The second week of March 2016 was a busy week for TWC2 volunteers, as nearly 200 students from two schools came to us for a Day School programme.
However, Day School is not just for school students. Occasionally there have been groups of civil servants. Most of the time though, it is junior college and university students, some from overseas, who are the participants. Explains TWC2 vice-president Russell Heng, “Day school is designed for people who want more than just the usual format of a one-hour talk followed by a Q&A. It is a deeper engagement with the foreign workers experience.”
Elaborating, he says, “Adding more hours of lecture would be deadly boring and bound to lose the audience, especially if they are young students. So the Day School programme entitled Up Close With Migrant Workers takes participants onto the streets of Little India to give them a more intimate and topographically situated understanding of how foreign workers live their lives on a daily basis.”
As word get around that this is not only informative but also interesting, TWC2 has received a steady stream of requests to provide the Day School programme.
The programme begins with a talk
The second week of March, TWC2 hosted about 150 Temasek Junior College students Monday to Thursday, followed by a smaller batch from Ahmad Ibrahim School on Friday. The Temasek JC’s cohort was too large to fit into a single session. “As there is only room for a maximum of 40 each time,” says Russell, “the programme had to be spread over four afternoons to cater for the large number.”
Each session began with a talk. Then the students were taken on a walk around the locality, were they could see for themselves where workers might be living, where they change money, socialise, eat or shop. Volunteers from TWC2 leading these walking tours explain the reasons why foreign workers feel more comfortable in this locality.
Christine Pelly leads a group on a walkabout
All around Little India, there are signs of state regulation. Walkabout leaders discuss with the students the reasons for these rules, as well as the effects of such regulation on their social life.
Christine discusses the reasons for, and effects of, the many regulatory signs posted on void decks
To close the session, students were given a chance to taste the meals that TWC2 provides injured and out-of-work workers. Sitting in the same restaurants where our meals are served to workers, they get a chance to meet workers personally and learn more about their lives.
The programme concludes with a meal where students get a chance to sit with workers
TWC2 tweaks the programme from time to time based on our experiences. Christine Pelly, the Executive Committee member in charge of Public Engagement thinks that a better group size is twenty rather than the present forty. She noticed that “Singaporean students can be reticent when it comes to speaking up when they are in large groups.” This may be especially when they may feel what they have to say goes against the majority view.
Our volunteers sense a different response when we speak to students from International schools. Christine adds, “Issues like disempowerment, income inequality, racism and discrimination are routinely explored in international schools so students there, despite their privileged backgrounds, are more aware of such issues and more easily feel empathy.”
“I doubt our [local school ] kids are exposed to such candid discussions.”
Shona Loong leads another group of students on a walking tour. Here they stop to discuss liquor regulation
Housing blocks are surrounded by fancy boundary trimmings, but also serve as barriers to keep foreign workers out from Singaporean residents’ spaces
It doesn’t mean they are not able to benefit from Day School. “When Singaporean students are in smaller groups they speak more freely,” Christine points out. For example, “After the dinner, a small group of 5-6 girls approached me and then I found them to be more engaging and engaged. They asked pertinent questions about the conditions under which workers come to work in Singapore and wanted to know more about TWC2’s meal programme.”
It is then that we glimpse the possibilities of students having greater empathy or sensitivity, and their ability to think critically.
The trouble with a smaller group size of 20 is that TWC2 will need double the number of volunteers to cater to the same number of students. In the middle of a working day, getting this number of volunteers is a challenge.
Christine feels that students engage more when they are in smaller groups