20-year-old initiates project to show appreciation to cleaners amidst COVID-19 outbreak

Evander Goh and his team gathered 70 volunteers on Saturday for Project Merci to thank cleaners at hawker centres for their hard work.

Nigel Chin

Published: 26 February 2020, 3:08 PM

The healthcare workers have been praised plenty as they continue to fight in the frontline against COVID-19.

But for youths who are active in voluntary work, they found that a sector of workers – the cleaners that work in hawker centres – have not gotten as much appreciation.

Evander Goh, 20, and a group of volunteers felt that the cleaners in hawker centres should be treated as frontline heroes too because they come into touch with human fluids frequently – such as when clearing waste, and used utensils, plates and bowl off tables.

With this in mind, they set up an initiative called Project Merci to recognise the part cleaners play in the fight against the coronavirus. Together with 70 volunteers, aged between 16 and 26, Project Merci put together over 700 welfare packs for cleaners at 33 different hawker centres on Saturday (22 Feb).

The team of volunteers from Project Merci spent two hours to put together the welfare packs. PHOTO CREDIT: PROJECT MERCI/CLARENCE ONG

Items in the welfare packs include biscuits, milo and ribena drink, a can of Red Bull, as well as a bag of Nestle’s 3-in-1 coffee mix. The items were sponsored by various donors that were put in touch with him by a core sponsor who did not want to be named.

“It took us about two hours to pack all the welfare packs,” said Evander, who studies at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

“We split into groups of six to 11 and went to the different areas islandwide to give out the welfare packs. The last group ended the distribution only eight hours later.”

It might have taken longer for some groups because Evander had emphasised to the volunteers to reach out to the cleaners personally. While Project Merci, which got help from the National Youth Council, had liaised with the National Environment Agency to reach out to the different hawker centres, Evander did not want the volunteers to just deliver the welfare packs to the cleaners and call it a day after.

Evander wanted the volunteers to have the personal, human touch with the cleaners. PHOTO CREDIT: PROJECT MERCI/BELINDA CHUA

“I wanted the volunteers to have the personal, human touch with the cleaners. I wanted them to speak with them and listen to their stories, and treat them with the care they deserve,” Evander told Youth.SG. For the cleaners that were not on duty when the team from Project Merci visited, the welfare packs were passed on to their onsite supervisors.

Evander also shared that the volunteers found out the cleaners did feel under appreciated. More importantly, they said that there are still Singaporeans who aren’t considerate or sensitive enough during this period.

There are still some who tend to leave their used tissue paper or wet wipes on the table, instead of clearing it themselves. This meant that cleaners who do not have gloves will have to clear it with their bare hands, exposing them to the germs and bacteria around.

“Some of the cleaners actually approached us to continue to spread the awareness of the personal hygiene of consumers at hawker centres,” he said.

“They don’t need others to show them tons of appreciation. They just need them to dispose of their used tissue on their own instead.”

The volunteers all took public transport to get to the hawker centres. PHOTO CREDIT: PROJECT MERCI/CLARENCE ONG

Project Merci was definitely a different experience compared to one that Evander had previously. He used to be a volunteer under the Heartware Network, but organising an initiative of his own helped him to realise that there are a lot of voices to be heard.

“I’m exposing myself to different kinds of communities, and it really provides me with more opportunities to help others,” he shared.

“It was satisfying personally, and definitely very heartening to hear the stories the volunteers had to tell… and it was heartening to know that the cleaners really appreciated all these efforts.”

Project Merci is planning to do a second phase of their outreach soon. PHOTO CREDIT: PROJECT MERCI/BELINDA CHUA

Which is why Evander and Project Merci plan expanding the project by doing a second phase in two weeks’ time.

And this time, they are planning on appreciating the efforts of not just cleaners they haven’t reached out too, but service staff from the public transport sector too.

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