It had modest beginnings. As the first worker dormitory clusters hit the news and the lockdown announcement came, we wondered what we could do to help the workers then under our care. These would be the workers who had filed salary claims or suffered work injuries and were no longer able to work. We were concerned that bad news from Singapore would soon spread to their families and it was important that they were able to stay in contact with their families to reassure them that they were safe. Without jobs or income, they might not be able to afford the cost of staying in contact.

So we decided to launch a small campaign to raise $20,000 to buy phone top-ups for up to 2,000 workers — 2,000 being our caseload in a typical year.

We had a tremendous response from good-hearted people and we soon crossed the $20,000 target.

At the same time, word spread, and workers not under our care began to approach us for top-ups. So we decided to open the eligibility to any work permit holder in a quarantined dormitory — since they too could not go out to work. They might still be entitled to basic salary during quarantine, but they would suffer loss of overtime pay. If we could help them, we should.

As Covid-19 cases broke record after record, more and more dormitories were gazetted as Isolation Areas in the following days, and anyway, with the circuit-breaker, an increasing number of workers, even in non-quarantined dormitories, found themselves idled.

So our campaign grew and grew and grew. Fortunately, donations continued to come in…. but how much longer we can accept requests for top-ups is a big unknown. At some point, we will run out of money and have to tell workers, we can’t oblige anymore.

As of 21 April 2020, we’ve more or less spent all the donations that have come in. Here is a summary of what we have spent. We’ve not been extravagant towards any individual worker, giving only $10 in top-up as the standard, so that we can help as many as possible.

Week of 13 – 18 April 2020:

  • $25,000 to top up workers with M1 and Starhub numbers; these workers reached us via WhatsApp.
  • $33,000 to top up workers with Singtel numbers; these workers reached us via WhatsApp.
  • $10,000 consigned to Covid Migrant Support Coalition to help workers reaching out to them. The Coalition’s members include Geylang Adventures, ItsRainingRaincoats and MigrantXMe.
  • $48,000 in the form of physical top-up cards, to SDI and Migrant Cultural Group who were going out to various dorms (they were also giving out their other items such as hand sanitisers).

Total for the week: $116,000.

(Do continue scrolling down; there’s more information below the pictures)

Here are photos from the SDI and Migrant Cultural Group’s outreach:

Week of 20 – 25 April 2020, we will be giving out:

  • $40,000 to top up workers with M1, Starhub and Vivobee numbers; these workers reached us via WhatsApp.
  • $123,000 to top up workers with Singtel numbers; these workers reached us via WhatsApp.
  • $3,000 in the form of physical to-up cards dellivered by TWC2’s Randy Lee to two factory-converted dormitories.

We’re also expecting to spend about $1,500 to buy phone chargers and cables. These will be for workers who have come down with Covid-19. They would have been rushed to hospital and some of them might have left their chargers behind. Since they’re from quarantined dorms, nobody can retrieve their chargers for them. We hope to be supplying the chargers and cables to patients in Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.

Total for the week: $167,500.

Readers may notice that we’re spending more topping up Singtel cards compared to M1 and Starhub cards. That’s not any bias on our part. It just so happens that the majority of the workers who reach us for help say they’re on Singtel.

Here are more messages from workers confirming that they have received the top-ups:

Here’s a message from one guy needing a charger:

And a message from one guy confirming he has received a charger:

The taller guy on the left is our volunteer Randy, who made the rounds of two factory-converted dormitories on 21 April to distribute physical top-up cards:

Other parties are also distributing similar things, though sometimes they are distributing data packages. TWC2 chose to distribute phone-value top-ups because many workers’ families live in smaller towns or villages where there may only be 2G or 3G signals and the men need talk time to communicate with their families. Or the families don’t have smart phones, or there’s no wifi in their area. So a data plan isn’t helpful to them for this purpose.

We reckon it costs about 3 cents per minute to call Bangladesh. Our top-up for $10 isn’t a lot, and we anticipate a crying need in a month’s time especially as the circuit-breaker has now been extended to 1 June 2020.

How we’re going to respond to more requests depends on our donors. As we thank those who have been so generous so far, we’re keeping our fingers crossed.