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Weathering the Storm Together

A chance encounter in the rain and the resulting gesture of kindness became the seed that grew into ItsRainingRaincoats.

Winner of President's Award for Volunteerism and/or Philanthropy (Kampong Spirit): It's Raining Raincoats

In the midst of Singapore's construction boom, workers in hard hats and boots toiling under the sun are a common sight. To many of us, these migrant workers are nameless and faceless. "I have always felt a great deal of sympathy and respect for the migrant workers in Singapore. We drive by comfortably in airconditioned cars and live in fancy homes – these are the men who build the roads we drive on and the buildings we live and work in. They toil endlessly in the heat, haze and rain with no weather protection, are paid meager wages, often fed poor quality food and housed in cramped and unhygienic conditions. They deserve better," says Ms Swaminathan.

A chance encounter in the rain of 2014 and the resulting gesture of kindness became the seed that grew into ItsRainingRaincoats (IRR), a project that would eventually go on to help thousands of migrant workers with basic necessities such as clothes, meals, sports equipment and medication. And yes, raincoats too - almost 10,000 of them.

What sets IRR apart is how it has inspired partners to also give back. This year, the raincoats were designed in collaboration with students from LaSalle College of the Arts, and United World College of South East Asia recently hosted a cricket match between their school team and a team of migrant workers. Among other partners are the Singapore Kindness Movement which donated 5,000 raincoats, a shoe shop that give out 300 pairs of shoes and a man who offered 300 briyani meals. From artisan ice-cream to umbrellas and even bicycles and laptops, there has been no shortage of offers to help from individuals and organisations spurred into action by IRR's efforts.

A Harvard-educated lawyer, she also helps the workers understand their rights and what they are entitled to. She once read in the papers about a foreign worker who had died while cutting a tree and helped the man's family claim a full insurance payout, tirelessly pursuing the case with the Manpower Ministry and the man's employer.

Despite holding a full-time job and being a mum to two kids, Ms Swaminathan quashes the notion that you can be too busy to volunteer. "Make time, not excuses!" she urges. Just by simply loading some basic necessities - from raincoats and sun hats to pillows and T-shirts - in her car boot, Ms Swaminathan is ready to help out migrant workers she encounters, anytime, anywhere.

Other highlights of giving journey:

1. Every Saturday, IRR with its team of 30 volunteers arranges the redistribution of unsold food from 18 Starbucks outlets to migrant workers.

2. IRR raises funds to buy phone cards for workers so they can call home during Deepavali. So far, almost 1,000 phone cards have been distributed. 

3. On International Migrants' Day this year, IRR also gave out a bottle of Tiger Balm and a strip of Panadol each to 500 workers. Though these are simple items, they are a welcome respite for workers who spend hours in inclement weather.


Moving ahead

One area that IRR hopes to focus on is food redistribution to migrant workers, as they are often fed poor-quality food and a lot of food goes to waste in Singapore. "If we can only connect the two, that would have a huge positive impact on the migrant worker community, at no cost to anyone," she says. Her other focus: to provide therapeutic and healing services, such as yoga and counselling, as workers work long hours, face a lot of stress and have few enues of relaxation.