. She kept having this thought in her mind until her wish came true one day. Excited to receive the invitation to make face masks, she did not hesitate to sign up for the programme even though she did not have a sewing machine. At the end, she managed to borrow a sewing machine from another volunteer, Lee Kok Heong.
Fong said that she had previously took part in four batches of face mask production, making at least 50 masks each time. She also revealed that her sister who lives with her, had helped with removing the threads of the faulty masks so she could fix them.
For Tzu Chi commissioner Sim Chwee Hoon, the news about the mask making programme came to her through her sister, Sim Chwee Guat. Chwee Hoon has always been actively contributing in her local community, therefore, the thought of involving her neighbours and her monthly donors who work as tailors in her neighbourhood immediately struck her.
As the circuit breaker measures were further tightened, non-essential businesses and social activities were prohibited, including tailoring services. At the end, Chwee Hoon managed to invite five of her monthly donors to participate in this program, she said, “I asked if they want to do good deeds, and they said yes.”
Keeping the momentum going
As the number of infected migrant workers continued to rise, many non-governmental organisations (NGO), charity organisations, companies and the public have stepped forward to help, on top of the aid provided by the Singapore government. They appealed for monetary donations, as well as helping in distributing masks and daily necessities.
Singapore apparel manufacturer CYC started a face mask donation programme to produce 300,000 face masks for migrant workers. Due to the huge number, CYC decided to invite charity organisations and other local organisations to help out. After the completion of the fabric masks making programme initiated by Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre, Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) mobilized its volunteers to respond to CYC’s call to make face masks for migrant workers.
“When Tzu Chi came to know about this programme, we took the initiative to contact CYC, expressing our interest to participate,” said Beh Keng Hua, the Head of Volunteer Development Tzu Chi Foundation. For this programme, CYC provided the raw materials such as fabric, metal wire and elastic ear loops, as well as an instruction video. While Tzu Chi distributed the materials to the volunteers and members of public who signed up online for this programme.
Beh remarked, “We managed to recruit many volunteers and members of the public for this programme. They work from home during the day and spend a few hours at night to make the face masks. We have also heard of volunteers who involved their whole family in this programme."
Transportation of goods was a challenge during the circuit breaker. The raw materials had to be collected from CYC to be sent to Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre, and then distributed to each volunteer at their residences. When the face masks were completed, they were transported from the residences of volunteers to the Migrant Workers’ Centre, which would then distribute the face masks to the workers dormitories. Managing Director of CYC, Mrs Fong Loo Fern said, “I am very happy to see that many people have come forward to offer various kinds of help, it’s very encouraging.”
According to Beh, Tzu Chi received the fabric for face masks on 21st of April, which coincided with the day Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the extension of the circuit breaker until 1st of June, as well as putting stricter measures in place. This directly impacted the logistic arrangement of the programme. It created some panic among the organizing committee, but after discussion, they agree to request volunteers who are taxi or Grab drivers to help transport the goods. He added, “Although it was difficult, we were confident that if there is a will, there is a way. After brainstorming, we were overjoyed to have come to a solution. We were able to distribute the face masks on the next day, which brought immense joy to us.”
Beh further shared, “We are delighted to be able to help these migrant workers, and we are about to complete 30,000 face masks. All of our volunteers have gained much joy through this process, and the more masks they produce, the more efficient they become.”
For this fourth batch of face mask production, close to 600 Tzu Chi volunteers and members of public took part to produce an estimated of 40,000 fabric face masks. “From here, we can see that Singapore is actually a society full of love,” said Beh.