App helps connect foreign workers with their families
Local team using their Internet call service to connect workers to loved ones
They joined a hackathon earlier this year and focused on making an app to connect the elderly isolated during the pandemic.
But the team realised that the bigger need was connecting migrant workers here to their loved ones back home. So they switched focus for their Internet call service, called Call Home, to the workers instead.
Miss Gloria Chua, 26, a team member who works in a government agency, said many Bangladeshi workers come from rural areas without Internet access, unlike their counterparts from India, where access is more readily available.
They are thus unable to call their loved ones through Internet calls via apps like WhatsApp, and instead rely on traditional calls via landlines.
This requires the workers to buy prepaid cards, and the workers from Bangladesh typically spend about 10 per cent of their monthly salary, or about $40, buying these cards.
But as incomes dried up during the pandemic, hearing the voices of their families became a luxury they could not afford.
Some of the team members have been volunteering to help migrant workers, and figured that the technology they had could be re-purposed.
Miss Chua said the team then pivoted the project to help these workers instead. She said: "Most migrant workers here are from Bangladesh, and their loved ones do not have data plans. Call Home aims to fill that gap."
Powered by Twilio, a cloud communications platform, the app allows 3G to landline calls, meaning all the workers need is Internet access here to call landlines back home.
This is much more accessible to workers, as an hour of call time uses up only 1.5MB of data.
With the help of organisations like Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), the team got about 60 workers for a pilot in the past two months.
Miss Chua said: "So far, we've had really good feedback from the workers who are thankful for the ability to call home, and you can tell it really takes the stress off their minds."
The other team members are Mr David Chia, 27, a product manager; Mr Glen Choo, 28, a software engineer; and Ms Meera Sachdeva, 23, who handles partnerships.
TWC2's general manager Ethan Guo said it has spent nearly $1 million over the past few months topping up cards of workers who could not leave their dormitories. So Call Home can go a long way to help save costs.
He said: "Such initiatives are useful, especially for the kind of workers that TWC2 assists - typically those with salary problems or work injuries, who are no longer working and have no income."
The Call Home team has started a fund-raising campaign on Give.Asia that hopes to raise $100,000 to allow 10,000 workers access the service for free for the next year.
Mr Chia said: "Many workers leave their home countries to bring money home for the family, and hearing their loved ones for just 10 minutes a day is sometimes all they need to keep going."