Photographers, organisations answer call to help migrant workers move from 2G to 3G

Photographers, organisations answer call to help migrant workers move from 2G to 3G
A man using a 2G phone at Little India on Dec 8, 2016. Photo: Wee Teck Hian
Published: 5:50 PM, March 3, 2017
Updated: 10:55 PM, March 3, 2017

SINGAPORE — Three local photographers have come together to raise funds to buy 3G phones for several dozen migrant workers here, many who face the prospects of losing their telecommunication links next month when the Republic turns off its 2G mobile phone network.

For a large number of these workers, low-cost 2G phones provide the only link to friends and families at home. Buying a 3G phone, even a low-end one, can be prohibitive for many of them given their low pay.

They send all their money back home, don’t live in luxury, neither do they have the privileges of enjoying the city like we do. To take away (the means to call home) from a person on the brink of desperation is heartbreaking.

Mindy Tan

Documentary photographer

With the April 1 cut-off date looming, Mr Darren Soh, an architectural and landscape photographer, decided to sell prints of one of his photograph - at S$350 each - to raise funds for a bulk purchase of 3G phones for migrant workers who need them.

The sale of each print will allow him to buy up to six Samsung Keystone 3 phones at a discounted price of S$58 each. Mr Soh intends to hand the phones over to charity organisation Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) for distribution to the workers.

He first wrote about the unusual fund raiser in a Facebook post on Wednesday (March 1). Two other photographers, Mr Chia Aik Beng and Ms Mindy Tan, have since chipped in by offering their own prints for sale as well.

The trio hope to raise enough money to put a 3G phone in the hands of at least 50 migrant workers here, said Mr Soh.

The 40-year-old frequently interacts with migrant workers, as a significant part of his work involves photographing construction sites. A significant number of migrant workers, he has observed over the years, are still relying on 2G phones.

“My safety escorts are always migrant workers,” Mr Soh told TODAY. “Working alongside these workers on a weekly basis for over 10 years has allowed me to understand the hardships they go through, as well as the need to stay in touch with their families since they do not have the luxury of flying home to see them regularly.”

For Ms Tan, giving phones to needy foreign workers is a “very simple way of solving the problem”.

The former journalist, who had reported on manpower and labour issues at The New Paper for four years, said the workers’ ability to phone home is a simple act that “soothes their hearts”.

“To take away (the means to call home) from a person on the brink of desperation is heartbreaking,” said the 35-year-old documentary photographer.

This is not the first time Singaporeans are banding together to help migrant workers upgrade their phones. In September last year, non-profit organisation Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) started a drive to collect old 3G phones or cash donations so that it could acquire used phones for workers who need them.

A TWC2 spokesman said they have raised over S$10,000 for the purchase of new 3G phones. But only about half of the 300 used phones they have collected are good enough to be re-used.

TWC2 intends to start a distribution drive for the 3G phones from March 21. To date, about 140 workers have registered with the non-profit to receive the phones.

Only those with no work or income, possibly due to work injuries or owed wages, qualify for the phones, said the TWC2 spokesman.