Last Thursday (19th September 2019), I had the opportunity to head down for the launch ceremony of the Walking In Your Shoes Exhibition. Organised by Alliance of Guest Workers Outreach (AGWO), an initiative of Hope Initiative Alliance, the Walking In Your Shoes exhibition celebrates the guest worker community in Singapore and creates awareness of the difficulties they may face as a marginalised community.
The exhibition includes various segments where guests are able to experience and learn more about the different aspects of the guest workers’ lives in Singapore. It begins with a short introduction of this large and growing community who left their home in various countries including Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, before presenting facts and statistics on them.
The exhibition was a showcase of these workers’ stories. The video and written interviews give guests a means to interact with these workers personally, where they can hear the stories, struggles, and journeys of these workers as they leave home for work in Singapore. Here, guests can see this community not simply in terms of the whooping numbers that arrive on our shore every year, but to see each number as a life and person.
The exhibition also allows us to experience what it’s like to live as a guest worker. We see a typical bunk bed that the workers use, and a kitchen set up of the food ingredients they use to cook for their meals – including a homemade dhal recipe you can cook at home yourself!
At the exhibition, guests will also find tools and information that show the different ways we can support the guest worker community. Whether it’s learning simple phrases in the guest workers’ language to communicate with them in our everyday lives, or writing an appreciation note on the boards provided, these tools are reminders of how our appreciation and simple support of the community can go a long way.
Mr Samuel Gift Stephen, the chairman of AGWO, shared in his opening speech during the launch ceremony that his father came to Singapore in 1967 in a boat as an outsider. It was then that Singapore opened her doors to him, giving him a hope of a new life. With such a personal and touching encounter, his father then made it his goal to also reach out to these guest workers in Singapore with the hopes of paying it forward, by showing them this same love he once received years ago and by building relationships and friendships with them.
Perhaps this is something we are all called to do. What Mr Samuel Gift Stephen’s father had done was to see this group of migrant workers as people with stories, hopes, dreams, struggles, and joys that they bring along with them. Just as how someone had invested into him and loved him when he first stepped foot in Singapore, this is what he is also doing for the guest workers now.
While I am thankful to be able to call Singapore home and grow up a Singaporean, I know that I am not much different from these guest workers. As the tagline of the Walking In Your Shoes exhibition goes:
Hopes. Dreams. Stories. They have them too. Come, walk in their shoes.
We are all not much different from each other. If anything at all, the exhibition reminds us that we are all the same – no one is above another, no one is more privileged or special, and no one deserves more than another. We see the guest workers around us every day, but how often do we hear their stories to learn more about them?
I had a conversation with a friend recently, and he shared how one cannot fully love until one fully sees. In other words, we can’t fully love the guest worker community until we fully see their lives, stories, and journeys. While we may not be able to fully comprehend what their lives are like here, we are able to educate ourselves and learn more about them. To begin to love them and support them, we need to see each life that steps in our shores as a story, and not just as a number or a face on the street.
Not only do we have to see their lives and stories to fully love them, but we also need to see ourselves fully. We need to come to terms with the fact that we are one and the same, and that ultimately, we are as human as these guest workers are. Till we see that, we won’t be able to fully love and support this group.
The Walking In Your Shoes exhibition is running from now till 29th September 2019 at Far East Plaza, Level 2 Concourse.
Find out how you can further volunteer and support the guest workers here (link to AGWO website). You can also visit AGWO website here to learn more about what they do.