Giving is, indeed, receiving
“Love is not patronizing and charity isn’t about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same — with charity you give love, so don’t just give money but reach out your hand instead.”
― Mother Teresa
I remember when I first chanced upon this internship I was just looking through my school’s mail wanting to do something that would keep me occupied for the summer holiday. Having a keen interest in migrant workers’ issues saw me contacting HealthServe immediately when the internship opportunity became available, and in no time, I found myself at Healthserve’s office attending a briefing by the volunteer lawyer, Mr Ronald. What I did not yet realise was that this internship was going to change my outlook on life tremendously, especially my perspective on reaching out to the less privileged in society. In fact, my life was to be transformed 360 degrees in this short month of attachment.
Prior to interning at HealthServe, I collaborated with Watsons Farley and Williams to draft an employment booklet for the Thai construction workers in Singapore, and thus have a brief understanding of migrant workers’ issues in general. These include the migrant workers’ salaries not being paid in full or on time, forced repatriations, and payslips problems. Nonetheless, what I had was just textbook knowledge, and its contrast with reality became manifestly apparent in my interactions with the migrant workers at HealthServe. In one of my chats with a Chinese worker, he told me that he expected to get a job with the relevant pay immediately when he reached Singapore, but he did not even receive a job after 2 months. In another conversation I had, a poor worker had to deal with false promises by his employer: he had an IPA which contained the contractual terms of his employment, but they were subsequently not complied with. Hearing all these problems from the migrant workers first-hand made me realise how real the situation of workers being taken advantage was.
Another highlight of my internship was following the case of Mr. Li*, of which I had the privilege to attend 3 court sessions in total. Mr. Li was a bus-driver involved in a bus accident 3 years ago, which resulted in the death of one passenger and injuries to another. While Mr. Li has conspicuously expressed remorse over what appears to be a freak accident that was beyond his control, the Public Prosecution had chosen to charge him with rash/negligent driving, which could potentially lead to a jail term. Following this case intently, I got myself thinking about the current state of the justice system in Singapore and how it should be run: How should the Prosecution proceed if he/she knows that the accused was really innocent? To what extent should Prosecutorial discretion be exercised in terms of formulating charges against an accused? Is it really fair for the accused, a foreigner, to be kept from going back to China for a case that drags on for 3 years – the duration of which could have very well been his term in jail? Seeing real-life criminal litigation in practice really gave me much food for thought.
What really impresses me the most was seeing how dedicated the volunteers at HealthServe were in serving the migrant workers – they are patient, compassionate, and most importantly, genuine in their interactions with the migrant workers. The case workers display empathy when collecting empirical evidence from the workers, UWC students take on a cheerful disposition when the workers turn up at their school for the activities, and the medical social workers exhibited professionalism when attending to patients. In every single event, the volunteers gave their all in serving others, fully evincing Healthserve’s motto of healing, inspiring and bridging communities. From simply observing how they helped the less fortunate, I saw how selfless one’s love for another can be – it was really awe-inspiring.
This was a really good internship experience which fully exposed me to the migrant workers community in Singapore, which, more often than not, is overlooked and neglected. Besides helping out with case work, I had the opportunity to help out with the Geylang Food Project and the MRT Top-Up project, which exposed me to how the NGO functions internally. On other occasions, my translation skills were put to the test as I translated forms and letters for the beneficiaries. All in all, I am really thankful to HealthServe for this wide-ranging experience and I would not hesitate in a heartbeat to volunteer my services here again in the future.
By Suah Boon Choong, a 2nd year NUS Law student
*name changed for privacy