SINGAPORE – “Hold the bat like that, yes, and stand with your feet apart like this,”demonstrated Shafiulla.
It was a balmy Sunday evening (March 31) at a field outside Boon Keng MRT station, and he was one of the migrant workers who gathered there monthly to teach Singaporeans cricket.
Mr Shafiulla, who hails from Bangladesh, was patient as he showed others how to grip the bat properly and displayed enviable mastery of the sport.
“People don’t recognise that migrant workers have stories and strengths as well,” said Ms Hema Kalamogan, 27, who co-founded Vaangae Anna (“Come, Brother” in Tamil), an initiative that hopes to bring together Singaporeans and migrant workers through activities such as cricket sessions.
“There’s a systemic problem where they are seen as lesser, and we want to change that,” she said.
Ms Hema, who currently works at a social enterprise, started the initiative with her friend Shobana Sreetharan, 26, five years ago.
They initially organised group outings with local volunteers of different races and migrant workers on the streets of Little India as they did not have resources for hosting events or publicity.
But last year, they won a grant of $1,000 from A Good Space, an initiative that provides free spaces for social causes.
They used it to pay for Vaangae Anna’s first event at the Indian Heritage Centre and also buy equipment for the monthly cricket sessions.
“We chose cricket because it was something the brothers (migrant workers) love, and that they were good at,” said Ms Shobana, who is currently a trainee teacher.
The “brothers” – Vaangae Anna’s term for the workers who volunteer their time to teach cricket – are from South India and Bangladesh.
Seemon, 30, who is from the city of Tirunelveli in India’s Tamil Nadu, said in Tamil that he feels like he is back home when he attends the cricket session.
“I see them (Singaporeans) as my family and relatives,” he said.
As the sun sets, the workers and volunteers gather to sit down on the grass and chat over snacks they’ve brought to share.
The topics are wide-ranging; everything from funny childhood memories to serious, political issues including the ongoing Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan.
“That’s my favourite part of the session,” said Ms Shobana.
“They’re just like us. They have stories, lives, hopes and dreams.”