Last Sunday evening, the first Migrant Worker Poetry Competition was held. It was a wonderful & joyful evening with poetry from Bangladeshis read out in Bengali & Tamil on themes of family, memories of home, politics, love & religion. The music & dancing were terrific too.
A selection of the poems can be found here, including the winning poem, Pocket 2.
It was wholly appropriate that the evening was held in the Possibility Room of the National Library, Singapore:
- without migrant labor, Singapore’s economic success & wealth would not be possible i.e. the standard of living & privilege we all enjoy is due in large part to low cost migrant workers (S$18 a day average pay for construction workers, domestic helpers, manual labourers, cleaners etc)
- it is possible that you’ve never even thought about migrant workers before … let alone that they could appreciate literature … or create poetry
- it is possible, that by treating people the way we would like to be treated (cf rioters in an exercise drill), looking beyond surfaces & enjoying the company of people who are not like us - from other countries, ethnicities & religions - we become the richer for it
Some of the poets could not attend because they had to return to their home countries due to work permits expiring. More community spaces, better living conditions, and protection against loan sharks & exploitative employers are some important issues for migrant workers.
The organisers are looking to include foreign workers from other backgrounds & countries next year. Alvin Pang, poet extraordinaire & judge, suggested that migrant workers be invited to the Singapore Writers Festival in 2015.
This would be a good thing.