Since arriving here nearly three years ago, Bangladeshi worker Hossain Imran wanted to know: “Why do Singaporeans need to send their boys to the army?”
He also wanted to find out whether locals thought workers such as himself were “good or no good”.
The 23-year-old finally got his answers on Feb 16, a Sunday, when he joined a group of 31 migrant workers and Singaporeans for a photography trip to Little India, Chinatown and East Coast Park. “I like Singapore better now,” he said after his first chance to talk to locals socially.
The full-day outing was part of a project by charity workers Zoe Tan, 23, and Jade Lee, 25, and sisters Aishah Hamid, 33, and Wajihah, 30.
Dubbed Parallel Paths, the project’s aim is to see Singapore through the eyes of migrant workers, and get them and locals to mingle. “We share the same living space but we don’t interact with each other,” said Ms Lee. “It’s like we’re going on parallel paths.”
At each stop, the 18 workers and 13 Singaporeans took photos based on three themes – buildings and colours, people and relationships, and what they loved about Singapore. The pictures will be exhibited at Artspace222 in Queen Street from April 1 to 11. “We’re hoping to curate the exhibition around the idea of perspectives – do workers actually notice the same things as us?” said Ms Lee.
The idea was sparked by another project, The Ordinary Man Facebook page by Ms Lee and Ms Tan, which involved asking strangers on the street what they thought about kindness in Singapore.
Ms Aishah, who works in the information technology industry, was one of these strangers approached in November. A month later, they agreed to work on a project together.
The photography trip was inspired by a thesis Ms Wajihah did for her master’s in migration studies. She gave workers disposable cameras to capture anything they wanted and later interviewed them about their photos.Ms Aishah said: “I thought, why don’t we do it on a larger scale?”
Armed with a $3,000 grant from a Singapore Kindness Movement fund, and with the help of welfare organisations, they got in touch with injured workers such as Mr Hossain, who could spare time for the outing. For the last two years, he has been unable to work after injuring both arms in a worksite accident.
Through Facebook, the team also asked for donations of disposable cameras. They received 33. “There were three primary school kids who decorated a camera and gave a Polaroid (photo) of themselves with the words ‘Thank you for building our buildings’,” said Ms Aishah.
For law undergraduate Joseph Ng, who took part in the trip, it was also the first time he got to speak to a foreign worker.
The 25-year-old said: “As they talked about their problems and issues, it reminded me that they have aspirations like us.”
As for Mr Hossain, he used to think that locals did not speak to him because they thought he was poor. But those he asked said they thought workers could not speak English. “They also told me Singaporeans are always busy, with work and school.”
First published in The Straits Times – March 7, 2014