SEALNet Project Singapore 2011

Fostering empathy toward foreign domestic and construction workers through interactions

When: Thursday August 18, 2011 – Wednesday August 31, 2011
Location: Singapore
Email: ps11_info [at]
Project Leaders: Evelyn Ang, Cindy Au, Stephanie Tong, Qianying Yao
Project Blog:

Executive Summary

Despite their significant numbers, foreign domestic and construction workers in Singapore exist in profound isolation from the local community. The emphasis on education and economic development in the country inadvertently cultivates a community apathetic to the needs and lives these transient workers.

To tackle this problem, our project aims to foster empathy by promoting the idea of common humanity — that, in spite of sociocultural differences, people feel and want the same. We would like to remind the locals that there is more to being human than being plugged into the local economy and financial success. No child dreams of growing up to become a construction worker; foreign domestic and construction workers venture out in search of better lives like we all do. To this end, we will collaborate with local students and foreign domestic and construction workers to create a platform for:

  • Fostering close, sustained interaction between the foreign domestic and construction workers and local students (as well as the wider community)
  • Empowering the foreign domestic and construction workers by allowing them to express themselves through the medium of storytelling and/or art
  • Facilitating the exchange of cultural information.

Community Challenge

Due to its rapid economic growth and limited domestic labor resource, Singapore has a strong and ever-growing demand for foreign labor. Today, foreign labor plays an integral role in the local economy and contributes significantly to the country’s prosperity. Most prevalent are the unskilled foreign workers: Singapore focuses on developing a skilled local workforce while filling low-wage jobs locals are unwilling to perform (such as construction and domestic housekeeping) with these workers.

The demographic composition of these foreign domestic and construction workers heightens their segregation: socioeconomic differences aside, these workers are of diverse ethnicities and cultures. There is a tremendous cultural and linguistic barrier between these workers and the local community. Locals’ apathy towards and occasional mistreatment of the workers often stem from this lack of understanding. Despite their diversity and Singapore’s multiculturalism, foreign domestic and construction workers are often viewed as a homogeneous group, to which Singaporeans have little obligation to concern themselves with.

Through this project and long-term advocacy, we hope a gradual attitude change can take root among the locals.


  • Fostering close and sustained interaction between Singaporeans and the foreign domestic and construction workers
  • Providing the foreign domestic and construction workers with an outlet to express themselves
  • Enhancing awareness of migrant worker issues by exposing the students to primary sources of information
  • Establishing a local network of youths passionate about the issue to extend our work after the conclusion of the project
  • Equipping the local mentees with leadership skills and inspiring them to become future service leaders
  • Facilitating cultural exchanges in Singaporean multicultural community



Collaborative art effort between the students and the foreign domestic and construction workers

  • Concludes with an art fair to display the collaborative artworks to the public for raising awareness
  • Springs from the conviction that arts have unique capability for transcending sociocultural differences and serving as an effective means of communication

Establishment of a network of supper clubs

  • Involves collaborative cooking efforts followed by story sharing and informal conversations
  • Allows the students to forge friendships with the foreign domestic and construction workers while simultaneously engaging the public
  • Encourages story telling which can be cathartic for the foreign domestic and construction workers
  • Engages the local students in the creation, maintenance and management of a long-term project


Student initiative

  • Team members are responsible for providing the students with an accelerated leadership training and helping jumpstart a student initiative. The goal is to have the students assume ownership of a project of their choice by the conclusion of the project.

Local partner

Migrant Voices is a non-profit organization that seeks to provide a platform for the exchange of artistic and cultural knowledge between foreign domestic and construction workers and Singaporeans, with the ultimate goal of promoting awareness of migrant worker issues among locals and bridging the dichotomy between the two. Since its founding in 2006, Migrant Voices has been actively engaging the public through multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary art productions, including ongoing projects such as the Oral History Project (an archive of interviews with foreign domestic and construction workers) and InsideOut (an art initiative in which foreign domestic and construction workers document their lives through photography).

Team member responsibilities

As with all SEALNet projects, all team members are expected to take a personal stake in the project. Team members of Project Singapore 2011 are expected to:

  • Be actively involved in the planning process – this includes, but is not limited to, fundraising, brainstorming action framework, etc.
  • Design and lead leadership workshops for the local mentees
  • Inspire fellow team members and the local mentees through demonstration of passion for the issue
  • Be willing to learn from and grow with the project as the team works together to solve the community challenge
  • Be sincere and open in interactions with the foreign domestic and construction workers
  • Maintain a professional working style and attitude when a task is assigned
  • Serve as mentors to the local youths during the project, and maintain this relationship after the conclusion of the project

Skills needed

Because the team members will be working extensively with one another on planning and implementing the project, the following qualities are desirable for optimizing group dynamics:

  • Good communication and problem-solving skills
  • Enthusiastic
  • Committed
  • Open-minded
  • Responsible and punctual
  • Passionate about the issue
  • Care deeply about team dynamics

Due to the project’s focus on artistic/cultural exchange and story sharing with the foreign domestic and construction workers, the following qualities, though optional, are highly recommended:

  • Basic background knowledge about foreign domestic and construction workers in Singapore
  • Conversational proficiency in a relevant foreign language
  • Artistic ability