In 2009, HealthServe, a non-profit community development organisation dedicated to serving the interests of the migrants, disadvantaged and poor in Singapore, expanded its efforts to include English language lessons for Chinese migrant workers.
Set up in October 2006, HealthServe aims to serve by offering medical, legal advice, counselling services and HIV screening tests through our community clinics. Professional and dedicated volunteers work tirelessly to establish partnerships with regulatory authorities, agencies, schools and corporate organisations to initiate public health awareness, research projects and social enterprises.
Text and photos by Debby Ng
Alex, a PhD student at the National University of Singapore, has been volunteering at the HealthServe English language class for almost a year. A foreigner himself, from China’s Heilongjiang Province, Alex is able to bond well with the students, making them feel comfortable and open to his teaching.
It is apparent that the students are willing and eager to improve their English. Lu Hai Lin, from China’s Shandong Province, has downloaded a Chinese-English dictionary into his mobile phone for use on-the-go, and to assist him in class.
Lu Hai Lin takes pictures of signs and words he encounters while out at work and takes these pictures into class to understand their meaning. Here he tries to decipher the instructions of a sign he came across in his work place that describes work safety guidelines.
Like all language beginners, the students learn words and sentences that are of practical use to them. English offers multiple challenges though, with several homonyms, and confusing semantics for even the most motivated student.
Though neither of them are masters at the language, Lu Hai Lin and Wang Yezeng, both from Shan Dong Province, assist each other during the class. The two are also roommates. Wang, though quiet in class, is attentive and studious, and is more confident in English than he lets known.
Jacqueline Tan is a staff at HealthServe and is one of the teachers for the English Language class. During the Chinese New Year period, workers remained committed to attending class on their off day.
Li Pei Guo is a migrant worker from China’s Anhui Province. He is currently awaiting his workman’s compensation for a accident in the work place that saw his head wedged in a machine. His helmet, which took most of the impact, was shattered in the incident. Though he is physically fine, his colleagues and teachers comment that temperament has changed since the incident - they say Li used to be more bubbly and outgoing and is nowadays reserved and quiet.
On days where few students are able to attend the English classes due to work commitments, the small classes are held within the premises of the HealthServe clinic, which serves patients on weekdays. High Point, another non-profit organisation that assists with the rehabilitation of ex-offenders, shares its facilities with HealthServe during the days classes receive a better attendence.
Studious and hardworking, the students make fastidious notes during and outside of classes. Though pensive, they have several questions during the class.
Shi Xiao Lei from Jiangsu Province is one of the most outspoken students in the English language class. As he gains proficiency in the language, he becomes more excited about its use and communicates more in English. Without a doubt, he only appears quiet because he can’t say all that he wants to in English. Yet.
Lu Hai Lin dreams about going back to his family in Shan Dong. He had a simple and comfortable life back home with his family. Over the Chinese New Year period, he missed the dumplings his wife would make during this festive season. He came to Singapore in pursuit of a better, more empowered life.
Shi Xiao Lei works hard to express his memories of Chinese New Year in English. His effort is both entertaining and educational for the students and teachers.
Lao Si Bin notes down phrases that describe the Chinese New Year festivities in his home Heibei Province. Only in his mid 20s, Lao is enterprising and makes the most of his off time. Off days are spent in English classes, and collecting and selling recyclables.