1,000,000 – that is the number of free meals served by local charity Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) since the inception of its free meals programme in 2008.
Affectionately known as The Cuff Road Project (TCRP), the meal programme began when a group of TWC2 volunteers realised there were huge numbers of migrant workers sleeping rough on the streets and in the parks of Little India.
Offering food was seen as a good way of getting to know the men and finding out what brought them to Singapore, and what series of events reduced them to sleeping rough.
Ten years on, the demand for free meals at TCRP has not abated. TWC2 sees upwards of 500 workers per meal during dinnertime, the majority being Bangladeshis and a minority of Indians whose work permits have been cancelled.
These men mostly face either salary disputes with their employers or are injured and awaiting treatment and compensation. They are not allowed to work in the meantime, have no income and are often not supported by their employers.
In light of rising costs, TWC2 has launched an online fund-raising campaign via its microsite at meals.twc2.org.sg that seeks to raise from the general public around 10 percent ($40,000) of TCRP’s annual operating expenditure.
TCRP took six years to reach its 500,000th meal milestone, but just a further four years to hit the one million mark. It is a significant milestone commemorated via a street party celebration and symbolic meal presentation ceremony with an added tinge of bittersweetness.
“While we celebrate the one million meals, we do so with the grim understanding that this should not be necessary in a rich developed country like Singapore”, said TCRP co-ordinator and TWC2 executive committee member Debbie Fordyce.
“That so many men are reduced to depending on food provided by charities does not speak well for this country. The things that make Singapore proud, gleaming buildings, MRT tunnels, roads systems, land reclamation and shipping complexes, should also make us feel shame that these were built by men who are left to depend on charity while waiting for medical treatment, injury compensation, salaries and investigations,” she added.
Even as the country marks the start of its annual month-long Singapore Food Festival, it is poignant to note in contrast to the abundance of food all around that many of these guest workers do not have access to the basic three square meals a day.
The celebration to be held at the Indian Heritage Centre on Saturday 14 July will see a symbolic one million meal token presented to a worker and exchanged for a plate of dinner. Also featured at the street party are performances by event partners the Indian Women’s Association, RedDot Bhangra and the Migrants Band.
“RedDot Bhangra is very honoured to work with Transient Workers Count Too, on aligned beliefs to give back and bring communities together, said Hargobind Singh, Director of RedDot Bhangra.
“Bhangra is a dance that reflects joy. We look forward to engaging everyone present with this high-energy dance form. By doing so, we hope to share our collective exuberance for this momentous occasion!”
Photography service provider All Aflutter adds an element of fun to the occasion with its Dollop Photobooth, offering free festive instant snapshots for all attendees to take away from the event. Every worker also receives free ice cream provided by Ben & Jerry’s, who have previously partnered TWC2 to raise awareness and funds.
The event ends with a lucky draw with prizes donated by members of the public following a call for sponsors on social media.