“Covid-19 showed me my lack of knowledge of migrant workers and their situation. Before it felt very impersonal, like a far away problem.”
Eric was interested to find out more about the extent to which migrant workers were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the issues they faced after reading many articles online.
Eric, a future medical student at NUS started serving at HealthServe as a clinic intern in November 2020. He used to stay in an old estate in Bukit Batok, where he recalls seeing many migrant workers but he was not aware of the difficult circumstances they faced working in a foreign country and didn’t interact or pay attention to them. Even in school and in his personal endeavours, Eric noted that he did not have an opportunity to interact with migrant workers since he mostly volunteered at organizations that catered to the elderly and low income groups in Singapore.
He first heard of HealthServe through a Straits Times article and decided to join us after completing his National Service as he was keen to learn more about the migrant worker community. In the first few days of running the clinic, Eric learned how to take the blood pressure and symptoms of chronic diseases. He then learned how to perform an ECG test and gradually how to take blood tests such as those for the checking for glucose.
Initially fearful that he would not be able to connect with migrant workers due to the language barrier and lack of understanding their cultures, he persisted in being curious about their lives and eventually broke the ice to empathize more with them. He was able to form deeper connections with migrant workers through mini interactions where he learnt about their backgrounds and struggles. He even planned to eat durian with a patient after his appointment at the clinic and was moved by how grateful that patient was for HealthServe’s services. He advises prospective interns to “Just be patient, quite hard for them to communicate their issues… Just be open to learning. Always be on your toes. Be curious and ask questions.”
He also managed to pick up a lot of medical knowledge along the way as he was given opportunities to experience the medical field first-hand and even sat in with doctors to learn about various diseases.
A challenge he faced during the internship was the variability of his responsibilities. Since the situation at the clinic is so dynamic, there was a certain amount of stress in deciding whether to follow protocol or consider unique solutions in some situations. Through it all, he found that learning more about the brothers was the biggest takeaway of his internship. Many of the experiences the brothers faced were diverse and interesting, ranging from businesses they set up and their families back at home. He really gained a deeper understanding of their struggles and no longer sees them just as a means in an economic system but as a human being who deserves dignity and respect. He was enlightened by the mental burdens brothers faced being separated from their families and recognised the need for others to be more accepting of them.
His experiences have shown him the importance of thanking our migrant friends for playing a vital role in nation building and instilled in him a desire for society to be more empathetic and appreciative of them. He spoke of the brothers he met as simple and grateful individuals who humbled him and offered him a new perspective of life. He was surprised that despite the harsh conditions and low income some of the migrant workers receive, they were still appreciative of the opportunity to be able to work in Singapore.
Grateful for the new friends, valuable lessons, food trips in Geylang and widened worldview he received through his clinic internship at HealthServe, Eric leaves us confident that he has achieved his goals of interacting more with migrant workers and picking up new medical skills. He is also eager to work with HealthServe again sometime in the future!