The past two years have proven to be a test of resilience for Perumal Rahulgandhi, or Rahul for short, no thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The mental stresses he experienced prompted the 28-year-old to volunteer as a Peer Support Leader, offering his assistance to fellow workers here who may be going through similar struggles.
Rahul came to Singapore for work six years ago.
Like many migrant workers here, his goal was to provide a better life for his family back home in India.
“I chose Singapore as I had heard that Singapore is a nice and safe place to work at,” said Rahul, whose uncle was already working at a construction company here.
“I asked my uncle if there were any job openings in Singapore and I found out that working here was a way for me to earn and provide more for my family,” he added.
After liaising with an agent back in India, he eventually found a job as a retail assistant at Prince’s Landscape, a nursery and landscape design company located at Sungei Tengah.
Work is challenging but rewarding
Working in Singapore took some getting used to, although Rahul added, “My colleagues and bosses have been very helpful and friendly by guiding me.”
His job requires him to multi-task and it revolves around tending to the plants in the nursery as well as customer service.
Rahul typically starts his day at 8am.
In between daily maintenance work and preparing plants for delivery, he also attends to walk-in customers who visit the retail area of the nursery.
He then closes the retail counter when the nursery closes and may put in additional hours if there’s extra work to be done.
Rahul admitted that his job is physically and mentally demanding at times, thus, he often feels tired after a long day of work.
“I have multiple job responsibilities and it gets a little challenging for me to switch between them because I can’t concentrate on just one aspect of my work.”
The need to prioritise requests from different parties means that Rahul is sometimes unable to complete all of his assigned work for the day.
“Thankfully, my colleagues and employer check on me to see if I need extra help to complete any urgent tasks. They will also make sure I am managing well, and I am always able to share my feedback with them,” said Rahul.
Despite the hard work and long hours, Rahul has few complaints.
“I like my work, and I think the most rewarding aspect about my job is I am able to help my customers solve their problems through the recommendations that I make. Being able to see the satisfaction and smiles from the customers’ faces when I do a good job makes me very happy.”
He is also thankful that his work revolves around nature, something he enjoys.
Managing mental well-being of our migrant workers
Financial issues are one of the main factors that contribute to migrant workers’ emotional and mental stress.
“As most of our families back home have financial difficulties, we work tirelessly and are always willing to work more for extra income which can help improve our family’s financial situation,” said Rahul.
Being away from their families for prolonged periods of time can also be stressful for some of the workers here.
Rahul himself experiences bouts of homesickness sometimes as he has not returned home in the last two years.
“I miss my family and friends back home. But with video calls, I get to see their faces and catch up with them. Of course, it is best if I can meet them physically.
Becoming a Peer Support Leader (PSL)
Thankfully, with the support of his co-workers and boss, he was able to cope and tide through the height of the pandemic.
“We talked to each other and shared our problems, we took care of one another and cheered each other up… My employer has also constantly reassured us that everything is okay, and I can go to them if I am facing any issues or have questions to ask. With the support and help from everyone, I was able to overcome my worries.”
Having experienced how emotional support can help alleviate stress and worry, Rahul decided to become a Peer Support Leader for his fellow migrant workers, as part of the Peer Support Network (PSN) initiative started by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
The PSN is under MOM’s Project DAWN taskforce which was set up to enhance the mental health care support for migrant workers.
As part of his PSL training, Rahul went through a course on managing his own emotional and mental well-being and learnt tools to help those around him who may need the same support.
“The course equipped me with useful skills such as basic psychological first aid, which I can use to help my friends when they are going through a tough time,” said Rahul, who has been a PSL for a few months now.
His newfound skills were put to good use when his friend faced some personal issues.
“I took the time to talk to him and encouraged him to remain positive and that the PSLs are here for him if he needed to share his problems. Soon, my friend resolved his problems, and he was back to his usual happy self.”
In his leisure time, Rahul indulges in more creative pursuits.
He draws and is also quite the writer, penning essays and short stories in Tamil.
Rahul also creates content on his TikTok account.
But adjusting to life in a foreign country is never easy.
“Language is one of the biggest challenges I face as I am not very good at speaking English,” shared Rahul.
However, he is thankful for his friends and bosses who helped him work on his English.
Their assistance spurred him to brush up on his English — something he continues to work on — so that he can extend the same help to others.
While returning home to India is not on the cards, for now, Rahul is grateful for the kindness and generosity he’s received from locals here.
He recalled how he was touched when some of them donated food and other necessities to the migrant worker community during the circuit breaker period last year.
“The people here are very nice. During the Circuit Breaker, some Singaporeans provided snacks and items such as soap or shavers for us and I am very appreciative of the help that was extended to us.”
Expressing his gratitude, Rahul shares that he is thankful to be working here in Singapore.
“I feel dignified at work and am honoured by the love and affection towards migrant workers like me.”
When asked if he is looking forward to visiting the community once more, Rahul excitedly shared “I’m happy about this. I shall visit my friends when I get a break from my work, especially during my off days.”
‘100 words to say thank you’
Share a heartwarming experience with a migrant worker or migrant domestic worker that has touched your life. Submit your stories in 100 words or less here.
The 10 most heartwarming entries will stand a chance to win S$50 in food vouchers. Contest ends Dec 12, 11.59pm and winners will be announced on Dec 18, 2021.
This article is sponsored by the Ministry of Manpower.
All images via the Ministry of Manpower. Quotes were edited for clarity.