Costs of Exclusion: Migrant Workers in Singapore

When we first started our Capstone project on the community of foreign domestic workers (FDWs)in December 2014, we sought to find out more about the issues-at-hand for this community. This culminated in a collaborative project between us and the team at Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), led by the esteemed Dr. Mohan Dutta. The CARE team had done a photo exhibition on the life of FDWs in Singapore, which was exhibited in Central Library within NUS. Our group then sought to collect and evaluate responses on the impact of this photo exhibition in changing attitudes towards FDWs.

Realizing that there was a whole host of issues closely entwined within this community, we decided to take our project one step further to interview FDWs themselves. Since FDWs usually have their days off on Sunday, we had to forsake many Sundays to conduct in-depth street interviews with FDWs in a bid to get a glimpse of their narratives as members of a marginalized community in Singapore. This disparity of statuses was evident in many of their hesitant voices to speak to us. They were afraid of speaking out against their employers and being sent home for doing so. We tried to further relationships between the different communities through an engagement session with the community which created a safe environment for CAPT students and the domestic workers to interact, through fun activities like baking and karaoke which were selected by consulting with the domestic workers beforehand. ​

While much has been done to improve the welfare and livelihoods of FDWs in Singapore, their basic rights still lag greatly behind that of local and non-domestic foreign working counterparts. Seeking not to elicit an immediate change in the lives of FDWs in Singapore, we sought to heighten the public’s awareness of FDWs’ rights and challenge their perceptions and stereotypical attitudes towards FDWs through a photo exhibition. This photo exhibition was inspired by the Humans of New York, where the depiction of individuals in still photographs create entry points for them to communicate their narratives of hope, fear and future to the wider public. This photo exhibition was held in both College of Alice and Peter Tan and United World College of South East Asia in Dover. This allowed us to put a face on this invisible community amongst us, and allow people to reflect that FDWs are no different from us. As potential future employers of FDWs, it is only right that we remember that they have rights too.