Photo project acknowledges migrant workers' contributions to Singapore
The Little India riots in which foreign workers clashed with the police spurred university student Rachael Ng, 22, to join the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) for a 12-week internship.
She wanted to change the perception people had of foreign workers after the December 2013 incident.
"I've always been concerned about people who are marginalised in society," said Miss Ng, who started her internship in May last year.
The final year student at the National University of Singapore said: "My job was to shadow the specialists at MWC and help the migrant workers solve their various problems."
It inspired her to embark on a photo project, but she wanted one that would be different from other groups portraying foreign workers.
That was when she and her photographer friend, Miss Josephine Tan, 21, came up with Invisible Hands.
Miss Ng said: "I wanted to focus on their hands because it was a poignant way of directly showing how they have contributed towards building Singapore."
From July to August last year, the duo searched the streets, dormitories and MWC-planned events to look for potential workers to speak to.
Miss Ng recalled that when they first approached the foreign workers, many were initially afraid of having their photos taken.
But they seemed happy once the project was explained to them.
Miss Ng said: "I think they are entirely aware of how Singaporeans view and treat them.
"I told them the project was a way to acknowledge and appreciate their hard work and when they heard that, they thanked us.
"They were happy that someone was doing something to change Singaporeans' mindset."
Miss Ng added: "A lot of them spoke about their families and how they sacrificed everything to come to Singapore.
"After speaking to these workers, I realised there was a common theme - how everything they do is for their families. They were always talking about their parents, wives and children.
"A lot of Singaporeans view them as low-labour workers and nothing else. To witness them as people who are not doing this for themselves, but their loved ones, changed how I view them."
Through Miss Ng and Miss Tan's efforts, the "Invisible Hands" photo exhibition showcased the 20 foreign workers who shared their stories.
More than 5,000 migrant workers turned up on Dec 13 at last year's International Migrants Day (IMD) celebration held in Little India, where the photo project was displayed.
Themed "Together As One, Brighter Future For All ", the event, organised by MWC, was in recognition of the migrant workers' hard work.
It was the seventh IMD celebration organised by MWC since 2009 .
Mr Bernard Menon, executive director of MWC, said: "We decided quite early on that our SG50 commemoration of International Migrants' Day would take on a more reflective and appreciative tone.
"We all felt that Rachael's collection of photographs portraying the everyday, human side of migrant workers outside of a work setting, fit in very well with the plan."
Their stories in their words
"My name S.Vijayakumar. I come from India.
I have worked in Singapore eight years already.
I go back to India three times already. I work in the marine sector, first time I do piping, now I do fitting job for the ship.
Maybe I work here one or two more year. I married already, have one baby."
"My name is Karim Razaul. I from Bangladesh. I work in a construction company doing things like hacking (making a surface rough so that plastering can be done efficiently) - hard job, many hard jobs.
Now, I working on a building at HarbourFront. A tall building, 11 blocks. I work in Singapore one year three months.
I don't know how long I want to work, maybe 10 years? If hard job, maybe work five years?"
"My name is Ramachandran Chellamani. I in Singapore from 2003 until now.
Now I work on Jurong Island as lifting supervisor for 50, 70, 300 tonnes crane. We building power plant now. Every morning at 6.30, one bus come in, fetch us to work. Last time I stay at Soon Lee dorm, I stay in this new dorm for one month now.
I come from India to Singapore to work. Make money, send back home."