Leave No-One Behind: Uniting the Community at the Height of the Pandemic
To Muntasir, when he first heard about UWC Atlantic from his school in Dhaka, Bangladesh, “it was as if a door to a new world was about to open.” He attended the school from 1995 to 1997, which he considers the years when he gradually came out from the shell of the shy and reclusive boy that he was to the person he is today, now practicing as a doctor in Singapore. He shared with us the following reflections on how he sees his role in helping the community today, as a doctor who rushed to help the migrant worker dormitories in Singapore at the height of the pandemic:
UWC was always about giving back to the community. My time at UWC Atlantic was the foundation stone, laying the groundwork for a life of nurturing empathy and helping others. But it really takes a crisis to truly test if you have what it takes – to jump into the fire at the height of the blaze, so that you can pull other people out. Calamities like this sometimes bring the worst out of people and at the same time can bring the best out of people. Fortunately, it has brought out the best in many and that outnumbers the former categrory.
When Covid-19 first reached Singapore I was still in Perth, Australia on a fellowship. But when things got worse there, I was immediately pulled back home. This meant that when the situation in Singapore took a turn for the worse as the first clusters of the virus began to appear in the worker dormitories, I was serving my 14 day stay home notice, unable to do anything and feeling increasingly restless. Then my phone beeped, it was a message from my hospital: I was needed. I was to join the swabbing operations in the worker dormitories as soon as I was able to return to work.
In a matter of hours we were all on the ground. The wall against the onslaught of the virus was forming. Today, when I imagine the faces of the people who stood shoulder to shoulder manning the wall, I don’t only see the healthcare workers or the essential service providers, I see everyone: the general population, the people in the migrant workers dormitory who did their part by wearing a mask, by maintaining personal hygiene, staying at home and by persevering. Teamwork is the key, it’s not only the healthcare workers who are involved, everyone is involved and we cannot win this fight without everyone’s cooperation.
We were deployed in teams based on a roster in the dorms and execution of the swabbing operation was being carried out with us garbed in gowns, N95 masks, goggles and faceshields. The atmosphere in the early days was tense. The migrant workers appeared worried and as part of our work as the communications team, we were all trying our best to make them comfortable. They came from various cultures, at times did not speak English and were more comfortable with their native language. Pandemics harbor fear, for them this was even more the case as they were unsure and fearful about their future. I am sure they had a lot of doubts gnawing into their souls - Will I get sick? What happens when I get sick? Will we be cared for or will we be sent back to our countries? And the main question: what will happen to me?
Fear and uncertainty is a dreadful thing, it can unarm the strongest and bravest of souls. We needed to address their fears, we needed to reassure them that we are with them, we will take care of them and no one will be left behind. We needed to inspire them, motivate them; we needed to boost their self-esteem and remind them of the contributions they had made. So that's exactly what we did. I still remember the very first time when, with a loudhailer in hand, I spoke out in Bengali (one of the native tongues of the migrant workers) to the thousands of workers standing in the balconies of their dormitory blocks, (whilst my other colleagues took turns in speaking out in the other languages spoken commonly by the migrant workers) - "As you all know, there is a massive spread of the Coronavirus infection all around the world. Unfortunately, it has come to your dorms too. Should you be afraid? I will tell you that there is nothing to be afraid of as we are already here for you all. We will take care of your health. You have done your part for Singapore, you have built the buildings we live in, you have built the roads we travel upon, your contribution to Singapore is enormous. You are one of us and we will take care of you." This was followed by a thunderous applause! We have finally managed to reach out to them, the barrier was broken, a bond of trust has been forged!
It is a beautiful world when humanity becomes the mantra.
Over the course of that month, the operations expanded further and the tide was turned, at least for now. My work scope changed from ground level medical care to being part of an outreach program looking into the welfare of the workers located in the dorms. Over the months we have managed to reach out to leaders among the migrant worker community, working with them alongside NGOs on getting our message through to them, the objective being simple: ensuring a continuity of care beyond the pandemic situation, empowering people and increasing awareness in the migrant workers community for a better future.
At the end of the day when I reflect upon what is happening in the world today, I do realize that the world is changing; things may not be the same as how they were before. New social norms will spring up, history is in the making and we are all going to be part of this. We are all in this together, and together we will overcome and continue to make the world a wonderful place to live in for everyone. For me, after many years, I have reached the crossroads again, and I have chosen my path.