It all started after graduation this year, when my good friend Isabel and I decided to courageously fly ourselves to Tiruchirappalli, India, to visit our migrant worker friends back in their own villages.
We had forged a friendship with our migrant worker friends while they were working in Singapore for the past 7 to 10 years. We enjoyed this special friendship with them, and often exchanged jokes and shared pictures of our families with one another.
However, due to unfortunate circumstances regarding their work permits, they were sent back to India earlier this year without our knowledge. We lost contact and were not content with the abrupt end of our friendship. Fortunately, we retrieved their addresses and, hence, the grad trip of our lives!
To our delight, Isabel and I not only reconnected with our migrant worker friends miles from Singapore, but were also introduced to their village and family members. We stayed with them, milked their cows, visited their plantations and visited cultural sites together.
Witnessing and experiencing their lives back in their own village reminded us once again that migrant workers have their own stories to tell. They are more than a statistic; their lives are more valuable than our nation tends to acknowledge.
Meeting with their spouses, children, and even grandparents opened up our eyes to the incredible burdens these workers carry to support their family by earning a living in a foreign country.
Isabel and I have always shared a passion for justice and the marginalised, and upon returning back from India, hearts gripped with the plight of migrant workers’ lives and rights, we got connected with HOME.
HOME stands for the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, a non-profit organisation dedicated to assisting and advocating for foreign workers in Singapore. We’ve enjoyed building relationships with the lovely HOME staff, and have had various visits to their help desks, shelter for abused domestic workers and training academy that empowers them with skills.
Some may say it’s time-consuming to build relationships with migrant workers and domestic workers, and at other times, it also means offering practical financial assistance for them. These are the questions people may have: Is it really worth it? Why do we do what we do?
As believers of Christ, we recognise that social justice is the very heart and character of God (Deuteronomy 15:11, Psalm 146:7-9, Isaiah 58:3-7). Since it is the very nature of God to uphold the poor and vulnerable, likewise God’s people must pursue the same. Loving and responding to the needs of the marginalised thus is an outflow of the love and grace God has first shown us.
Isabel and I have learnt so much from the HOME team and their work, and we’ve recently decided to raise funds to support what they do.
Coming December 3, 2017, I will be running the Standard Chartered full marathon with two beautiful and strong domestic workers from the Philippines, Nancy and Jannah, to raise funds for HOME under a personal initiative we call Run for HOME. I’ve always enjoyed running, but this time round, I’m excited to be running for a cause dear to my heart.
Run for HOME carries a meaning greater than my interest for running; it also represents our shared vision and passion for justice. I’m excited not just to run for, but to run with the domestic workers for this cause – which symbolises my commitment to being a part of their journey.
I believe the physically and mentally exhausting distance of 42.195km would also allow me to identify with the challenges that migrant workers and domestic workers face, although what I will experience is minute compared to their real, everyday struggles.
Hope for the many women HOME has helped looks like this: Stepping out of a place of abuse into a place of warmth and refuge.
The one image that will keep me running to the finishing line is the memory of meeting a group of Punjabi women at the HOME shelter.
“Last time not good, but now very good,” said a Punjabi lady who’d been abused by her employer, her face brightening up as she shared how the shelter had been a safe place for her.
Hope for this woman and the many women HOME has helped looks like this: Stepping out of a place of abuse into a place of warmth and refuge. To see them holding onto hope again in their lives drives me to keep running – not just in this marathon – but in the race for social justice for all.
“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)
Joanne is a social worker based in Singapore, having been exposed to the exploitation and injustice faced by the migrant workers as an undergraduate in university. Other social concerns her heart is burdened for include poverty and community development.
HOME does not receive funding from the government and relies solely on donors. Their shelter for abused domestic workers alone takes $350,000 to run annually. Donate to Run for HOME and contribute to a culture of justice in Singapore, where all lives are seen with equal dignity and worth. To find out more about HOME and volunteering opportunities, visit their website here.