Paving the Path to Acceptance
Isabel Phua, a 24-year-old millennial, strives to change the perceptions of migrant workers in society with the programme, “Migrant x Me” that she founded
Written by Melinda Janika | Photographs by Isabel Phua
The term “migrant workers” brings images of construction workers and foreigners into our minds. The usual impressions of them are typically negative in nature. However, there are individuals striving to change such perspectives.
Isabel Phua, 24, programme head of Migrant x Me, is one such individual.
Isabel began interacting with migrant workers in 2012 when she noticed them sleeping at the void deck of the HDB block she was staying in. She and the church group she was leading bought food and water for them as a sign of gratitude, and to strike conversations.
However, Isabel wouldn’t consider what she’s doing as helping them.
“I wouldn’t use the word help because it stands from a view that they need help and we are their “saviour”. I’d prefer to use the word befriending, working with, or reaching out,” she explained.
Growing up, Isabel was scared of them due to the comments made around her but, after her first interaction, her impression changed.
In 2014, she attended a church missions conference which had a workshop focusing on migrant workers where a veteran challenged the participants to stand up for social justice and to show God’s love to them. That started Isabel’s journey of befriending workers.
The following four years, Isabel and her friends befriended migrant workers and even visited them in their homes back in their countries, Bangladesh and India. Being invited to speak at workshops and with people around her having a keen interest to be more involved, Isabel wanted to do something more sustainable. Hence, the birth of “Migrant x Me”.
“Migrant x Me” conducts learning journeys to raise awareness for migrant workers and to build bridges between Singaporeans and workers. It also works as a platform to let people volunteer with the workers.
Established in July 2018, the official learning journeys started in September 2018 and are located in the Sungei Tengah Lodge’s office space. Each journey comprises interaction and sharing by migrant workers, a guided walk through the facilities, and dormitory food tasting.
Migrant x Me also acts as a platform for injured migrant workers to raise awareness for their community. After befriending them, Isabel had discovered that they aren’t allowed to work due to their injuries and have to wait for the processing of their cases with Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
“[My vision is] that we will see them beyond a number, beyond a statistic. To see them as fellow humans, with a name, face, families, hopes and dreams. To see them not as helpless or solely in need, but people with dignity, strength and resilience,” said Isabel regarding her end goal for society in relation to migrant workers.
Check out their Instagram page, @migrantxme to follow their progress and to sign up for their learning journeys.