“My biggest takeaway is that they are also people with their own stories and their own family. At the end of the day we are all human beings with the same desires and wants so we should always be kind to one another”- Shantini
Shantini worked as a Casework intern at HealthServe for 2-3 months from November 2020. She is a Sociology student at Nanyang Technological University and only had minimal interactions with migrant workers before working in HealthServe.
Shantini recalled how her grandparents or father would give out drinks to the migrant workers cleaning around their houses. While she heard negative stereotypes about migrant workers in the past, she developed her empathy for them after learning about them in the Sociology module “Migration and Multiculturalism” and talking to the migrant workers at HealthServe. She recognises the importance of seeing them as individuals and was very surprised that they are not praised for their contributions to Singapore as low-wage workers. Initially, Shantini had difficulties coping with the language barrier when talking to the migrant workers. She had to adapt to using shorter simpler sentences and pick up some of their slang such as “alibaba” which means to scam. She was heartened to see their faces light up when someone understood them and empathised with them. She appreciates that the migrant workers can feel safe at HealthServe.
Before coming to HealthServe, she was afraid of not being able to provide the migrant workers with the support that they needed, because their wants and needs were often mismatched. However, the support and patience of the caseworkers made her more comfortable and confident. She recalls advice from a staff member who told her “We will never truly know the answers to anything, but it is more of taking it as it comes”. Looking back on a fond memory, Shantini talked about a time when 3 migrant brothers came to the JB office for assistance. Trapped in the office due to the rain, they remained there for 2 hours which allowed the Casework interns to find out more about the brothers’ lives and play games with them. She remembers it as a very small and meaningful exchange not just for the brothers but for her as well and views it as a testament to what HealthServe stands for.
When asked what was the most difficult part of her internship, Shantini told us that the biggest difficulty was having to say no. On some occasions, the needs of the migrant workers such as urgent financial needs cannot be met no matter how dire the situation. It was always important to manage the expectations of the migrant workers in terms of what HealthServe can do for them and remind them that HealthServe is here to guide the migrant workers and provide resources for them and not to solve their problems.
A particular client that Shantini found memorable was a migrant brother who she interacted with for two weeks regarding his case. She recalls that he only reached out to HealthServe because no one else in Singapore was responding to him. She felt like she was on a rollercoaster ride with him as the brother was dealing with many things and different issues every day. Although the amount of help Shantini could offer to the brother was limited, she was moved by the way that he was so grateful for HealthServe’s efforts.
Shantini managed to learn how an NGO works and pick up some hands-on skills that can assist the workers. She hopes that she managed to make the migrant workers more comfortable when communicating with them. However, she felt like her time at HealthServe was quite short because just as she was getting comfortable with talking to them and they were getting comfortable with talking to her, her internship period had ended.
Through this internship, the one thing that changed for Shantini was that she was able to see the strength in the migrant workers. If not for this internship, she would have thought that the workers who are in a bad situation are vulnerable. However, now she is able to recognise how strong and resourceful the workers are. She believes that we should not see them as people that should be ‘saved’.
This experience has affirmed her values and provided insight on the stories of the migrant workers and why they should be seen as human beings. She wishes to come back and volunteer in whatever capacity so as to contribute to HealthServe again. To the migrant workers Shantini wishes to say, “I see you and I appreciate the work that you do”.