Updated: May 5
ILLUSTRATION: LIANG LEI
Over the past week, Class Notes invited migrant workers in Singapore to send in letters addressed to their families. Their letters show a dimension of panic, fear and longing living through the coronavirus pandemic away from home.
Migrant workers are suffering the brunt of the country’s outbreak. As of Monday (May 4), foreign workers living in dormitories — mostly labourers from India, Bangladesh and China — account for some 87 per cent of Singapore’s 18,778 infections.
This is what they have to say to their families back home.
Mr Nasrallah Nayeem, 25, is an assistant supervisor at the Pulau Bukom Petrochemical Refinery. He comes from Savar, Bangladesh, and is currently living in Westlite Toh Guan dormitory. This is his letter to his mother back home, written in English.
While I'm writing this letter to you, the first sunshine just came out from the dark. After the pre-dawn meal, I felt like you were sitting beside me, smiling. And I couldn't go back to sleep.
Ma, how are you? I know you can’t see me, but I can feel your every single touch. Leaving you back in my country was the most difficult task I've ever done. But I promise you, I'll be the best son in the world.
How's my rose garden on my roof mom? You water them regularly right? When you wake up, send me photos of them. I miss them too.
You know, I just bought a new smartphone for you last week. I thought I'll give you a surprise and hug you from the back. But this virus took away all our dreams.
But we didn't lose hope. We're strong here ma. We're fighting back hard. Doctor said we all will be alright if we stick inside.
And after the bad days are over, the first day I'll come back to you. Then we'll take the most beautiful photo of our lifetime using your new handphone.
Ma, give me your blessings that I can be very strong. Don't cry ma, you are my only hope.
I promise you, I won't leave you ever.
Love you ma.
Yours and only yours,
The next letter, originally written in Tamil, comes from a group of migrant workers from India living at Tuas View Dormitory.
If I’m living, I’ll go back to my country.
If not, please write down and take note that
We will not send away the next generation.
The aeroplane that holds all of our lives has a higher weight than the one that holds all the goods from India. The aeroplane that holds our lives is not only holding our lives but dreams; to get our family members and sisters married, build a new house, etc. It is holding all these million dreams. A lot of us are communicating with our loved ones through Whatsapp video call and are in hopes of fulfilling their dreams by working hard here.
Humans forgot humanity, but humanity will be the only one that saves humans. But many humans forgot this. With this coronavirus, an echo keeps resounding through the waves. An echo to let our relatives who went to another country to earn a living, to die there; an echo to never come back.
Mr Sara Veeramani Siva Dharshan, 32, is a construction supervisor living at Tuas View Dormitory. He comes from Madurai, a city in Tamil Nadu, India. This is his letter, translated from Tamil.
We do not know the exact direction life is leading us to. We left our wife, children, father, mother and siblings to another country to suffer. I have no words to explain the pain and suffering this will give to our loved ones. On the one hand, there are no aeroplanes. We can’t even go to the airport. On the other hand, we are all suffering because of the coronavirus. With a situation like this, I have no words to describe our pain and suffering in my country. My father and my kids are asking when I will be coming home. My wife is asking me to stay safe.
Life is just not all about money. But, all the same, we know we can’t use love and affection for everything in life. This is a very difficult time or everyone. It’s giving pain to everyone. So many people can’t even organise and see their sisters’ marriage in their country.
For some others, they can’t even see their parents especially when their health is worsening. They are really yearning to see their parents. Some people might have even thought of bringing their wives here.
For some people, they might be having some debt issues back in their country. With the situation like this, they can’t even go back to look into these issues quickly.
Only God can help us from this situation; There is no stronger force than God. God must help all of us suffering here. We hope that everyone around the world should all be fine.
Mr Mugilan, 23, from Johor Bahru, Malaysia, works as a restaurant shift manager in Singapore. He has not returned home since Malaysia closed its borders on March 18. This is his letter to his mother, written in English.
My Dear Amma ,
How are you Mum? I hope you're doing great in these challenging months. I really missed you a lot Mum. As you know I usually don't do this kind of stuff, but I thought this may be a good way to talk to you in this period. I feel that I'm suffering alone and need some guidance to continue my life for the upcoming month in Singapore.
I have been feeling really down lately. My working place and the environment here a bit worse right now due to Covid-19. I feel like I'm always down, especially after seeing the huge cases every day. These few weeks in Singapore make me weak and I really do try, it just doesn't come easy to me. This kind of situation is also giving me a hard time and slamming me into lockers. I am sick of all of it.
I don't know what kind of help I need, but it's like there is a dark cloud over me all the time. I'm always bored and scared to go out since the law is strict in Singapore right now. So, I tried to talk to a couple of friends who listened, but I could tell they didn't really get it.
I don't want things to keep going on like this, but I don't know what else to do. I know you won't be able to fix all this stuff, but I wanted to let you know what was going on and see if you had any advice or anything that you could give me. Please take care of yourself and our family. Eat proper meals and always don't forget to pray, Mum. Hope everything goes well.
Your Lovely Son,
Ms Cris is a domestic helper working in Singapore. She comes from Luzon, the Philippines. This is her letter to her family, written in English.
In this time of the pandemic, when they first announced that the Philippines will be locked down, I became so worried about my mother and siblings in my hometown and my daughter who is stuck in Manila. I rushed to send them remittance so that they could stock up on food and everyday essentials and have been communicating with them every day to know that they are ok, especially my daughter in Manila.
I’m so thankful to the Lord because my daughter has a friend staying with her. At least she has someone to accompany her during this lockdown and her cute dog can help relieve her boredom but then came the news about Italy and I became worried again. My youngest brother and sister in law live in Rome so I always message and call them to make sure they are safe and to remind them to be safe and stock up on food for this lockdown. I thank God that they are ok and safe.
When Singapore announced the circuit breaker and the higher infection numbers, I did feel stressed and of course, worried and bored that I can’t go out except for essential things. I hope and pray always that this will end soon and God will protect and heal the whole world soon so that life can go back to normal.
Hi Nanay (Mom),
How are you? Are you ok there? How about Ge and Randy and the kids, are they ok? Please pick up the money at Moneygram, wear your mask and buy your rice and gas for cooking and some everyday needs. Make sure to stock on food that will last longer and buy your maintenance medicine. I sent some masks and Vitamin C for you and for the kids, Ge and Randy, with LBC air cargo. Buy everything, don't go out anymore, stay home, stay safe and wear your mask if you need to go outside the house. Take care and always pray. Love you all.
How are you there? Are you safe there at your boarding house, you know I'm so worried about you there, why not go to your friend’s house to stay so you’re not alone there and I did transfer to your account to buy food and things that you need. Go out now and buy things before they run out and have a long queue, then move to your friend’s house. Bring your important things and Nanay will send you your extra masks and Vitamin C to boost your immune system. Take care and bring your cute dog so you don't feel bored and you have some company to ease some of your everyday tasks while locked down there. Don’t go out, stay home and stay safe ok? Message me on Viber if anything will keep in touch with you every day and always pray that you are ok. Love you anak.
Are you alright there in Rome? Are you far from the area that is affected now? I heard that it will be locked down in Italy and I have been worried about both of you there. So what you can do now is wear your mask and protect yourself, stock up food for the lockdown and take Vitamin C to support your immune system or hot lemon juice with honey before bedtime. It will help you both. Take care and message me if anything so I know you're alright there, be safe, stay home and stay safe ok. Take care both of you there. Bye
Mr Rey (centre, at the back) from the Philippines works as a nurse in a Singapore hospital. He wrote this letter, in English, to all Singaporeans.
I have been a hospital healthcare worker for many years in Singapore. I'm proud and it has been a great honour for me to contribute and to serve this country especially now in fighting this battle against the coronavirus. But while I’m here, I cannot help but think about my own country and how I’m unable to be there physically to help my fellow countrymen. Not only those affected by the virus (nurses, doctors, frontliners) but those families on lockdown who don’t have enough supply of food to survive a meal for a day.
I’m worried about my parents, who are alone with my 13-year-old niece and on house lockdown in Dasmariñas Cavite. Because of the lockdown they don’t have any source of income. My elder sister is locked down in Manila while my younger sister is locked down in Quezon City while I’m here in Singapore. I want to go back to the Philippines to help my parents but I can’t because I need to accept the reality that we have to follow the rules here in Singapore.
I’m most worried about the increasing number of cases in the Philippines because many people there are stubborn and refuse to listen to the government’s rules. I’m coping by replacing my worries with courage and faith, for the sake of my family and my country. All I can do now is hope that it will end soon.
As a frontliner in the medical field, we put ourselves at high risk in dealing with this worldwide pandemic. While many stay at home, we are staying at work for them. Worrying about my family back in the Philippines will not help, instead I'm increasing my faith in our living hope — Jesus. He is our hope that no virus can kill. We may not know what the future holds in these coming weeks or months but with Him, there's hope in uncertainty, just trust in Him. I just want to encourage everyone that there’s hope each and every day (despite all the negative news) and that there’s Hope for all of us in Singapore, in the Philippines, and in the world as God is in control of everything.
Being united, let's spread the spirit of Conqueror, spirit of Overcomer, and the spirit of Courage.
TRANSLATION BY MADEEHA SHAHNAAZ