By Maxie Aw Yeong and Cerelia Lim
In recent months, to be a foreigner in Singapore is to subject oneself to scrutiny.
Impassioned debate over the country’s immigration policies, stirred by a strong influx of foreign workers in recent years, has dominated media coverage and occupied policy makers.
Such public resentment is partly underpinned by an assumption that foreigners come to Singapore merely to compete with Singaporeans for jobs and places in schools.
But beneath the public hubbub, there are many foreigners who, like their Singaporean counterparts, contribute to the society they live in through volunteer work.
Anne Bergen-Aurand (left), an American who currently stays in Singapore, also enjoys the satisfaction of contributing to causes which she feels strongly about.
The 36-year-old, whose husband is a professor at the Nanyang Technological University, has worked with Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), volunteer groups that aid foreign workers in need.
When Bergen-Aurand first came to Singapore due to her husband’s work commitment, she met foreign workers who are abused and mistreated.
She said: “There must be some organisation that works with these problems. Thus, I found HOME and TWC2, which work closely together.”
“I was drawn to volunteering with HOME and TWC2 after learning the difficulties and injustice that some domestic workers face here,” said the 36-year-old, who previously worked at TWC2 as a fulltime staff member.
Of the many cases that she has worked on, Bergen-Aurand remembers a case in which a young Bangladeshi worker became unemployed only after a few months of work.
The money he earned was not enough to pay for the debt that he had incurred in borrowing to come to Singapore.
What the workers don’t realise, said Bergen-Aurand, is that the workers’ contracts can be terminated anytime and they can be repatriated immediately after the termination.
“We want to try to get MOM (Ministry of Manpower) to take a stand on this.”
Although no longer employed by the organisation, she continues to spend an average of eight to ten hours of her free time every week volunteering with TWC2.
For fellow expatriate Luke Diaz (right), it was a spirit of reciprocation that led him to volunteerism.
He currently devotes time to working with Team Hope, an organisation that aims to provide, through football, those in need with the strength and discipline to stand on their feet again.
“I enjoy living in this country and feel that I should give something back,” said the 31-year-old, who works full-time as general manager at the Football Passion soccer academy.
Some foreign students too are actively involved in volunteer work. Nitish Ramkumar, an undergraduate at the Nanyang Technological University who had been involved in charity work back in Chennai, India, continues volunteering in Singapore at the NTU Welfare Services Club.
There is almost no difference in volunteering here and in India, he explained, adding that he feels the same sense of satisfaction when participating in volunteer work here.
“Other than not having the liberty of speaking in my mother tongue, volunteering here is still the same as back in my hometown,” the 19-year-old said.
“It is just the happiness that comes with helping people; it’s not like we’re paid,” he said.
With the sense of belonging that foreigners feel, they will be willing to contribute to Singapore’s society, should there be good opportunities to do so.
Bergen-Aurand echoed this sentiment: “This is where I live – this is my community now.”
Picture of Luke from Football Passion