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Volunteers at meals-for-migrant-workers project: We just want to help

The New Paper | Darishini Thiyagarajan | Wednesday, Apr 30, 2014

A worker at Alangkar Restaurant, one of the restaurants in the meal programme, serving the meals to the workers.

Help first, ask questions later.

This is something that Madam Christine Pelly, 58, a retired lecturer from the National Institute of Education (NIE), strongly believes in.

Literally putting her money where her mouth is, Madam Pelly once gave $100 to a needy migrant worker despite the fact that he was reluctant to tell her much about himself.

"He looked like he was genuinely in pain and after a few questions he told the volunteers that he had a bad tooth.

"I had to help him," said Madam Pelly, who has been with The Cuff Road project for just over a year.

This is a motto that she and other volunteers adhere to while helping out at The Cuff Road Project, a free meal programme in Little India for migrant workers here who are unable to work due to injury or disputes with their employers. (See report right.)

Today, the team behind the project - Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) and ONE Singapore - will be celebrating serving their 500,000th meal.

There will be a Bollywood-themed party for workers at Nandini's Restaurant on Rowell Road in Little India.

Madam Pelly said that it was as a volunteer with the project that she had one of her most memorable experiences.

About six months ago, while serving meals, she met a migrant worker.

His face was swollen and he had a tooth or two missing. When asked what had happened to him, he would reveal only that he had a bad tooth.

REPAYING KINDNESS

Madam Pelly reached into her wallet, pulled out $100 and gave it to him.

She told him to take the money to see a dentist and to bring back receipts if he needed more money.

"When I gave him the address to the dentist, he was surprised at first, but then he seemed grateful and happy," she said.

Since that day, the young man has been going back to the restaurant to return Madam Pelly her money, bit by bit.

"It felt really good and my faith in him was restored. I never expected him to come back two days later with $21 and his receipt, to thank me," she said.

And it is instances like this that keep her coming back to help migrant workers who have no one else to turn to.

"I have learnt how to have more faith in human nature. Many of them are good people and I think we all should learn to appreciate them for doing the jobs Singaporeans do not want to do."

There are about 100 volunteers who help out at the project and Madam Pelly said that more have come on board recently due to the riot in December, which unexpectedly gave the group more exposure.

"I saw at least fifteen new volunteers last Wednesday," she said.

ABOUT THE PROJECT

The Cuff Road Project was started in March 2008, by American Debbie Fordyce and a group of friends.

Its purpose was to help feed needy migrant workers here.

The idea came about after Ms Fordyce, who lives here, and her friends spoke to homeless migrant workers in Little India.

They learnt that many were in need of food and shelter after being left in the lurch by their employers.

This project focuses on helping migrant workers who are involved in employment disputes, are injured, or are without family here.

The food is prepared mainly by two restaurants in Little India serving South Indian and Bangladeshi food.

It is paid for by public donations.

Before the project, most migrant workers visited temples here in the hope of food, said volunteer Balambigai Balakrishnan, a researcher.

The Cuff Road Project serves an average of 200 to 350 workers daily during breakfast and dinner. Most of these workers are from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Volunteers from Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) are always stationed at the restaurants serving the food.

This way, workers can consult them on how to handle problems involving things like injury claims, unpaid salaries and work permit scams.

Those who wish to lend a hand in this project can visit TWC2's website at http://twc2.org.sg

This article was published on April 28 in The New Paper.

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