By TWC2 volunteer Jamaur B, based on an interview in January 2021
The shards of a broken dream pierce us in places that blades can never touch, and strip us of the armour of optimism that carries us through our darkest days.
Amin Md Al — Alamin for short — came to Singapore as a bright young man eager to apply his trade and build a promising career that would financially support himself and his family, yet five years into his first-ever venture abroad, his youthful physique betrays a spirit worn weary with disillusionment.
For a Bangladeshi teenager, Singapore was a bright Pole Star. Growing up, Alamin listened with rapt attention to neighbours and friends who spoke of Singapore as the Land of Opportunity: a safe, clean, and thriving oasis where a good life and meaningful salary could be had by those hard-working and tenacious enough to pursue them. It was also a much more accessible escape from Bangladesh’s harsh living conditions than transplant countries in the West; most Bangledeshis knew that the prospects of moving to Europe for work were extremely slim, as most who emigrate from Bangladesh to countries like Italy are either wealthy or well-connected.
Alamin’s path to entering the working world after completing post-secondary school was all but ordained by his position in the family. As the eldest boy (which he terms the “Big Son”), he was expected to start chipping in to support the family as soon as he feasibly could. The urgency to make money was compounded by his father’s poor health, which further limited the household income and placed a strain on their dwindling resources. Singapore seemed like the best option to pick up a job with a fair and sustainable wage. Thus, at the ripe young age of 17, Alamin embarked on a journey of becoming a migrant.
Like most foreign workers in Singapore, Alamin’s journey began at a skills training center in his home country. The training center that Amin attended came through a friend’s referral, and happened to be close to his grandmother’s house in the city of Dhaka. When he first arrived at the training center at 17, he was turned away for being too young as the centre required at least a passport for registration, and the minimum age for passport applications was 18. After waiting a month until his 18th birthday and paying the 4,000 Bangladeshi taka (~$70) in application fees for his passport, Alamin was admitted into the centre.
The training course took four months during which he built his skills to become a plumber. The course cost him 450,000 taka (~$7000). Being a sharp student, he passed his skills certification exam on the first attempt, and was ready to embark on the job search. Not knowing any other job agent, he then relied on the training centre to act as his placement agent, and was offered a plumbing job after another five months. The placement fee cost another 4 lakh 20,000 taka (~$7000), meaning his all-in investment was over $14,000 before he even set foot in Singapore.
Alamin’s initial pay when he arrived in 2015 was meager, though it was hardly untypical. His basic salary was only $468 monthly, with no additional allowances. But every month, some $85 – $95 was deducted from his pay to cover the cost of housing — his largest expense.
Even though he was faced with an enormous debt, obligations to financially support his family, and an extremely modest salary, Alamin remained hopeful that he was in the best position to build a promising life over the longer term. Ever the responsible eldest son, he did not have any issues with the work he performed, and approached each day ready to tackle his tasks and support his family. “Any type of work now is no problem. At 17 they say I couldn’t work, but now at 23 can, no problem,” Alamin says, looking back at the progress he has made.
If this is where the story ends, one may assume that Alamin is continuing to practice his trade as a plumber, steadily solidifying his financial position and looking forward to building a family of his own. Sadly, the winds of fate have blown his plans off course.
“Luck is not with me,” Alamin says, his eyes welling up with emotion “after five years I still have nothing.”
He was injured in a plumbing accident in October 2019. He filed a compensation claim, but it is still in process, mostly because his medical treatment is still ongoing. Meanwhile, he is not allowed to work — a condition of having filed a compensation claim and being put on a Special Pass by the Ministry of Manpower.
He has been without income for over a year. Despite his employer keeping him on in the dormitory, he has had problems getting food and TWC2 has had to give him money for that, and for other small expenses. He says he often has to survive on next to nothing. He can’t ask family for support due to their already strained resources, and as the Big Son he feels it is his responsibility to find a way for himself.
While he remains out of work, he can’t help but imagine what his life might have been like if he could have taken another path. He was an excellent student in his early years, and Alamin mentions that his teachers actively encouraged him to continue his studies. He wanted the same too. Knowing his financial situation, his teachers even went so far as to offer to support him if he chose to get a degree. Yet his responsibilities to his family were his highest priority, and he could not even begin to entertain the idea of choosing to better himself over their more immediate needs.
After five years in Singapore, Alamin’s spirit has been dampened as he struggles to get himself back on his feet financially. He is disappointed by the loss of the plumbing job, not only because of the significant investment of over $14,000 for his training, but also because the stress and pressures of this experience has robbed him of so much of his youth.
He feels as if he’s stuck with no real options — he doubts whether a better job awaits him in Singapore, yet if he were to go back to Bangladesh, he would be seen as a failure and have to start from scratch with poor pay and working conditions.
In spite of all his heart-wrenching tribulations, Alamin’s faith is the beacon that sustains him.
“This is the exam of God. I must believe that these things will come to pass.”