The night before Chun Ming left for China, he packed only one set of clothes. The rest of his luggage was filled with music books, muffin trays, filters and coffee powder.
In 2011, the 19-year-old from Henan province, China came to Singapore to work as a kitchen helper in a restaurant in Little India. He paid S$8,000 to an agent in China for a job that paid him $800 monthly with one day off a month.
Every month, he sent 80 per cent of his salary back home. He was the sole breadwinner of the family and worked hard to support his parents and nine-year-old sister. His father was permanently blinded from a work explosion when Chun Ming was only 14 and his responsibilities shifted. As rough as this sounds, the real tragedy happened last August, just five months after Chun Ming arrived in Singapore. While cutting vegetables in the kitchen, the industrial gas tank leaked and within seconds, there was a deafening explosion. A few workers were hurt, but Chun Ming suffered the most, with 60 per cent of his body burnt.
He spent almost a year in hospital and recuperating at a nursing home before he was able to walk and get his life back, but being unemployed, he was penniless. He needed to stay on in Singapore to await his work injury compensation.
Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) who was handling the case approached HealthServe for assistance with Chun Ming's basic medical care and accommodation. It was a mad scramble to find a place for him and more importantly, one he would be comfortable with. My husband, Teh Hsin and I offered to house him when we got to know his story. At first, Chun Ming kept to himself. With time though, we discovered he was interested in learning piano and making coffee. We signed him up for a short barista course where he learned how to make lattes and cappuccinos. My mother, an accomplished pianist and retired piano teacher, gave Chun Ming music lessons.
Over time, Chun Ming regained his confidence and learned to laugh again. Chun Ming came to our home a stranger. He left a son.
-Joyce Too, a volunteer with HealthServe