Photo credit: AVIKRISHNA BHARDWAJ

IMPACT 0166: BRIDGING THE GAP WITH OUR BROTHERS FROM AFAR

Avikrishna Bhardwaj, 17, is one of the founders of Building Bridges, a student initiative started together with his group of friends. They aim to make a difference in the lives of the migrant workers in Singapore through raising awareness about their situations and raising funds to provide aid whenever possible. He writes a letter about his experience.

Dear Youth,​​

Working in the hot sun daily from morning to evening, eating lunch by the roadside, living away from family – our masked heroes are not given enough credit for the work they do for our society.

Building Bridges was born out of our appreciation for our migrant brothers, and the need to do more for them. Our two main goals were to raise funds, and increase kindness and understanding towards our construction workers.

It all started when my friend and I were reading an article about migrant workers in Singapore and how the government has been trying to improve their standard of living by building better dormitories for them. We were appalled at the heartless and negative comments on the Facebook link, such as “Go back to your backward country” and “Now cannot go see your girlfriends at Little India”.

I still remember how disgusted we felt that day. While we understood that we were in our A-level year, we felt that we could at least try to do something small, and hopefully make a difference for them.

Things moved so fast once we decided to embark on this mission. The biggest challenge was, of course, navigating through COVID-19 restrictions so we decided to expand our team of two to raise funds and create a social presence online.

We then emailed various parties who were much more experienced than us in this area, and got the support of the COVID Migrant Support Coalition (CMSC). The CMSC agreed to let us interview our migrant brothers to make a short video series on their lives. We also sold homemade cookies and brownies to collect donations.

The turning point in our project was the interview with the migrant workers themselves. Up till then, all we knew of our migrant brothers was what we had heard and read about them. We didn’t think we would end up becoming friends with them through the session we had with them. The migrant brothers we met were more than willing to share their personal stories with us, and we ended up talking for almost three hours!

One of the migrant brothers shared with us about his passion for cooking and dancing, showcasing his famous duck curry and self-choreographed dance routines. Another sang a beautiful Bengali melody for us.

The conversation took a more serious turn when we talked about their situation during the COVID-19 lockdowns, and what it was like being away from family for such a long period of time. Because of the pandemic, they hadn’t seen their family for two years.

A common theme among them was how they did not expect much and were willing to follow the rules enforced, especially COVID-19 restrictions. All they wanted was for things to get better, and they appreciated any efforts the government and the public did for them.

What inspired us were their wishes for Singaporeans. They only had good things to say! This really shocked us, having read all the hateful comments from many Singaporeans towards them. This especially pushed us to want to do better for them, and get others to do so too.

With help from the CMSC, our videos were made with careful deliberation, love and hope for a better life for migrant workers. Thankfully, they were well-received online with over 2,000 views and much positive feedback.

Now, with a few months left until our A-levels, we are still trying to make a difference by partnering with other like-minded organisations. We look forward to hanging out with our migrant brothers again and doing more for them after our exams!

Building Bridges started out as a passion project, but it has become an obsession of sorts for many of us. We had wished to bridge the gap between our citizens and them, but our project is slowly shifting as we understand them better.

Our hope is for our nation to cross that bridge towards them, and not just to find some kind of “middle ground”.

There are so many inspiring stories and life lessons to learn when we’re willing to completely bridge that gap with our migrant brothers. They are, after all, very much a part of our Singapore.

This article was published on Sep 10, 2021

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