Even in solitude, there is so much we can do for others.
One of the most sterling examples of social action is the Bangladeshi poet and migrant worker Zakir Hossain Khokan, who raised funds for workers confined to their dormitories during the circuit breaker period and arranged for essential supplies like masks to be distributed to them.
Last year I invited Zakir, a two-time winner of the Migrant Worker Poetry Competition, to address my school’s Literature students and share his poetry about life as a migrant worker in Singapore. Our students were enthralled by his heartfelt and bittersweet account of leaving home.
So imagine their shock when I informed them in the class WhatsApp group that Zakir was among the thousands of migrant workers who had tested positive for COVID-19. “Oh nooo omg that’s awful!” one student texted. Another replied: “What can we do to help?”
Plenty, of course. I shared a link to a giving.sg campaign by #HomeForAll, an initiative by the Collective of Migrant Efforts. Members of our Literature class quickly joined others in helping to promote their fund-raising campaign, advertising it to friends and family members.
As the weeks passed, the class followed Zakir’s updates on social media, rejoicing when his condition improved. We watched with awe at how Zakir remained busy coordinating donations, hygiene essentials and reading materials from his hospital bed, and even after he was transferred to the Singapore Expo. To receive news about needy cases, he tapped on his 450-strong network of migrant readers residing in different dormitories. He even activated mental health teams to check in on workers’ emotional well-being.
To our class, Zakir was not a faceless digit. To us, he was foremost a human being, with a wife and nine-year-old son back home in Bangladesh, worried for his health and begging for his return. He represented the sheer power of a single individual, speaking out on behalf of the vulnerable, motivated by the power of altruism. In all, he was a living inspiration, a prime exemplar of courage and determination in the face of fear.
If Zakir could do so much, why not any one of us?
Ow Yeong Wai Kit is a teacher who has taught for five years at a secondary school. He is also a poetry enthusiast who has edited three poetry anthologies. His writings have been featured in the Straits Times, TODAY, QLRS, poetry.sg, and elsewhere. He holds a master’s degree in English Literature from University College London. In 2019, he was a recipient of the Outstanding Youth in Education Award (OYEA) presented by the Ministry of Education, Singapore. This is an edited excerpt of a forthcoming essay in a Birthday Booklet themed on education.