The Cuff Road Project[i] (TCRP) serves many purposes. For starters, it fills the bellies of a large number of men who aren’t permitted to work under the terms of their Special Pass, or because of action taken by their employer to prevent them from working. Most of the men have filed a work injury claim and have been expelled from their dormitory; others have registered a salary claim, been victim of a recruitment scam, or have been prematurely terminated. Besides offering meals, TCRP provides Transient Workers Count TOo (TWC2) with opportunities to understand and analyse the problems of male migrant workers; to liaise with MOM, hospitals, employers and doctors on behalf of individual workers; to conduct surveys about employment practices; to gather information about difficulties in navigating the systems; and with such information, to make proposals for changes to the regulations governing male migrant workers.
1,298 men benefitted from the meals at The Cuff Road Project in the six months from September 2015 to February 2016. These 1,298 men were issued 4,258 monthly meal cards. Some of these men have been with the program for more than one or two years; others stay only a short time before they’re sent home or move away from the Little India area where the meal program is located. Almost all the men face repatriation at the end of this stretch of time, whether or not they receive injury compensation or their unpaid salaries. A small number of men are allowed to work temporarily during an MOM investigation; an even smaller number are allowed to apply for work with a new employer.
Note 1: Our online case management system tells us how many individuals receive meal cards at The Cuff Road Project each month. Over 100 new men register for TCRP each month; the rest are cards issued in exchange for previous month’s cards. Some attend the meal program for only a short time; others attend for months or years, exchanging cards month after month.
Note 2: Not all the month’s cards are returned to us at the end of the month. When that happens, it is interpreted as a sign that the man has left the meal programme, and the most likely reason for that is that his case has concluded and he has gone home.
The number of meals taken by each man can be seen on the markings of returned cards, as shown in the picture. As can also be seen, some men eat frequently with us while others only rarely do so. Compiling the data so gathered, we are able to categorise them by meal frequency:
The table reveals that, on average over the six months, 8.4% of the men eat at our meal program every day. Men who depend on this meal program for so many breakfasts and dinners are those without any means of support. Besides the meal program, they may have to borrow money from friends or even ask family back home to send money for living expenses. These men are completely dependent on our food and other services for their survival, and we’re pleased to meet that desperate need.
At the other end of the spectrum are about a quarter (24.0%) of the TCRP beneficiaries who attend the meal program only rarely. There are two main reasons for this:
- Most of these men are living in other parts of the island and don’t have the means or time to regularly visit the meal program restaurants in Little India. Only occasionally do they come to TCRP to seek advice and since they’re at the restaurant, they would take a meal. Our volunteers answer their questions, or if their injury or salary issues are more complex, may refer men to the TWC2 office for further assistance from the social workers.
- The men may be new to the meal programme, joining late in the month. They only take a few meals on that month’s card.
In the middle are the men who eat 5 to 25 meals a month with us. Within this group we see certain patterns (see table at right). Some eat only dinners, meaning that they’re either sleeping late (breakfast is served from 7:30 to 9:30am), or they’re leaving for (illegal) work at that time of day. Some men take both breakfast and dinner, but two to three times as many people come for dinner as for breakfast. We see a clear pattern of Bangladeshi men bypassing the South Indian restaurant[ii] where meals are served two days a week. Our volunteers all find the food very tasty in both restaurants, but the Bangladeshi men can be picky about the spices and the consistency of the curry. We don’t see the same pattern among the Indian men, who appreciate the Bangladeshi meals as much as the Indian meals.
Honey attracts the bees
Other charities and well-wishers often use the TWC2 meal program to distribute toiletries, soap, fruit, sweets and other goodies to the men on special occasions. When the handouts are particularly desirable or valuable, like new backpacks, phone cards or shopping vouchers, we have a surge of new men registering for the meal program. On those evenings 20-30 men might appear for the first time, all of them people who qualify based on their Special Pass status. Yet these people had, for various reasons, not previously registered for the free meals until the precious goodies are being distributed.
These men probably know about our meal program but don’t want or need the meals. Presumably they have some means of supporting themselves, and many men choose to take the risk of working illegally to provide for themselves and to send money home to their families. It’s possible that they don’t attend the meals regularly because they’re living far away and only come to TCRP when summoned by friends to collect the free handouts. We don’t fully understand this, but it’s amusing nonetheless and we’re happy for them.
On the other hand, there are parties who aren’t keen on the men coming to TCRP and TWC2. We’re aware that some legal representatives warn their clients to avoid TWC2 and the free meal program. This is almost surely because our staff and volunteers inform our beneficiaries that there is no need to engage a lawyer for no-fault injury claims. MOM’s process for resolving these claims does not require legal representation. Any advice the men need to navigate the system they can get as free advice from TWC2.
Total meals served
The chart at right shows that during the six months from September 2015 to February 2016, TCRP served over 40,000 free meals. Since the start of the program in 2008, we’ve served over 660,000 meals to thousands of men who would otherwise have suffered through the deprivations and indignities of living without food, adequate medical attention, jobs, or emotional support. Our volunteers seek to fill these gaps and advocate for better protection for the workers throughout their working and non-working time in Singapore.
The Cuff Road Project provides the most basic need of food, as well as a wide variety of services and assistance to indigent South Asian male workers who never expected to find themselves in this grim situation after having paid and sacrificed so much to support their families.
[i] Meals are served twice a day, Monday to Friday, and once a day on Saturday. No meals are served on Sundays.
[ii] Because some Bangladeshi men have the luxury of eschewing the Indian food, we assume that they have the means to buy their own food. In other cases, some Bangladeshi men collect a packet meal from the Indian restaurant and supplement it with curries from the Bangladeshi restaurant.