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Deborah Choo recounts her first visit to a workers' dormitory.

The story of Delowar

 

Story by Deborah Choo / Pictures by Damien Chng

Two weeks after he arrived in Singapore, Mr Delowar Hossen and 35 of his compatriots were sleeping outside the Farrer Park mrt station. They were protesting that they had not been given jobs by their employers. It was only one month later that they found themselves in a dormitory in Tagore Lane.

The Online Citizen (TOC) team paid a visit to Mr. Delowar, a Bangladeshi national, at the dormitory on 3 January.

Entering the dormitory, I was greeted with rows of double-decker beds with wooden planks as beds that looked so squeezed that the walking passage allowed only one person in one direction and no one else. Staleness hung in the air. The whole dormitory had few windows, resulting in poor ventilation. Banana skins and shoes littered the floor, amongst the thick layer of dust that seems unperturbed for the longest time.

Dressed in only a thin white singlet and a blue checked sarong, one Bangladeshi worker, 23, was sitting on his bed looking at his photo while others merely stared in curiosity at us. I saw what kept him so engrossed – his family photo. When I asked him about his family, he pointed to each person one by one and told me about his mother, father, sister and her husband, and finally himself. Upon hearing my praise that his sister is pretty, his eyes shone with pride. He had only been in Singapore for two months, and has not worked a single day. He is not the only foreign worker caught in this dilemma.

Mr. Delowar, 33, came over to Singapore in hopes of finding a good paying job but was severely disappointed. He first arrived in Singapore on the 26 August 2008. However, now more than five months down the road, he still has not worked a single day.

His employer, PA Services Pte Ltd, has yet to provide him with a job.  Eight workers, including him, decided to make an appeal to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), hoping that they would help them find a job, to no avail.

Mr. Delowar was a graduate from a university back in Bangladesh about a decade ago. For the past ten years, he had dedicated his life to the primary education of the younger generation in his country, teaching them mainly English and mathematics. He was earning about 7,000 taka (S$150) a month.

His thought of venturing into Singapore was shared and encouraged by his parents, who parted with their crop plantation to raise S$9,000 for him to pay his agent in order to come to Singapore.

He has a family of five, comprises his parents, his wife and his brother, 23, who is still studying in a tertiary institution. He is the sole breadwinner of the family.

When quizzed about his family, it is one of the rare times where you see a wisp of a smile that vanished all too fast when he thought of the financial burden that followed.

“I have no money to give them,” he said, eyes filled with agony and despair.

He revealed that his family’s expenses amount to between 3,000 to 4,000 taka a month, and added that they now rely on loans borrowed from family and relatives, but this could not go on.

His own welfare now is secondary to him, he says, adding that  he only “eats to survive”.

Mr Delowar, like the other 500 workers living in the dormitory, is only provided with a wooden plank of approximately 1.5 cm in thickness to lie on. Only several fortunate ones have an extra mattress to place on top of the wooden plank. He is provided with two meals a day, one at 7 a.m. and another at 7p.m. The meals are the same every day, namely two slices of roti prata with curry in the morning and curry with a few slices of hard bread at night. The curry, however, often has to be thrown away as it has turned bad and the workers could not consume them.

He had hoped to earn a higher pay so as to provide a better life for his family. Above all, he held on to a dream – to build a school back in his hometown so that more Bangladeshi children can have the opportunity to study.

However, he blames no one but the current recession, and remains that “Singapore government is good”. When asked if he would return in the future, he replied that as long as there are opportunities, he would return. He just wishes that the nightmare can be over soon.

Mr. Delowar’s situation is only one out of the 500 voices in that dormitory crying out for help, only to find themselves facing a wall each time they cried out. Basic necessities such as water and food are not adequately provided. Every morning, they would take a 1.5 litre bottle to fill up tap water from the toilet for their drinking needs. This 1.5 litre of water would last them for a day. No washing powder is available to wash their clothes as they could not afford to buy it.

All most of these workers have seen since the two to five months they have set foot in Singapore are the four walls of their dormitory. They do not have any money to even take a bus. Their only recreation is to walk around the neighbourhood to pass time, while some Muslims attend mosque every Friday morning.

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Mr Delowar left for Bangladesh yesterday, 13 Jan, together with 23 others. Andrew Loh's report will be up soon on TOC.

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