IMPACT 0089: DOING HIS PART
Ernest Seoh is a 24-year-old with a passion for edifying the lives of people around him. His acts of kindness make a big difference in the lives of those he encounters, from the cleaners around his housing estate to our migrant workers and, most surprisingly, the sex workers in Singapore. We speak with him to take a look at how he sees and loves the ‘unseen’ in our midsts.
Tell us more about what you do.
I’ve developed a mind on loving and blessing everybody around me in tangible ways. If I can make someone’s day better, why not?
I’ve gone cycling on random nights at ECP to look out for people who might be sad and alone, or homeless, and also done bigger initiatives such as showing care and love to the sex workers in Singapore.
Maybe focusing a bit more on the initiative for the sex workers, there were several occasions where I decided to do something meaningful for the sex workers in the red light districts of Singapore during Valentine’s Day and Christmas.
For Valentine’s Day events, I teamed up with a friend to give hundreds of roses together with simple cards to sex workers. We hit the streets and gave them out personally, as many as we could.
For Christmas events, another friend and I bought a bunch of presents and gave them out on the streets on Christmas night. There was this one moment where I saw the same lady I met during the Valentine’s Day event and my heart was so warm just to see her again. Just being able to share the Christmas joy and bring smiles to many faces was a great feeling.
What fuels you to do this?
I think my faith is a big motivation behind these initiatives. It helps me not to judge them or keep a distance away, but to simply love them and view them as my friends.
There was also this conference I attended, where the speaker mentioned that we can do something in and with our youth too! Why wait? Sometimes, us youths may use our youthfulness or age as an excuse that we’re too young or we won’t amount to much, and we wait for an older person or bigger organisation to do something.
Youthfulness should not be an excuse for ineffectiveness. Though we may not be able to change the entire sector or help a lot of people, as long as we’re able to make that difference to somebody, it’s worth it. So I decided that I was going to be effective in my youth and not use it as an excuse. Which led to the Christmas event.
More than a set target group, I believe anybody can make somebody else’s day better, be it a simple text to encourage a friend or buying a drink for construction workers or cleaners in your neighbourhood. That’s the drive behind why I have been doing what I do.
If I have the ability to make somebody’s day better, why not? And sex workers are a group that many shy away from.
What was starting out like?
Getting the logistics needed is pretty straightforward and easy, but to actually go out to the streets and do the work is the bigger obstacle. When I first started out and had no prior interactions with those I wanted to reach out to, my mind could only imagine how badly things could go.
Thankfully, having a trusted friend with me made a difference, and once he led the way, it got more comfortable after that.
Could you share a memorable experience from those events?
There was this location that we went to that was initially quite quiet and lifeless. But when we arrived with the roses, the atmosphere changed. The sex workers were initially surprised but ended up screaming “thank you” to us. They were beaming!
They also started calling more of their friends out to take pictures with us and to just talk to us. Even the bouncers and pimps were smiling and thanked us. My heart was so full. I told myself that I would come back to see them again.
How did you deal with your fears?
I think I just decided that there are some things worth more than my fears. Loving and blessing somebody are more important than my fears. I wouldn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to make somebody’s day better just because I was scared. It would have been a pity.
Of course, approaching strangers along the dark streets, where there are people looking and even staring at you, is scary. Even starting a conversation with people, not knowing what will happen, can be scary. But I always remind myself why I am doing this in the first place. There are truly things worth more than my fears.
Sex workers are often shunned by society. Do you have anything to say about that?
Sometimes society may treat sex workers as dirty or view sex work as something taboo, but they are humans like all of us! And I want to remind them that they are worthy of love.
For me, the dream is to one day be able to eat a meal with them and have really good conversations. More often than not, they are seen as a service or a product. But that is not true.
Beyond their work and industry, they are unique individuals. I hope sex workers will one day be embraced by society and not have taboos or judgement cast upon them because of their work.
Is there anything you’d like to say to those who have thoughts about starting an initiative like yours?
Go for it with proper planning and accountability! Firstly, I think it’s better to link up with existing organisations to get started if you are alone or unsure what to start with. There are organisations that help sex workers in Singapore, and they are a great places to partner with.
As reaching out to sex workers usually means our work can only take place at night, keep your parents or trusted mentors informed so that someone always knows where you are! It will put their hearts a little more at ease when you show them that you’re keeping accountable to them.
Lastly, avoid taking pictures of sex workers or the locations where they’re at. If you have to take pictures of what you are doing, don’t post it to social media.
This article was published on Aug 13, 2021