“To continue as a community to focus on the needs and deficiencies of the most vulnerable isn’t an act of hospitality. It substitutes labeling for welcoming. It’s isolating in that they become a special category of people, defined by what they cannot do. This isolates the most vulnerable. Despite our care for them, we don’t welcome them into our midst, we service them.” — Peter Block
Somewhere along the lines of technological advancement and urbanization, we have lost sight of the simple things that make us human. Face-to-face conversations without the interruption of our buzzing phones, and our instincts to care for the common good have gradually been eroded in this modern era. Despite the fact that we can text and use social media 24/7, this quick technology and instant sharing of information do not necessarily foster a sense of community or connection. Unknowingly, we have become more isolated. The ‘kampung spirit’, coined to express the interdependence within our communities in the past, has now been replaced by a culture that is much more interested in the pursuit of individual excellence/ success and self-actualization.
Though isolation is a wider condition of modern life, perhaps the most visible people who struggle with it are the multitudes who are part of today’s diaspora – the growing number of displaced people who are away from their homeland, living and raising their children in a permanent state of transition. In Singapore today, close to a million low-wage migrant workers are employed in construction, shipyards, sanitation services, manufacturing and domestic work. Being unable to fully integrate into the communities that they live in, it is no surprise that an us-and-them mentality has developed amongst the average Singaporean in his/ her views of these foreign workers.
Often, we focus on the needs and deficiencies of this vulnerable group of people, when we offer them assistance and care. But this isolates them further, in that they become a special category of people, defined by what they cannot do. In addition to helping them as a vulnerable group in society that is subjected to exploitation, it is equally important to think of them as individuals very much like ourselves. They may not need the vast amount of luxuries as us – the latest handphones or tech gadgets, but distill their desires down to the barest of necessities and one will start to realize that these are the same things that make us human – the need for good food, conversations, love, and a happy family. If we start thinking of them as fellow co-workers striving to make our country a better place, who face the same human struggles as we do, our community would be a more open place that welcomes them in the truest sense of the word.
We will be gathering this February to explore what it means to be hospitable and how we can be welcoming towards the diaspora here in Singapore. We are very honored and excited to be collaborating with Geylang Adventures, a ground-up initiative that hopes to challenge people’s perception of migrant workers in Singapore. Its founder, Cai Yinzhou, will be sharing about his experiences briefly before dinner commences. Any questions and further discussion will continue over a boodle fight, a Filipino communal dining style that involves eating with hands (without utensils). We hope that our guests will come to this dinner, open to embracing a foreign culture and a people who are not too different from us. To sign up, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Spaces are limited, and will be offered on a first-come-first-serve basis.