"িবষা_ গ_াস! মা_ পিরধান ক_ন।"
That’s a safety message, in Bengali. It reads: Poisonous Gas! Wear gas mask before handling. If you don’tunderstand the language you would have put yourself at great risk. Like Mr Sarwar who, unable to read english, did not understand the warning and hurt his hand in a worksite accident.
He was an air conditioning technician and was repairing an air conditioner when there was a gas leakage. He reacted instinctively and covered the leakage with his bare hand, forgetting the safety briefings earlier on as he barely understood it. His hand was charred and had to be amputated. He was eventually sent back home.
Singapore has more than 1.4 Million foreign workers and an increasing number of them are hurting themselves while working because of the lack of comprehension of safety briefings. The number has been only rising by a staggering 13% year on year. Most are involved in high risk work environments like construction and marine sector. The inability to read English is literally a matter of life and death.
In Singapore, out of a population of 5.5 million, houses a significant number of foreign migrant workers from countries such as Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Philippines amongst other etc
Foreign workers account which accounts for more than 38% of its working population. The challenges of a language barrier is something I feel deeply. I moved to Singapore from Bangladesh when I was 11 years-old and I could barely speak the language then.
In spite of a strong support from my family, teachers and friends in school, it took me more than a year to become proficient in English. Foreign workers in Singapore don’t have that support base. Given that they live in dormitories, separate from Singaporeans, they have little to no opportunity to pick up English. So when some migrant workers realised that I, a fellow Bengali could speak fluent english, they requested that I conduct English lessons for them. After all, the root cause of almost all their struggles was the language barrier. It prevented them from being able to take charge of their own problems. And so SDI Academy was (www.sdi-academy.org ) was born.
I began comparing the English language teaching pedagogies between the home countries of foreign workers (Bangladesh, India, China etc) and that of native English speaking countries (Singapore, United Kingdom, United States etc)
Soon, I spotted a pattern: Unlike native English speaking countries, almost all non-English speaking countries used grammar based English teaching methodologies. The focus was on memorising definitions and rules. But that’s not the natural way to learn language.
As toddlers, we first begin by mimicking saying out some simple sounds and mispronounced words of that are a daily necessities like such as mom, water, dad etc. This is followed by some broken sentences which are slowly corrected by our loved ones/ teachers over time. We learn some of the essential grammar rules along the way and incorporate those in our sentences and many times complex grammatical rules are not required carrying out a simple proper conversation.
When we designed the curriculum for the English course, we took two factors into consideration:
1. How contextualised and necessary the scenarios were
2. Using their native language to aid in the learning process and progressively reducing the usage of the native language aid/helpline.
It seemed to have worked out very well after few rounds of iteration. One of our graduate, recently spoke at TEDxNUS and he began his speech with “One year ago I did not know what a TED talk was, in fact, one year ago I could not even speak in English…”
We have graduated more than 5,000 students have graduated from our programmes. And we plan to graduate another 5,000 students by the end of 2017. They are also becoming our agent of change back at home where they are influencing their children both sons and daughters to gain education so that they can break out from the vicious cycle.
It seems like a decent progress given how humble our beginning is was but at this rate it would take us more than 400 years to just to cover the entire Migrant worker population in Singapore. There are about 5.5 Million Migrant workers in UAE, 2 Million in Qatar and the list goes. International Labour Organisation reports that there are over 150 Million Migrant Workers all around the world.
We want to bring the impact more rapidly. As as such we have packaged the most essential tool of learning English into a book. We call it “Dr. English”. The book was originally published exclusively for our students, however seeing a large amount of interests even beyond our student population, we decided to make it a public one with a lot more illustrations and bite sized content.
The book will also double up as a social inclusion campaign to integrate the Migrant workers into the mainstream society where for every purchase of a T-shirt with the quote “Trust Me, I’m a Stranger” will result in a book being donated to the Migrant Workers.
We hope to reduce alleviate the stigma that exists for migrant workers within our society through this inclusive campaign for social inclusion. We have partnered with 40 of the largest foreign worker dormitories, housing in Singapore which houses over 238,000 Migrant workers to ensure a smooth and progressive distribution channel.
Our target is to reach at least 100,000 Migrant workers within the next 6 months through multiple book launches at various dormitories and their multi purpose halls. And if we exceed our goal, we have already contacted our partners in the refugee communities in Germany who will help with translation and distribution of the book.
We will provide continuous support beyond the book through our website and videos. You can support our cause by simply contributing under the give.asia crowdfunding platform. (https://give.asia/movement/im_no_stranger).
If you would like to go beyond just the monetary support or would like to link us to some amazing organisations who can multiply our impact, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org