We were not prepared for COVID-19.

We started the year 2020 with great excitement and optimism. The entire year’s programmes and activities were mapped out and we were all ready to launch into the execution in January. But by early February, Singapore entered DORSCON Orange and the rest is history.

Singapore went into emergency mode when COVID-19 infections went out of control in the migrant worker dormitories. At HAGAR, we responded swiftly, collaborating with the Ministry of Manpower and fellow NGOs to provide emergency relief for the affected workers. Some of our HAGAR beneficiaries were rehoused to ensure safety. There was great panic when the workers started seeing their friends being taken away when they fell ill. Suddenly, work ceased and they were not allowed to go to work. For some, they had no income for 4-5 months – what are their families going to live on when they cannot send money home? What’s going to happen to their children; small babies and young children when there’s no money for food? When can work resume? Who’s going to take care of their family if they die from the coronavirus? There were many questions but we had few answers.

HAGAR started a tele-counselling initiative in the wake of the Circuit Breaker, reaching out to trafficking survivors and distressed migrant workers in the male and female dormitories. Getting access to the workers was challenging; due to safe distancing measures, all sessions had to be conducted online via Zoom. Every meeting required at least 3 helpers – HAGAR staff, counsellor and an interpreter. The logistics of coordinating the daily meetings was nightmarish, mainly due to poor wifi connectivity at the worker dormitories and unfamiliarity with using video-conferencing platforms when the workers tried logging on to the calls.

While all that was going on, we were swamped with the daily collection and deliveries of relief items, essential COVID-19 supplies and hot meals to the workers every day. With just a 3.5 staff team, the days were long and the nights were dark – but we were not alone.

News of HAGAR’s response in the pandemic went out to our supporters and others in the public space. Many sprang into action, availing their time, skills, networks and funds to help us in the relief efforts. The tele-counselling hotline was helmed by mostly volunteer counsellors, psychotherapists and translators. Some of our beneficiaries jumped on the bandwagon and assisted us with the delivery of relief items.

In the same period, volunteer lawyer, Tan Cheow Hung from Beacon Law Corporation, and Lim Lei Theng, former Co-Director of the NUS Centre for Pro Bono & Clinical Legal Education at the NUS Faculty of Law assisted us in organising a legal workshop to empower and allay the fears of exploited foreign domestic workers who were facing increased stress and hardships during the Circuit Breaker period.

Seeing how HAGAR was impacted by the economic impact of COVID-19, many faithful supporters and donors responded to our emergency appeals and we had others who initiated different creative fundraisers to help raise awareness of HAGAR’s work and crucial funds for victims.

Like most Singaporeans, Sharon Shum, 29, received a $600 Solidarity Payment from the Government – a payout given to help households cope with the impact of the pandemic. Not only did she donate the full sum, but she also started an online fundraiser, urging others to contribute their Solidarity Payment to HAGAR and four other charities. Through Sharon’s active callouts, HAGAR received close to $60,000. “I don’t need an additional $600 to survive right now, but there are people who do”, says the motivated Sharon.

Three weeks after being retrenched, YingZi found out she was pregnant and couldn’t land a job. Stricken with severe morning sickness, couch-ridden and an empty calendar, she found herself questioning her self-worth and purpose. Yet, the painfully long dates with her couch and ceiling divinely gave her clarity to prioritise what really matters and her heart changed from chasing a glamorous career to being a voice for the exploited. Using her pottery skills, YingZi took to creating “imperfect” masterpieces and donated 100% proceeds from Nov-Dec 2020 sales to HAGAR’s work. Each of her creations was inspired by the true trafficking stories and left with intentional marks of imperfections to show the unique healing journey of each one.

Led by Mark Houghton, James Partland and a group of friends, these eight warriors started a personal challenge, walking around the Singapore coast in one day! The Around in One team completed a mammoth 117km; socially distanced, face-mask clad and trekked around Singapore in 25hours! Though the non-stop walk left them with bruised bodies and blistered feet, their spirits were raging high as they saw how their personal endurance had inspired exceeding donations of over $11,000!

Dedicated volunteers like Esther Lee and Jasper Yap who spent long days and nights building our digital campaign websites amid their busy schedules and pressing deadlines, enabled us to launch our virtual 40.3 Freedom Race and HAGAR gift site without a glitch!

And there were others like Natasha Pannirsilvam, who took to selling old books to raise funds for HAGAR. We also had a stream of business owners whom promoted our cause on Instagram and donated a portion of their business profits to our work.

Just this month in sharing Christmas cheer with our beneficiaries, Crocs donated close to 3,000 pairs of new casual footwear to HAGAR. It was so heartening seeing their faces beamed with happiness as the shoes were delivered into the hands of our trafficking survivors and migrant workers. To spread the cheer around, we shared the donation with beneficiaries served by our fellow community agencies.

Faithful grant-makers and corporates like the Macquarie Group Foundation and Linklaters Singapore came to our rescue when they saw donations to HAGAR dropped as businesses took a huge financial hit in this crisis. Delivering an extra one-off donation to help in our emergency response, these precious funds allowed us to meet some of the critical needs of survivors who have been badly affected by the pandemic. Kewal Ramani Foundation (KRF) supported us with a new grant for our anti-trafficking work in Singapore. In November, Texel Foundation organised a year-end run amongst their staff, clients and friends, raising awareness and funds for HAGAR.

In our darkest nights when we could not see the end of the tunnel, these amazing supporters and donor shone like stars in the sky. There were many others who worked quietly behind the scenes and sent us anonymous cheques, deposited money in the bank. To you, whom we are not able to say a personal thank-you to, please know that your act of love has brought a tangible hope to our beneficiaries. Thank you for lightening our burden and brightening our skies with your shine!

Help us transform lives

Join HAGAR to empower survivors of trafficking and abuse to start a new life.

Help us transform lives

Join HAGAR to empower survivors of trafficking and abuse to start a new life.

Help us transform lives

Join HAGAR to empower survivors of trafficking and abuse to start a new life.

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