"During the pandemic, it is very heartwarming to see some Singaporeans working with migrant workers to create such a harmonious atmosphere where migrant workers are given an avenue to tell their own stories," said Lesli Berggren, an American who has been living in Singapore for 22 years.
On 20 September, Leslie visited Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre (referred to as the Youth Centre) upon invitation by Jimmy Ong, to attend the open house event of the “Stay Home Quilt” community art project. As Jimmy showed Leslie around, he shared with his friend what got him started on this creative artwork and also his experience of communicating with the migrant workers in the dormitory.
At the exit of the Youth Centre which faces the Yishun Lake, an art exhibit called "home" was installed under the supervision and guidance by Jimmy. On the day of the open house, nearby residents were invited by the organizing team to the Youth Centre for a Tikar (carpet) Weaving Workshop, which the carpet is meant to be the floor of the “home”.
"This carpet represents the support for the migrant workers community while the home is like a hug that embraces them,” described Leslie.
Leslie who works in a charity organization, said that the “Stay Home Quilt” project has drawn the public’s attention to the migrant worker community. She also said, “They are just like you and me, they have their own family, parents, children, and yet they are struggling to survive in a less privileged position.”
A mini workshop by the lakeside
The weather at four o’clock in the afternoon was cool and refreshing after a shower of rain. On this day, 10 people had signed up for the Tikar Weaving Workshop. The participants were guided by 16 staff whom some are volunteers from 3Pumpkins while some are students of LASALLE College of the Arts.
Different from other workshops, the participants learned how to weave next to the “home”, which is placed at the exit of the Youth Centre with a lakeview. Besides having good air circulation, one can enjoy the tranquil scenery of the lake. With the help of some moulds, the participants weaved strips of fabric with various colours into a one-foot-square carpet. There were sounds of laughter and singing occasionally as the participants chatted with each other while they weave, some even started dancing on the spot when oldies were played.
"The venue of the workshop is quite special," commented Zhuang Xin Hui who registered for an activity at the Youth Centre for the first time. Zhuang is a handicraft lover who lives nearby the Youth Centre. She signed up for the workshop after being recommended by a friend. After weaving for two hours, Zhuang wanted to bring home her work as she couldn’t finish it. However, having heard the sharing by a volunteer about the objective of the art project, she decided to donate her work to be made into a part of the carpet.
"Today's workshop is great! We spent a lot of time understanding the principles behind weaving. We are very happy to be part of this art project!” said an intern of this project, Smiha Kapoor from LASALLE College of the Arts.
Smiha who comes from India cannot go home for the summer vacation due to the pandemic. Hence, she has been helping with this project every week since August. She said with a smile, "This is a great place, it is very peaceful and beautiful. I can focus my thoughts here."
Upcycling old garments into carpet
On 30 August and 6 September, Tzu Chings and art college students visited HDB flats near the Youth Centre to collect second-hand garments and promote the open day event to the public. Many people supported the cause by donating their old clothes which were later cut into cloth strips as material for weaving the carpet. Many also came to know about the Youth Centre after the introduction made by the youths.
Tzu Ching Lim Jun Hong has been actively involved in the preparation work for the project since the end of June when he initially helped in the erection of the "home". He then assisted in the installation of lights which symbolizes the bed inside the "home" and coordinated in the recycling of second-hand garments beginning end of August.
Although he has never had any face-to-face contact with migrant workers during the pandemic, he gradually learned about this community group through volunteering in this project. Lim said, “They are forced to stay in Singapore and cannot go home. Many issues surrounding them have arisen due to the pandemic. It has been a difficult period for the migrant workers."
Another Tzu Ching, Wong Yun Ming mentioned about getting a query by a member of the public when visiting from house to house. The resident asked, “Why are the old garments not donated directly to the migrant workers but are used in a community art project?”
Wong explained to the resident that although material assistance is indispensable, mental support for migrant workers is also very important.
Getting close to migrant workers
It feels amazing!" exclaimed Wong as she looked at the art display that has slowly taken shape. It reminded her of the two Chinese migrant workers whom she spoke to at a dormitory a few months ago. The workers told her about their worries while they were weaving. Wong shared, "They said that their friends have gone back to work, but they are still quarantined there, and their boss hasn't called them yet."
After some having brief interactions with migrant workers, Wong opined that interactive activities like the one Tzu Chi is conducting can help soothe the negative emotions in migrant workers as they are allowed to express themselves through chatting.
On the same day, she posted an Instagram story of her thoughts. The Instagram story was matched with a Jing Si Aphorism that goes, "If people who are suffering cannot come out, those who are blessed must go to them.”
Connecting different communities through an art project
The "Stay Home Quilt" project has connected people from different communities. At first, Lim Jun Hong did not notice the significance behind the project, only to realize later that he was actually working together with people from different communities. He shared, “At first I only communicated with Jimmy Ong, but at the later phase, I was also working with other artists, Tzu Chi partners, Tzu Chi volunteers, or students from the art school."
Despite having no experience in artistic creation, Lim said that Jimmy never undermines his contribution and devotion in the project. He then mimicked Jimmy’s tone by saying, “It's okay, this is not bad, maybe you just need to improve a bit here and there."
Smiha also shared that her ideas were appreciated by Jimmy and that he did not resist any creative ideas. She said, "This is what I think is special about this project. It is not the work of an artist, but a group of people who participate and help each other."
Lin Shi Yun, the person in charge of 3Pumpkins, is satisfied with the first open day event because the event has attracted people who are very interested in weaving, including some newcomers. In other words, this project has managed to expand its community participation.
The "Stay Home Quilt" Open House is scheduled to take place in the afternoon of 27 September, 4 October and 11 October. The public is welcomed to visit and participate in the event. This project will be undertaken by the Youth Centre to be expanded into a month-long "Stay Home Quilt: Story Exhibition" that will run from 30 November to 29 December.
The lead artist of this project is Jimmy Ong. The project is organized by Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre and 3Pumpkins, sponsored by Maybank Singapore, and supported by Singapore International Foundation, The Majurity Trust, PAssionArts in Nee Soon GRC, Chong Pang Community Arts & Culture Club, and Nee Soon East Community Arts & Culture Club.