Crowdfunding raised thousands for cultural centre for Bengali foreign workers

Dibashram, a drop-in centre for Bangladeshi workers near Little India which was in dire risk of shutting down due to a lack of funds, has spurred a crowdfunding site to raise money to cover the centre’s rent and utilities.

The site has raised a total of about S$4,500 in a short span on five days.

The fund had been set up in response to an article in The Sunday Times on 8 May which stated the possibility of Dibashram shutting down by June.

Mr Abdul Khaeer Mohammed Mohsin, 53, runs the centre, which is located in a 600 square foot second-floor shophouse unit along Rowell Road.

Mr Mohsin had expressed concern that he could no longer afford to pay for rent and utilities of Dibashram. Rent and utilities cost him about S$2,500 and S$500 per month respectively.

Mr Mohsin also runs the local monthly Bengali paper Banglar Kantha, which earns him about S$5,000 a month. He has made use of the paper’s profits to pay for Dibashram rent and utilities for the past five years.

Freelance work in translation and interpretation provides Mr Mohsin with another S$2,000 a month, which he then uses to pay for his household expenses. He lives with his wife and three children in a three-room Housing Board flat in Kallang Bahru.

However, Mr Mohsin reports that revenue from advertising in Banglar Kantha have recently fallen.

“I’m sad to close Dibashram,” he said. “But I have no more savings, and I still have to feed my family.”

There are around 160,000 Bangladeshi workers in Singapore. Dibashram has been a place for many of them to meet up for various activities such as writing poetry, playing musical instruments and viewing photography exhibitions.

Mr Mohsin also keeps a collection of Bengali books at the centre, which also facilitates as a place for free translation and counselling services for workers.

The centre also holds events to celebrate the Bengali New Year, Deepavali and Hari Raya.

Mr Mohsin states that while he could move to a smaller location, it would not give him enough space to house his collection including books and instruments.

National University of Singapore’s Professor Mohan Dutta, who studies migrant workers, has acknowledged Dibashram as an anchor for the Bangladeshi community in Singapore. He was involved in the setting up of the crowdfunding site to support Dibashram.

Migrant Workers’ Centre chairman Yeo Guat Kwang also responded to the news of Dibashram’s possible closure, writing a letter to the Forum Page of The Straits Times, which stated that the activities at Dibashram were a greatly beneficial in helping workers integrate better into the Singapore society.

The Migrant Workers’ Centre is an initiative of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers’ Federation.

Mr Mohsin has expressed his gratefulness for the donations so far, saying that, “Although it is not a permanent solution, we are thankful for the support that locals here had shown.”