"I am very happy today. No one has spoken to me since I started sleeping here for so long," said an emotional Malaysian worker who spent his night at the void deck under a HDB flat before bidding goodbye to Tzu Chi volunteers who passed him a care package and chatted with him for a while.
A Movement Control Order (MCO) was implemented by the Malaysia government on 18 March 2020 aiming to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID 19). It not only prohibits all social activities and shut down all schools and religious sites, but also closed its border restricting entry of its citizens and foreigners. From this date onward, this Malaysian worker who commute daily to Singapore to earn a living began to shuttle between his workplace and the void deck of HDB block, where he slept at night.
The implementation of MCO in Malaysia has brought dilemma to many Malaysian workers who commute daily between Singapore and Johor to earn their living. Some of them were forced to take unpaid leave and stay home; while others decided to enter Singapore before 18 March in order to keep their jobs, but risk without a roof over their heads.
Although the Singapore government had urged employers to make lodging arrangement for their Malaysian employees and had turned Jurong East Sports Hall into a temporary dormitory to house these workers, there were still some of them who have nowhere to go to.
An offer to help “my loved ones”
Thankfully, there were kind people and volunteer groups whom have offered accommodations after learning about the plight of these workers. There were also volunteers who acted spontaneously by visiting HDB blocks to find these workers, bringing along food and daily supplies to them.
"They are now facing some difficulties, so it would be great if we could help them in some ways such as help in the form of money, a place to stay or clothing for change" said volunteer Ng Siow Lee who was shocked when she saw so many Malaysian workers sleeping outside the MRT station.
Saddened by the sight, Ng then continued to track the situation of these foreign workers from time to time and took to the social media to urge the public to pay attention to these foreign workers and try to provide them with the needed support.
On discovering the charitable act initiated by Ng through her Facebook, Tzu Chi Charity Development Department, Khoo Jyh Hao contacted Ng voluntarily to discuss on how the Foundation could assist the stranded workers. Ng was elated with the offer as if someone is offering to help her own family members in need.
In the early morning of 4 April, the staff from Tzu Chi Charity Development Department took off together with Ng and other volunteers to assess the situation of the foreign workers living at the void deck of HDB flats near Woodlands Checkpoint. They found 12 male workers who were mostly odd job labourers.
After assessing and understanding the situation faced by these foreign workers and their needs, Tzu Chi immediately started purchasing and packing the aid materials that include water, food, face masks and hand sanitizers.
"These workers were stranded in a foreign country to earn a living, and the ongoing pandemic has affected their jobs and income. We hope to provide them with some assistance. The important thing now is their safety" said Low Swee Seh, the CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore.
Low and a few Tzu Chi volunteers started visiting and handing out care packages to the stranded workers at void decks of HDB blocks in Marsiling on 4 April 2020. This was the same day when the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong made his third address to the nation where he announced the government’s decision to implement a circuit breaker measure that will last for one month to curb the pandemic.
Nobody knows when this pandemic is going to end and when life can return to normal. However, people around the world have shown their care and love for each other. By working together and helping each other, we will definitely win this war against COVID-19.
Note: According to media reports, there are 330,000 Malaysians who travel across the causeway every day to work in Singapore.