It is near the end of the monsoon season, when the air is still and heavy towards the close of day. Our meal programme, outside a shophouse in Farrer Park, is crowded and humid.
This table and its yellow chairs is often a gathering of melancholy. The grief of the men who come to us is, perhaps, drowned beneath the roar of traffic and the nearby fruit stall’s loud broadcasts of $1 offers. But beneath the men’s polite smiles is usually great trouble and woe.
Hence my surprise when Rubel shares his good news with me.
“Aunty Debbie last time helping with my injury, now I come back Singapore,” he beams, smiling with a radiance not usually seen around our table. He’s not here with another tale of woe. He’s in a new job and just stopping by to say hello to people he has held dear for the past few years.
Rubel works in the construction sector, building rebar structures. These are steel bars used to reinforce concrete. Three years ago, he got injured on the job, fracturing four of his spinal discs.
“That time my English not good, I don’t know ‘fracture’.” He recounts how his supervisor was sent out of the consultation room by a doctor at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, for lying to Rubel about how everything was fine. The doctor then showed him his x-rays.
“I scared already,” he recalls that moment. A previous incident at the same company only made him fear the worst. “I see our company send another boy [back to] Bangladesh.”
That other worker also had an injury. Their boss said he’d be given treatment and money, but ultimately, the incident and injury was not even reported to the authorities. “[Boss] don’t report MOM,” Rubel explains to us, using the initials for the Ministry of Manpower.
“After 15 days [the worker] no treatment take, boss send [him] back airport on taxi,” Rubel tells us.
As for Rubel’s own injury, it occurred just after the Covid-19 restrictions were partially lifted, allowing men to go back to work. But the restrictions on movements out of dormitories were still in place. Rubel found us on Facebook and started messaging us for help. A friend who knew of our meal programme brought him to speak to us in person after one of his hospital appointments. He was then only 27 years old, and would have feared that it might be the end of his working life.
“Singapore doctor only give pain medicine and physio,” he says. It didn’t seem as if surgical intervention was necessary. Wht he needed was time to heal. “Singapore resting, now everything OK. God really take care [of] me,” he adds.
A year later, his hospital treatments were completed and his work injury compensation claim concluded with fair compensation. He went back to Bangladesh.
Fast forward three years, Rubel has recovered, and is happily married with a young son back home. Now, he has a new job in Singapore, and is here to say hello to the TWC2 volunteers who helped him during the worst of his worries. He seems unfazed by the humidity despite the sweat on his face and the dampness of his shirt.
His new rebar job brings in $1,400-1,600 a month. This is a low salary for Singaporeans, but is higher than the average migrant worker’s salary. Rubel hopes to save enough in a year’s time to start a garment retail business back in Bangladesh.
Rubel’s life is back on track, and he is working to make his dream a reality again. We wish him all the best!