Vaangae Anna’s Shobana Sreetharan provides a listening ear for Singapore’s migrant workers

The co-founder of the ground-up initiative has been providing emotional support for her ‘brothers’.

Nigel Chin

Published: 8 April 2020, 12:27 AM

As the number of COVID-19 cases among migrant workers rose in recent days, 27-year-old Shobana Sreetharan, who co-founded ground-up initiative Vaangae Anna, has been on her phone more often.

Having engaged migrant workers for years, the Youth Corps Singapore (YCS) Cohort 1 leader has formed a close bond with her migrant friends and is hoping they can come away from this episode safe and sound.

Vaangae Anna – Tamil for Come, Brother – aims to provide a safe space for migrant workers in Singapore. So while Shobana is unable to meet the migrant workers because of recent measures, she still checks on them regularly via WhatsApp or phone calls.

Shobana told Youth.SG most of the migrant workers she has befriended have communicated to her that they’ve been feeling quite afraid in light of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases among the foreign workers living in dormitories.

At least three dormitories housing foreign workers have been gazetted as isolation areas.

“They have been demoralised because they are unable to head out for activities or to even meet us. They also have friends from other dormitories they can’t meet now because of the new restrictions. So it’s actually quite taxing on their mental health,” said Shobana, who works as a teacher.

“Of course, they are very scared of the number of cases among the workers so far.”

Shobana said that she and her fellow volunteers at Vaangae Anna have been keeping in touch with the workers – whom she affectionately refer to as brothers – and plan to hold a video conferencing call using Google Hangouts on Sunday (Apr 12).

“At this moment, we feel that emotional support is what they need and that is something we can offer through a call or message,” Shobana shared.

“The reason we are having the call [on Sunday] is to find out what they need. If they need supplies, or other physical items, we’ll work out a way we can get them the items. At the very least, it can take some worries off their minds. The chats we’ve been having with the brothers, they would tell us that when they meet us every month, it is the time they enjoy the most and the only time they can really relax. Not having that must have been difficult. We want to show them we are still here, and not abandoning them.”

With the increased measures introduced for some of the foreign worker dormitories across the country such as restricting movement within dormitories and workers being advised to “cease social interactions” with others who are not residing in the same room or floor, Shobana reveals that her migrant friends are up for the fight.

“They are also trying to deal with this virus as best as they can, just like all of us are… We should understand that we are all in this situation together. After all, Singapore is a second home to them – they are here, they are also humans, just like us.”

She also added that Singaporeans can help the workers by simply encouraging them with their comments on social media platforms.

“There is no need to pass the negative remarks online…We (the volunteers at Vaangae Anna) do see a change in that more Singaporeans are engaging with them and treating them nicely, so that’s good,” Shobana said.

“My fellow Singaporeans, please understand that we can only get through this together and that we just need to be kind to one another.”

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