When Govindaraj Mathiyalagan needed medical help in the past, the migrant worker used to travel from his dormitory in Jurong to Little India. Since February 2022, he no longer has to do so. This is because he can visit the St Andrew’s Migrant Worker Medical Centre (SAMWMC) that opened at the nearby Penjuru Recreation Centre.
Part of Project MigrantWell, the medical centre is just one of several initiatives under it, announced by the SBF Foundation, that is taking a holistic approach to supporting the health and well-being of migrant workers. In addition to spearheading the project, the social impact arm of the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in November 2021 with the Estate of Khoo Teck Puat, Estate of Ng Teng Fong, Ministry of Manpower and St. Andrew’s Mission Hospital (SAMH).
The idea for the Project was born in 2020 by the two Donor Estates. Highly concerned with the situation of migrant workers in Singapore during the pandemic that year, they sought to explore how to improve their welfare, especially in the area of healthcare. To this end, they brought SAMH on board as a provider of medical services, and the SBF Foundation to take the lead, including galvanise the business community to do more for this underserved segment of society.
Delivering holistic solutions for migrant workers
Migrant workers augment Singapore’s local workforce and are an important contributor to the local economy. Project MigrantWell is poised to improve the way care is given to the migrant workers community for the peace of mind of both them and their employers.
Far from being a single-prong strategy, it calls for businesses and employers as well as the government, community partners and philanthropists to come together to deliver holistic solutions and support. Driving this is part of the SBF Foundation’s purview.
In addition to the setup of SAMWMC, Project MigrantWell also encompasses the establishment of a charity, MigrantWell Singapore, and development of the MigrantWell Welfare Fund. Backing the cause is a seed funding of $20 million from the Estates of Khoo Teck Puat and Ng Teng Fong. The SBF Foundation also pledged to raise an addition $15 million through the business community. The Foundation organised several fundraising luncheons that engaged business leaders with GOH like former SM Tharman, Min Tan See Leng, Ministers or Senior Ministers of State. These luncheons created awareness and compassion with action (donations).
Today, SAMWMC serves a sector with close to 67,000 migrant workers living in areas such as Choa Chu Kang, Jurong West and Pasir Panjang. Since it opened till Mar 2023, it has served more than 27,000 patients.
A one-stop primary care facility, it is culturally attuned to the specific needs of the migrant workers and is one of six medical centres for them. It provides affordable radio imaging, dental, therapy, counselling, rehabilitation telehealth and case management services. These are supported by a network of volunteers made up of professionals, the public, philanthropic organisations and tertiary healthcare institutions.
A call for collective giving
Also part of the SBF Foundation’s responsibility was the setting up of the independent charity MigrantWell Singapore. This is closely tied to the MigrantWell Welfare Fund that it is managing. The charity partners community agencies to identify care gaps and develops criteria and guidelines for the usage of the fund.
The healthcare problems of the migrant worker community range from mild ailments to chronic issues. Some do not seek help because they are unable to afford the services. In other instances, they do not understand the need to seek care or face challenges in accessing and navigating the local healthcare system.
There are those who even fear the termination of their work contract if they visit a doctor. It has also been reported that there have been defaults on dental services and physiotherapy treatments due to financial and time constraints.
This is where MigrantWell Singapore steps in. Through donors’ seed funding and rallying the business community’s collective response, it supports the health and well-being of the migrant workers community in a sustainable way. Case in point is dental care which is often too expensive for migrant workers and their employers of small enterprises or sub-contractors. Hence, MigrantWell partners Migrant Workers’ Centre for a 6-year Joint Dental Programme to enhance accessibility of dental care by providing essential dental care services for migrant workers through service providers, namely, SAMWMC and HealthServe.
This is not the first time the SBF Foundation has been involved in industry-led initiatives. In 2020, it embarked on the Compassion Fund and Employability Fund, to build a more resilient workforce and help employees in need.
To date, fundraising efforts continue for Project MigrantWell. The SBF Foundation partners with SBF to reach out to its members and Trade Associations to contribute and support the call for collective giving towards support for the migrant workforce. The intention is to influence an innovative shift in mindsets, so that rather than a reactive stance, the community thinks about innovative ways to shape the entire ecosystem.
Ultimately, the hope is to uplift the experiences of migrant workers like Govindaraj Mathiyalagan, so that they can live and work happily and healthily.