Name: Jolene Quek Jia Min
School: Ngee Ann Polytechnic
Internship duration: 15 October 2015 to 14 January 2016
Why did you choose to intern at HealthServe?
I was inspired by Bernice Wong’s project – “Beyond the Border, Behind the Men” where she went to Bangladesh to film some of the migrant workers and came back to Singapore to do a photo exhibition. Migrant workers are so crucial to the growth of Singapore yet their efforts are so unrecognized and some Singaporeans even stereotype them as bad people. Thus, I was curious to know more about their personal lives and I felt that they are an interesting group to work with unlike the elderly, children and family – whom I can easily work with in Singapore.
What were your duties/what projects were you involved with?
Mainly, I assist in case work, the Geylang Food Project (GFP), and help to coordinate some events. All of these duties have given me an opportunity to build stronger connections with the migrant workers through countless interactions. For my Final Year Project, I did a one-off event called Bond the Builder which provides opportunity for local youths and the Chinese migrant workers to interact through fun and games. I wanted the youths to form positive attitudes towards the workers as I believed that people held certain misconceptions about them. Also, it was an English-cum-interactive programme whereby the workers have to speak English in certain games. Thus, I started English classes for the Chinese workers, and it is still ongoing after my programme.
What are the main things you learned at HealthServe?
I have learnt that the migrant workers are human like us, and there was no need to stereotype them as the “bad people” or stay away from them. Being human, there is always the good and bad. Perhaps Singaporeans only choose to see the bad side about the migrant workers and generalize them as a whole instead of embracing the fact that there are good ones out there too.
Through case work, I was astonished by how these workers have been ill-treated. I came to know more about the Work Injury Compensation Act, and the laws which are supposed to protect these workers. Keyword: Supposed. I agree that these laws have definitely helped them, but at the same time, some existing laws are not strongly enforced. An example: A migrant worker was being chased out of the worksite dormitory into a foreign place with no proper shelter and bed. The law is supposed to ensure that all workers should have proper accommodation, but why is this still happening?
Share one of your favorite experiences
The workers made special effort to celebrate my birthday, pooling funds from their own pockets to buy cakes and drinks. It was a birthday surprise as I did not expect them to know. I was so happy and touched that I cried (not teared) when they sang the birthday song in English. I am so grateful for the connections that I have made with them, and they are certainly my driving force to come to work every day.
What were some challenges you experienced as an intern?
Initially, it was the language barrier because the workers have a heavy accent and also spoke really fast. As I was out of touch from Mandarin ever since I entered polytechnic, I had difficulty adapting to it. However, I will ask them to slow down or repeat what they have said in order to understand what they are saying. As time passes, I slowly got used to it and it was not a problem at all!
Another challenge is how mentally drained I am at the end of the day (sometimes). On certain days, there will be many workers walking in and telling you their problems and you’ll have to sit down and listen to them attentively on what they are trying to say. After that, you’ll have to come up with a solution. This exhausts me mentally and I became grumpy and unsociable – which is not me. However, I recover from this phase during my weekends and learn to find the positive in every situation – even when you feel tired, know that it’s because you’re making a difference in other’s and your life.
What advice would you give a prospective HealthServe intern?
Be passionate about what you do and you must have the heart and curiosity to really know more about the workers. When you are genuine, people around you will feel and it, and this gives you the privilege to connect with the workers and this connection will give you the motivation to work. I really believe in this saying – “With passion, you’ll excel in anything”.