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Project 1: Migrant Worker Inclusion

Project 1: Migrant Worker Inclusion (or the lack thereof)

This was my first project on Craft for Conversations, where I make creations that can help spark conversations on topics.

The Issue

Inclusion of the migrant worker community has been a long-standing issue in Singapore, with various NGOs advocating for it. The issue was brought into the spotlight during the Covid-19 pandemic, when there was widespread transmission of the virus among the foreign worker dormitories. This brings to mind that the dormitories were built in separate compounds further away, because some Singaporeans didn't want foreign workers living among us in our communities.

Beyond living quarters, there were also other challenges of inclusion and integration - from language barriers, to being comfortable engaging with migrant workers as fellow human beings (instead of just being labelled by their vocations, or seeing them merely as "factors of production").

Translating the issue to this project

I used 3 key materials to represent this topic:

Concrete: representing the migrant community. The construction sector also happens to be a sector where many migrant workers are employed in, and as a foundational material, represents many essential services core to a country, that are also typically performed by migrant workers

Resin: representing the local community. The material looks very different compared to concrete - similar to the perception that migrant and local communities should be kept separate

Gold glass chips: representing the sparkle we have in us, the essence and things that light us up

With the materials, I made 4 different variations to represent the evolution of the issue:

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Variation 1 (Resin and concrete are distinct layers)

Migrant communities are separate from the local community. The local community sees themselves as different, and a “level above” the migrant community. The emphasis is on the difference.

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Variation 2 (Gold glass chips appear across both layers)

Resin and Concrete as separate layers, but with gold glass chips across both: As we become more aware of the exclusion, we start to look towards inclusion. We are encouraged to pay attention to our commonalities - our common interests that can connect us as people

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Variation 3 (Resin and concrete are mixed - the same materials used in part 1 & 2, with gold glass chips)

Over time, we cease to see the differences between the groups, and the commonalities we share become the focal point. We are one community of human beings with common interests

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Variation 4 (Gold pigmented resin and concrete mixed)

Finally, we reach a stage where we become so comfortable interacting with each other as fellow humans - we don’t even need a common interest to make a connection

Reflections

Process reflection 1: Parallels between the crafting process and the issue (of migrant worker inclusion)
 

I ran a poll: How did the resin and concrete mixture turn out?
1. Better than expected (100% votes!)
2. Strange, as expected


(admittedly slightly leading, because there could have been other options like:
3. Lovely, as expected, or
4. Worse than expected)

The truth is I wasn’t sure if the project concept would work out, because I was afraid that concrete mixed with resin would turn out to be a mess (can’t cure properly, or will look odd). This is because I learnt about the two media separately. But with a leap of faith, I was pleasantly surprised by how unfounded my worries were - the output was beautiful. (Third photo shows what it looks like fresh out of the mould - final product looks a bit different after rounds of sanding, and final coating)

The parallels I see are when people are hesitant to have the migrant communities more included / integrated with local communities - likely due to differences in culture, and not knowing what it’ll be like. But I hope we’ll be able to take that leap of faith and give it a shot - my hunch is that we will be pleasantly surprised 

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Process reflection 2: Parallels between the crafting process and the issue (sanding = covid virus?)

Do you know what was the most difficult / (literally) painful part of the whole crafting process? It was sanding. I used 5 levels of coarseness of sandpaper, and it must’ve taken at least a couple of hours for the more complex pieces.

 

Which were the more complex pieces? The hardest to sand were those with distinct parts of resin and concrete. Because I did wet sanding, some sediments from the concrete “eroded”, and tended to scratch the resin during sanding. I had to re-sand the resin parts to get rid of the scratches. After a while, I changed the approach to sand each part separately.

Comparatively, pieces made with the mixture of resin + concrete were easier to sand, due to the consistency in texture. The mixture held together by resin meant the sand bits from concrete didn’t “erode”. This made it faster to sand, since I didn’t have to redo some parts from scratched, or sand each part separately.

Might be a bit of a stretch of my imagination, but I saw a parallel of the Covid situation unravelling in this process:
1. Sanding represents an external threat to the community - in this case, the covid virus
2. When materials are distinct and separate, it becomes more difficult to sand / fight against the threat - segregated communities make the battle against covid more challenging
3. When materials are distinct, when sanding happens, one part might accidentally scratch the other - when covid affected SG and communities were handled differently, when the migrant worker community was impacted by the virus, there was a toll on the healthcare system, while also posing as a risk to the local community

Would our fight against covid have been easier if there was more inclusion of the migrant worker community?

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Check out the project on Craft For Conversations' Instagram posts for more photos and commentary 

All proceeds from this project was donated to Backyard Conversations, an Initiative by Welcome In My Backyard (WIMBY) to promote and deepen conversations around the migrant worker issue

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