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I came to S’pore from Bangladesh to work at age 20 & an explosion left me in a 3-month coma. Here’s my story.

From living in darkness to creating hope for himself and others.

Jane Zhang | January 28, 10:10 am

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As told to Jane Zhang.

My name is Rahman Mohammad Ataur. I’m 24 years old this year, going to be 25.

I came from Bangladesh. I grew up in village area actually, quite far from city. That life very simple, we every day fight for the basic needs, like foods, clothes, and everything.

Parents didn’t encourage education

When I was very young, my parents are uneducated, don’t have any qualification. So they don’t really feel the value of education. I want to study since young, but my parents said, “No, you no need to study. If you have physical skill, like can work in the farm and you know how to do farming, you will have better life. You’ll survive. But you go study is waste your time.”

Since young they always told me that. But still I want to continue my study.

So I go to primary school. In Bangladesh, primary school is everything is free. You don’t need to pay anything for school fee, but you have to buy some materials like pens, notes, this and that.

But still my parents cannot bear the costs. I always struggling with this.

I was okay student, not bad student. I can memorise. I can read, write. But my parents are careless. Even if I don’t go to school, my parents say, “Okay, you don’t go to school. Go work with us.”

Dropped out of school

So I finished my primary and my parents cannot continue support me, because for secondary school, have to pay around 10 Singapore dollars for admission fees.

It’s too expensive for them. They don’t have that amount of money. They would say, “We are struggling for food! How we can give you studies?”

So I dropped out from school. I can’t continue my school, and I just crying. I wanted to continue my studies, but no point, they’re not listen to me. That time, my age is 10 or 11.

I have siblings. Three siblings and me. Two brother, one sister. I’m the older brother, and two younger brother, and younger sister.

So that’s the reason. My parents said, “Okay, you are the older son, so you have to be support your family. If they want to study, they can go their own study. You have to support them.”

But I cannot support everyone. So what I can do?

So I drop out and just followed them and worked in the field.

All the friends are going for secondary school. They finished their one year, then I collect their old books and tried to read my own. So how I continued my studies.

Wanted to support family

Like that, I grown up, and my age was 18. My family members always is not supporting. They just thinking… I don’t know what they’re thinking.

Because in village area, they just got married very early. And they want me to marry also. So I don’t know what to do. Then I just want to run away from them, because I’m not ready! I don’t want to live life like that.

Then I realised, if I live life like that, then may not be able to reach my dream. And I also want to give my family enough.

I just feel that they’re struggling for basic needs. We don’t have basic needs. How we can survive in future? How we can go on?

It’s very uneasy. I just cannot take it. I just think I should do something for them, do something for family and myself.

So then I thinks, what I can do? Then I looked at the overseas area, like a few other countries. Because from Bangladesh, a lot of migrant workers will go and work — like Middle East, Qatar, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Malaysia… a lot of countries.

All countries I just look at, and I feel Singapore is quite good. Their rules also quite good, and looks very nice, and very small country. I think I’d like to go there.

And that’s how I start to think about to come to Singapore.

Then I went for some training, they have some training centre, to train the worker and bring them in to Singapore.

In the beginning, they say you have to pay around S$8,000. This training supposed to three months. But they drag it on until a year.

But after everything done, total cost was S$16,000, for the training and to get job here.

In the beginning, I had paid some money. So they said, “If you don’t want to go, no problem. But I cannot give you back the money.”

Then what I can do? I cannot go behind, I cannot go in front. If I go in front, have hope. I can hope something. But if I go back, no hope.

So that’s the reason I continued whatever they say, just follow.

After a year, I had a chance to go exam. And I did exam and I passed! Then I having certificate. And I qualified for the project.

Coming to Singapore

I came to Singapore as a construction worker March 13, 2015. At that time, my age was 20.

Rahman Mohammad Ataur
Rahman in 2015. Photo courtesy of Rahman Mohammad Ataur.

So I arrive Singapore. I come out to the airport, and it looks like everything inside covered by window. First time I realised, “Oh, Singapore’s not same as Bangladesh.”

Then the company went to pick up me from airport, and I went there and realised that my company’s not construction company. It’s garden company.

My company’s name is Environmental Landscape Private Limited. So they do landscaping.

It was very hard for me to pronounce English, I didn’t know English language very well.

On the first day, my boss asking me something like, “How are you?”

But I say my name: “My name is Rahman Mohammad Ataur.” Because introducing first part I should say my name, right?

Then he laughing at me, and that day he didn’t say anything.

A few days later, he said to me, “You have to improve your English. If you cannot improve your English, I am going to send you back. I’ll give you two weeks. If after two weeks, you cannot improve, I’ll send you back.”

I can understand his part. Because if the owner of one of the houses want me to cut some trees and I cut the other trees, this is very big issue for him. So I understand his part.

But I have headache. Like, what do do? Because I don’t have that much knowledge to speak it out, you know. Boss didn’t send for lessons, I have to learn on my own.

So, few days later, he called me and I could answer certain questions. Not all, but I can answer. He feel it’s a bit build-up, a bit developed, so he said, “Okay, but you have to improve much. This is not enough.”

So I said, “Okay, I’ll try my best to do it.”

Daily life in Singapore

My job is like that: wake up is 5:30. Eat breakfast before six. 6am to 8am have to work in the garden where they are growing plants to sell to others. This place is the Choa Chu Kang area, Sungei Tengah.

We stay in the shipping containers in the garden there. They put some sleeping beds and just make a room. They don’t have fan, don’t have aircon.

Boss say we cannot use fan. But still we use fan, but after use, we just keep it somewhere hiding. Because it’s impossible to stay in the container without fan!

So, my work is start at 6am. First two hours we work in the garden. And also we cannot take any rest and cannot do breakfast during this time, after six.

Because if my boss saw us eating some food for breakfast after six, he will deduct our salary. His thinking is, after 6am, his time is start.

One day he saw me eat after 6am. Then he deduct S$50 from my salary.

But these two hours we work — 6am to 8am — he didn’t give us any salary. This is free. He didn’t pay us.

8am to 5pm was our basic working time. My basic salary was only S$440, around there. After 5pm, whatever we work, they’ll give us overtime.

Overtime we accept it actually. There is more work, we are happy. I get the money. This is our intention too.

But sometimes, even with more work, he deduct the timing. Like we work until 10:30pm, and he give until 10pm. So half hour deducted. We have no control.

Still now, I don’t know how they calculate our overtime because they didn’t show us anything. I don’t know how to counting the salary. I don’t know Singapore law.

They just say, “You work for this, this, this hour, so I give you this.”

[Editor’s Note: According to the Ministry of Manpower, under the Employment Act, foreign workers’ contractual work hours should not exceed more than eight hours a day or 44 hours a week, and all work outside of those hours comprises overtime work. The pay for overtime work is at least 1.5 times the basic hourly pay.

While MOM encourages employers to keep accessible records of employees’ work hours and itemised pay slips detailing the breakdown of their base pay and overtime pay, it is not written in the law as a requirement.]

Every day work, most of the time until 10pm. Some day we finish work is midnight. Then I go to the garden and cook our food. Then go for shower, washing clothes, come back and eat. Midnight, and prepare for next day what we we going to eat, packet the food.

Once a week I can call my family. Most of the time I can’t because I’m very tired.

Then 1am, 2am I go for sleep, then wake up and it’s 5am.

Not allowed to rest, salary deductions

So it’s very tiring; two hours or three hours of sleep a day. So I sleeping when my company lorry bring us from Choa Chu Kang to far, like Simei, Tampines there. It’s quite far, they need some time. So I just sleep on the lorry.

Sometimes my boss go and bring us. He has a big jeep, 10 people can go in. If he go, then we are very sad.

Because his rule is that if we are taking company’s transportation, we cannot sleep. He see from the looking glass. If we sleep, the next day he deduct our salary.

I don’t know his logic, but he say, “No one can sleep when I driving.” His rule is that, so we have to follow.

He open the aircon. I try to wake up, I try to be awake, but cannot awake! I very tired, I going sleep.

The next day he called and say, “You sleeping, so I deduct you S$50 for this month.” Because I sleep.

When we work, boss go and hiding and look at us and how we are working. Is it we are taking rest or not? Is it we are doing anything wrong?

If he see we are sitting somewhere — people can be tired, can take rest sometimes — if he saw, later he call to office and say, “Okay, I deduct your salary for five days.”

One day, our few guys working in condominium house. Heavy rain on that day, whole day’s raining. If raining, then garden work how they can do? Cannot do anything, right?

Then they go and sleep. Boss go there and take photo of them, and he deduct whole month’s salary.

[Editor’s Note: According to Section 27 of the Employment Act, employers are able to deduct from the salary of an employee for a number of reasons, including: absence from work; the cost of meals supplied by the employer; housing accommodations, amenities, and services; the recovery of advances, loans, or adjustments of overpayment of salary; and, as of a 2019 amendment, any deduction made with the written consent of the employee.

Many workers, such as Rahman, do not fully know their rights. It was not until after he was injured and recovering for several months that he found out he could file a salary claim. By then, it was too late, as the 1-year limitation period on salary claims lodged through MOM had nearly passed, and he would have only been able to claim a few months’ salary.

HOME told Mothership that, from the cases they deal with, they are aware that “illegal, unfair and unreasonable deductions are a rampant practice”.]

No rest days, not allowed to practise religion

And also, he didn’t give us any rest day. Seven days a week.

Once a month, he give us — not rest actually — after 7pm he give us salary. Then we can go send money for the month. Once month once only.

And also Hari Raya day we also working. Even Hari Raya day, he don’t let us to leave holiday.

[Editor’s Note: According to MOM, foreign workers are entitled to one rest day per week without pay. However, if an employer asks their employees to work on their rest day, they must pay them two days’ pay.

Workers are also entitled to paid public holidays. Similarly, workers who work on public holidays should receive two days’ pay.] 

Because we are from Muslim background, so we pray five times a day. If he saw us praying, he would say, “You’re wasting my time. I deduct your money.”

Even the fasting time, we cannot take fast. Because he say, “If you fast, how you going to work? You have no strength to work. Then no need to work. Just go back to Bangladesh and do fasting.”

We are his servants, so we should serve whatever he say; his thinking is something like that.

He controlling us like that. He said, “If you want to work in this company, you have to follow my rules.” That’s how he say.

We have no choice, we have to follow. Even I doesn’t like to do it, still I has to do it because I have a lot of debt in Bangladesh.

When I come to Singapore, I take a lot of bank loans. Every month have to return the bank loans. Because I mortgage my house to get bank loans. If I don’t pay continue, they will take the house. I have two year I have to pay to the debt.

This two year, if I have no job and have to go back, I’ll die. That’s another reason I keep continue. Even I don’t want to work in this company, I just feel so unsecure.

Only saw the dark side of Singapore

After we working a month, and my boss give us salary, he already crying. Giving us salary and crying, crying, crying, crying. He feel is he lose money because he giving us money. Even this is our own salary, my boss give and he crying.

So how is Singapore people? Because I always controlling by my boss, so I don’t know actually how look like Singapore. I don’t have any local people I met. I don’t talk any local people. Just the dark side of Singapore.

So I think, all Singaporeans are like that. My feeling was like, Singapore is very, very dark.

And I feel, okay, Singapore is more worse than Bangladesh because Singapore a rich country. They have money. Still, they’re selfish.

In Bangladesh, I can understand; they don’t have money, they’re struggling for the basic needs. That’s why they’re selfish — they also need to eat! And they cannot say, “I don’t need, just give you”.

But in Singapore, they have money! But still they’re so selfish.

Before I came to Singapore, I feel it’s like my very dream country. I go there and I work for very tall, tall building. I just excited to do this stuff and can see from very tall building overview of the world. I was very happy.

I come here and I have to do garden. It’s totally different whatever I think. I came here and my all dream was gone.

I came here is 63kg. This company I working, I become 48kg. I just lose weight, because I don’t have enough sleep, enough rest, enough proper food.

I was just like in the jail and in the hell.

Sending money home for family

Even all the darkness, I was happy to be work. I was okay because at the end of the month I get some money I can send to Bangladesh.

I can send money back, like S$600, S$700, sometimes S$1000, depending how much overtime. I just feel, okay this is extra money. Not my basic, this is extra money so I’m happy.

I can keep for me is like S$120, some months around S$150.

Because we don’t take public transport. We just buy cheaper grocery from the shops around the dormitory. So we just get whatever cheaper, like cheaper rice, cheaper vegetables, cheaper fish.

We get and just cook. Just for surviving. So that’s how we are controlling our own expenses.

I just feel if I can work continue one or two year, maybe I can finish my debt. Then I’ll be happy. Maybe next time I can change company, then I can go better company.

My dream was: I want to earn money — enough for myself, enough for my family. The first stage I want to clear the debt, and second stage I want to bless my family that they don’t have to worry for next day what they’re going to eat.

And also if I have chance, I’ll do some farming in Bangladesh and provide some job. Because in the beginning I thought I will do the cow farming, like I have a few cows, hundred cows I could have. Then need to take care of them, so need few people have job. This was my dream.

The day of the accident

On my accident day, in the morning I woke up five something. I work for the garden until 8am. Then I follow lorry to go Tuas power station. So I go there and do the grass cutting, tree cutting, lot of things to clear up because very big place.

On that day, I finish work 5pm. Our lorry going there and bring us to our garden in Choa Chu Kang, Sungei Tengah.

Then my supervisor he told me that, “You have to go clean up the water tank.”

I had done once before. First time was okay, no problem or anything. But still it was very smelly, very dark.

Then I complained about it that inside is very smelly. He said that he checked out everything, I no need to worry.

I still complaining that inside is very dark, can we do another day.

The supervisor come there and scolding us and say, “You have to do it tonight. How long you need, I don’t know. Even if you need the whole night, you’ll do the whole night. If you don’t do, some other worker will do.”

That’s means, you lose job.

He said, ”My company, my boss doesn’t want any loser workers. If you’re a loser, you have to go back to Bangladesh by tomorrow. Go back and take rest properly there. If you don’t want to do, I’ll complain to boss that you are not following me.”

So how we were controlled and we have no choice, we have to work on it.

Inside they don’t have any light, anything, so he give us extension wire and halogen lamp. It’s very big light, very bright.

We need to bring some chair, so we’ll bring two plastic chair, and on top of the chair put the halogen lamp and also the socket.

Because below still have some water. Like five to six inches water. We need to be careful about the water.

So that day, I bring it in and with my other friends. He also from Bangladesh. So he went in first, then I went in. I passed him all the things, and we used some small phone light to set up everything.

Then we set up and check up, everything is okay. Just bring it in and put chair and put plug. We think, everything is dry. Okay.

Then I pushed the button.

Didn’t realise what was going on

Suddenly, explosions.

This is the accident. I don’t know what’s going on. I just pushed the button, the switch.

Explosions. 

The water tank opening very small. One ladder you can put it, and one person can go in, one person can come out.

Another guy was just climbing down from on top by ladder. And he fly out, 15 metres and fall down and get some injury. And get some burns, five to ten per cent.

Myself, I got burned 73 per cent, and my other friend behind me he got 50 plus. I was closest to the lamp. We fly to the back, to the wall.

So that’s how was the explosion. Like, boom. Like you can see in the movie, how they explode. Something like that.

This all was not so long time, just sudden. This continue maybe less than 10 seconds I got burned.

Because it was very sudden, I don’t realise I got burned. I think I’m okay, but how come my strength is not enough? I cannot see, I cannot walk. I don’t know what’s going on!

I want to climbing out. But no ladder there, I don’t know where’s the ladder.

Few moments later, someone threw the ladder, and I tried to be climbing out.

In the beginning I tried to climb out, but I cannot grip anything. All the skin was loose, I cannot grip anything. Then I fall down.

Then my friend climbing out.

Then again, a few moments later, I tried to climb out, and nobody come down because it’s inside so hot. Still I tried to go up. I go halfway, and then people pull me.

When they pulled me, all the skin comes here. Both hands the skin is peeled.

I was conscious that time, and I just feel it’s like if you tear the chicken skin. It’s how it was like that. Very painful.

And I realised, I can’t survive today. Today is my last day. I can realise that I have no chance to live again.

Felt so thirsty

My friend who was with me, he run to go to the pond and get the water. But myself I cannot do anything. I cannot run, because I very weak.

I was very, very thirsty at that time. I want to drink water. At least somebody could give me water before I pass away, my feeling was that. But no one give me water, no one understand me what I trying to say.

My friends, I can recognise them. They’re asking me, “Who are you?” Then I scared, how come they don’t know me? They could not recognise who is me.

They keep asking me, “Who are you?” and I say, but they don’t understand because my voice was gone. I cannot pronounce it. My tongue… I don’t know what happened.

I feel that all of the dust go into my bone. Even I see it… my bone is touching. I just feel that all dust come to my bone. I cannot tolerate at that time, I cannot crying. I don’t know what happened.

Everywhere is like the needle poke me in my bone.

I just pray to my Allah that, “Why is this happen to me? Why it is like that? You should give me some time to realise I’m going to die now!”

I didn’t expect something like that, that I’ll pass away. This is my last day. Oh, if I can see once my mom, I can see my family, maybe I’ll be happy before I pass away.

I just said, “God, why this happened to me? Is it I had done something wrong? I don’t know. I cannot recognise any bad thing I had done with anyone that this can happen to me.”

I couldn’t get my answer.

Rushed to hospital

Ambulance took more than half an hour, because the garden is very far and very inside from main road. So they took some time to come.

They pulled me to the ambulance, and they want me to lie down. I cannot lie down! I want to stand, because my leg was still okay because I used the yellow-colour plastic boots, so down there nothing wrong.

Rahman story
Rahman after the explosion. Photo courtesy of Rahman Mohammad Ataur.
Rahman after the explosion. Photo courtesy of Rahman Mohammad Ataur.

In the ambulance, they told me that, “Please, please. We’re reaching soon. Give us 10 minutes. Give us 10 minutes. You’ll be okay. We’re very close to hospital.”

I just remember I reach hospital and they put me somewhere and I lie down. Then pulling me in, and someone asking me in Bengali, “What do you want? What do you want?”

Then I said, “I want to drink water.” But even I say, they don’t understand. After that I can’t remember anything.

Woke up from coma and wanted water

I was in a coma for three months.

I feel I am already pass away. And when I was in coma, my feeling was, I am in the hell. I am burning in the hell. Because Muslims we believe that there is heaven and hell. If you go hell, you have to be burned.

I asked my Allah, “Why I am in the hell?” This was my feelings when I was in coma.

Then, according to doctor, three month later I wake up. When I wake up, still I cannot say anything.

They put some tube inside my stomach; they feeding me water, but my throat is very, very dry. Want to drink water like ocean, whole ocean I can drink.

This time was very, more than hell.

All during this time, I feel, “It’s better, God, better I die. Why you save me? I want to die now.” Every second I die and wake up, die and wake up. Because I want to drink water.

Four months after accident, one nurse opened the tube [in my throat]. She opened and said, “Okay, say! What do you want to say?”

I was so happy on that day, I still remember that moment I was so happy that I can talk.

I said, “I want to drink water!”

She said, “Okay, I understand you want to drink water, but we cannot give you water. Because your throat is open.” So even I drink water, it’s come out from here.

Then she put back again the tube. I was so angry, but still okay. I feel I can maybe talk in future.

This was my first joy after accident. So that was one hope come out. I was very happy on that day I can talk out.

The recovery process

Every day physical therapist come, and because I cannot move myself or anything, they pull here, pull there. So painful! Even so painful, I try to tolerate all this.

And they explain me that if you don’t tolerate, you cannot improve. I cannot move my neck. I cannot bend my hand. All have problem, because all the skin is like stuck and become very stiff.

I remember they bring me two or three times to operation theatre, and pull all the bandages. And this was more painful. All the things stick with the skin. When they tear it, I can see some blood come out from the things.

When they do operation, I don’t know. Whatever they do it’s okay. But more painful is when they open the wound to be clean up.

During this time, a lot of surgeries they had done, like skin grafts, this and that.

Then one day, I can see my face in mirror, and I see it’s ghost, not me. It’s totally different. How can be I’m like that? It’s not my face!

Then, I don’t know what to say. I say, “Why God you save me? For this?”

But still, I think positive way, that’s okay. Already happened happen. So I have to be normal again.

So this was my fight with all the bitterness, all the pain. I just fighting for that — I want to be normal again.

I don’t want to be live this life somebody have to take care of me. I want to live this life like I can take care of myself. I want to be normal again and to mix with people. This was my hope in future.

Hospital staff “became like my family”

Then physical therapist help me to walk down. In the beginning, I cannot balance myself. I falling down, because I cannot anything by myself.

So slowly, slowly, I developed that. So I starts to feeling hope.

Everyone know me and I get award from hospital: Most Inspirational Patient 2017.

Rahman Mohammad Ataur
Rahman was awarded the Singapore Health Inspirational Patient award in 2017. Photo courtesy of Rahman Mohammad Ataur.

Because everybody like me, the nurses and this and that. Everybody became like my family. All the nurses, they know me and I’m very friendly with them.

Rahman Mohammad Ataur
Rahman (far left) with Miah Sobuj (third from left), another Bangladeshi worker who was injured in the explosion, and Singapore General Hospital staff who became like family. Photo courtesy of Rahman Mohammad Ataur.

And I’m very talkative actually. I like to talk talk talk talk talk. It’s not end.

After I started to talk, everyone like me because I’m very positive.

They said that to me: “You’re very positive. Because there’s not many patient is like you. Not many patients can take it like you.”

Rahman Mohammad Ataur
Rahman (right) with one of the nurses at SGH. Photo courtesy of Rahman Mohammad Ataur.
Rahman Mohammad Ataur
Rahman (centre) and Miah (right) with one of the nurses at SGH. Photo courtesy of Rahman Mohammad Ataur.

And my doctor, she was very amazing lady. And she come to me, visit every week once, two times. And she talk to me, saying she want to do her best but I have to follow her.

She done everything for me and explain me before she done. Like, “Okay, if I do this operation, you have chance to be like that. You can have this, this, this, this.”

She asked what I want, and I said I want get back my previous face again.

And she said, “Okay. I cannot promise you I can give you back the previous face, but I’ll try my best to be done.”

And she was very positive and she was very helping. In the world I don’t know how many people like her. She was amazing lady, actually.

Still, I have very good relationship with her, even now. I come back and I went to visit her.

Rahman Mohammad Ataur
Rahman with his doctor, Wong Manzhi. Photo courtesy of Rahman Mohammad Ataur.

Receiving help

So my social worker — she also good lady — she comes to my room to talk to me: “Your company doesn’t want to take care of you. So if I want someone to help you, are you okay?”

Then I say okay.

Then she call to one of NGO called HOME (Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics). So HOME went down to visit me in hospital. That time I just can talk a bit.

And they said to me, “We would like to help you. Would you want us to help you? Because we cannot force worker to do it, but we want to help if someone want us to help.”

Then, in the beginning, I said, “Nonsense lah! How can people help if it’s without benefit?”

I asked them, “What’s your benefit actually?”

They said, “We don’t have any benefit. But we’re one of the organisations we help the worker.”

I thought, bullshit. How can be people help without benefit? I don’t know what their benefit, but I don’t think I can believe them.

But my family member not here. So what I can do? I should believe someone that I have hope.

So I start to believe them, and they becoming my friend, actually.

Six months later, I got discharged from hospital.

I didn’t want to come out from hospital. I want to stay there, because I felt safe.

Then, doctor explained me that, “Rahman, don’t be stubborn. I want good for you. You just go out and I will take care of you. I will follow up with you.”


Working with HOME

During this time (around March 2017) until my case is end in 2018, I also come down to the HOME office and mix with them.

On that time, I learned English. At HOME, there is a volunteer. She from American. So she teach me English for more the six months.

She built up my English, so when I speak, people can understand me. All the credit to HOME and my teacher.

And also my one computer teacher. She teach my computer. So now I can do computer like Microsoft Word, presentations, and some computer programs.

The office member are very friendly, and they offered me, “Would you like to continue come here and helping us? We will continue to helping you and you can helping us as a translator because we have lot of worker don’t speak English, they don’t understand English. So can you helping us?”

Then I said, “I don’t have any qualification and I can speak a bit. How I can do it?”

They said, “Okay, no problem. How much you can, you just do.”

Then I was happy, because somebody is I can talk. And I just feel, it start to feeling it’s different world I belong now.

Then I continue going with them and make friendship. Through them, I get to know a lot of people in Singapore. I have a lot of friends right now.

I have many friends, they are like family. They care for me. I am very happy with them. Through the NGO, through HOME, I get to know a lot of people. And the other side of Singapore, actually.

Rahman Mohammad Ataur
Rahman with his friends, most of whom he got to know through HOME, at Changi Airport before he returned to Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of Rahman Mohammad Ataur.

If I had passed on on that day, I’ll bring a bitterness on my heart. I don’t have any good things from Singapore. So thanks my Allah that He give me second chance to live again.

Returned to Bangladesh and giving back

I get some compensation from my workman compensation (under WICA – Work Injury Compensation Act). This dragged on until 2018.

[Editor’s Note: Rahman received S$137,451.30 in compensation for permanent incapacity from Environmental Landscape’s insurer, which was paid to Rahman through his lawyer on Jun. 12, 2018, an MOM spokesperson told Mothership.]

I went back to Bangladesh August 20, 2018.

When I go back to Bangladesh, I asked my Allah, “What I can do?”

Because my dream was to do farming. I have to do something, because I cannot survive. Even I have some compensations, how long can last if I don’t do any work? How long can last this small amount of money?

So I bought some cows. Then I feel I should do something for others as well.

Most of the village people are survive like that; they grow their things own, like onion, chilli, brinjal, everythings. And leftovers they sell over to the houses, sell at the shops. That’s how they are surviving.

They don’t have monthly income. At end of the day, they have no saving. This is the actual scenery for the village people in Bangladesh.

I feel they not changing. When I go back two or three years later, still I see the same scenery there.

Still the kids walk around in the village, they don’t really go to school. School are very careless, because this the government school. If I’m the student and I don’t go to school, they don’t really come to look for me.

Government school don’t have relationship. Teacher don’t know student’s name, student don’t know teacher’s name.

They just go the classroom and say you have to read this passage, you have to write this passage. They follow the timing, don’t really follow the heart. These students learning or not? These students’ attention there or not? They don’t know.

People they just qualify, but they don’t really have anything there inside. The inside is very empty. They don’t have any knowledge. They have certificate but they don’t know anything.

And also they don’t have practical skill. They don’t really give them hope.

They don’t really have any communicate with the students, friendship with the students.

Friendship is more important than any of the things you are going to teach. I just feel it is a lot of lacking.

Started school

Most things I feel is need to have relationship with the students and teachers.

That’s Singapore do, actually. I want to follow some Singapore stuff. Because I also been some of the kindergarten schools in Singapore, and they allow me to go there and see. So I’ve been there and see the school, how they do, how they teaching.

And I just amazed of them. I just think, I should apply some of the things in over there.

That’s the thing I feel I should do something for others. So I used my compensation money to build up a school.

Rahman Mohammad Ataur
Rahman’s school, AL- Shohag Kindergarten, in his village of Atorshova in Pabna District, Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of Rahman Mohammad Ataur.

Already the school is there, for students from kindergarten to primary, age five to 10.

That school we will teach English. My focus is to give them English, so when they finish primary, they can speak English and communicate with other countries’ people.

Rahman Mohammad Ataur
Students in class at the school. Photo courtesy of Rahman Mohammad Ataur.

And computer. Some of my friends donate seven desktops for the school. So I have seven desktop, two laptop. So I can teach them, when they start to class three.

Right now I have more than 70 students. January we open, maybe we have more than 150.

[Editor’s Note: This is what Rahman told us back in November 2019. The school currently has 180 students.]

I have seven teacher and five volunteers. So total we are 12 now on the team.

Now my very big challenge to convince the parents. Convince them to send their kids to school.

We not really charging them a lot. We just want to be everyone can get proper education from village. Because some of the school is good in city area, but village is not. And the village people cannot bear all the costs to go there.

We make the student pay, it’s like S$2.80 a month. Because they can feel they’re paying for it, so that when they grow up they can feel it’s very important.

It’s not affordable for all the family, but we know each other very well. We know whose family is very unable to pay. So we just keep quiet of them. Just don’t ask for [money], but just let them continue. But we don’t force them to pay.

If someone I know they can pay, I just ask them, “Can you pay for this month?”

My feeling is, I don’t want to drop out any student because of money. Other reason is okay, but because of money, I don’t want them to drop out.

Forgiveness

I actually forgive my boss already. If I hold my bitterness in my heart, I cannot progress on future. So whatever happened, I happy. Even I happy I survive, I already forgive my boss.

So my part, I have nothing I can hold him. I forgive him, and whatever he done for me, I appreciate everythings. Because beginning he was my boss. He help me to get job. At last I can save some money to Bangladesh, you know. Through him, today I’m here.

So, whatever he done for me, I have nothing complain about him. I just forgive him for all this he done.

And money cannot buy emotions, but, you know… whatever money he lose, but I lose something that I cannot get back anymore.

But I get a lot of things! If I don’t get this accident, I cannot meet with these people who are my friend now. They love me. Equally, I’m very happy.

Maintaining relationships and future plans for school

My friends in Singapore are very, very helping and they love me a lot. I also miss them a lot.

Even I go back back to Bangladesh, always I keeping in touch with them. They’re very good. If I don’t know this NGO, don’t know chance to meet the people, I don’t know how are Singaporeans actually.

My friends from HOME they went to visit me. They stay in my village and like the place, actually!

Rahman Mohammad Ataur
One of Rahman’s friends from HOME, Jevon Ong (centre), visiting him in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of Rahman Mohammad Ataur.
Rahman Mohammad Ataur
Rahman’s friend Jevon (back row, far right) with kids from Rahman’s village. Photo courtesy of Rahman Mohammad Ataur.
Rahman Mohammad Ataur
Rahman’s friends Luke Tan (far left) and Desiree Leong (third from left) visiting him in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of Rahman Mohammad Ataur.

After the accident, my face changing. And also my mindset also changing. This is my second life. You know, focus on God. Focus on my Allah.

I’m feeling very happy to be here and blessing others. My Allah gave me second chance to live, and he has some purpose to me.

If not, he can take me away. No many people can survive from this test. And so I should do something. I should give him some time, to pray.

Rahman Mohammad Ataur
Rahman (third from left) with his parents and three younger siblings. Photo courtesy of Rahman Mohammad Ataur.

And so, what I’m doing now — helping people.

I got some money, it’s not my own money. Because of God wants me to live, that’s why I have this money. And I should use it for others. It’s not my own.

That led me to do this school.

That’s one thing — in the beginning, I didn’t thought about it, but now I’m thinking to bless others. I didn’t think this way, because I don’t have any qualifications on that time.

So in the beginning, I don’t dream about it. But now I feel is I can dream it. I can done it.

Postscript:

Since returning to Bangladesh in August 2018, Rahman has returned to Singapore three times to visit his many friends that he made during his time at Singapore General Hospital and HOME.

He also spends much of his free time when he is back in Singapore volunteering with HOME, translating for the many foreign workers facing problems like salary issues, injuries, and police cases, but who have difficulty communicating.

While his parents still do not understand his dedication to education and have expressed that they feel he should have used his compensation money for business rather than running a school, Rahman feels convinced that he made the right decision.

The school is currently running on Rahman’s compensation money. He knows that it will run out sooner or later, and told us he is seeking other methods of continuing funding for the school.

However, he emphasised that he does not ask for money from anyone, because relationships are more important than money.

According to an MOM spokesperson, Environmental Landscaping was paying the full S$300,000 of Rahman’s medical bills to SGH in instalments.

However, HOME informed Mothership that when they were working with Rahman (between late-2016 and mid-2018), Environmental Landscaping stopped paying, defaulted on payment, and was overdue in payment of large amounts of Rahman’s medical bills.

Rahman himself ended up regularly receiving chasers from the hospital’s debt collectors, which affected the hospital’s willingness to continue his treatment.

On August 14, 2019, Environmental Landscape Pte Ltd was fined $220,000 by the State Courts for failing to take adequate safety measures for its work in an underground storage tank at 131 Lorong Semangka, according to a press release from the Ministry of Manpower.

MOM’s investigations found that Environmental Landscape had failed to conduct any risk assessments for the work activities related to cleaning the water storage tank. Thus, critical hazards such as the presence of toxic or flammable gases were neither identified nor addressed before Rahman and his colleagues entered the tank to carry out their assigned work.

Top photos courtesy of Rahman Mohammad Ataur.

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