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Op-Ed: Clapping and Singing For Frontliners & Migrant Workers Does Nothing For Them — Here’s What Will


Inspired by the #ClapForNHS (short for National Health Service) Movement in the UK, Mr Martin Verga—who has lived in Singapore for 10 years—wanted to replicate the same show of appreciation for the frontline workers in our island home. Verga’s initiative garnered interest from 5,800 Facebook users, and many relayed their thanks and gratitude towards Verga’s thoughtfulness through comments.

Come 8pm on 30 March, Singapore saw its first Clap for #SGUnited campaign in action, where people “clapped, cheered, sang Ole and even banged saucepans together” from their windows and balconies.

The success of this led Verga to hold an encore session on 20 April, which was again met with zeal, albeit with noticeably less enthusiasm than before.

Credit to respective Instagram user

With two rounds of window-clapping under our belt, an upgraded Sing Together Singapore was hosted on 25 April—this time putting not just our hands, but our voices to good use in this display of appreciation. Dubbed the nation’s “biggest singalong event ever”, the joint event was hosted by Mediacorp and supported by

It featured local talents such as Dick Lee, Taufik Batisah, and various Mediacorp artistes. Hanging flags outside one’s balcony—typically only a yearly affair on National Day—was also legalised on 25 April to encourage Singaporeans to display togetherness.

An act of solidarity

The rationale behind these movements are simple, and frankly praise-worthy. It all started with a hankering for a grand gesture to express appreciation for the front-liners who currently hold the fort, as well as an act of solidarity to let migrant workers know that they have not been forgotten amidst this quandary. And all from the safe confines of home.

It’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the attempt to render support and to convey appreciation to the best of our layman abilities. After all, there are thousands of front liners to thank, and so a collective show of appreciation makes the most logistical and economical sense.

Undoubtedly, it has amassed the support of many Singaporeans—as testified by the sheer participation as well as positive comments that have flooded our social media timelines since.

“If every block and estate has voices ringing out…that would make every frontline worker realise that we love them for what they’re doing,” said actress Vernetta Lopez in an interview with CNA Lifestyle.

The hard truths

However, as with most things, there will always exist two sides of the coin. And as it appears, not everyone shared the same sense of approval for these #SGUnited initiatives.

Netizens—many of whom are frontline workers themselves—have voiced out their disdain for such acts, some even dubbing it as tokenism.

Screengrab from Reddit

Others have helped put things into perspective and pointed out that clapping and banging pots and pans at 8 pm might even be disruptive for workers who work graveyard shifts and are just trying to get some much-needed shut-eye.

“Why can’t there be a feel-good campaign?”

Twitter user @amynxh has clearly articulated her annoyance with the wet blankets who have been calling out the pretentiousness of the Clap For #SGUnited initiative.

Of course, there can, and these campaigns are warmly welcomed—but with a catch. Unless the rest of us non-essential workers display behaviour that is consistent with showing gratitude towards front liners, campaigns like these will, unfortunately, ultimately land themselves a veil of hypocrisy.

The psychology behind why we do it

While I’m heartened at the effort to rally the nation in one collective gesture, there is some truth in what the ‘wet blankets’ have to say. Ideally speaking, we’re banding together as one nation, proclaiming our utmost appreciation for frontline workers and boosting their morale.

Practically speaking, it does absolutely nothing for these workers’ finances, workload, job scopes, nor working hours.

Then there comes a point where we have to stop and ask ourselves—who, then, are we really doing all this for? At some point, it becomes less about our frontline workers per se, and more about us.

It is the nation’s way of convincing ourselves that we are, in some way, making the best from the plight of this whole coronavirus situation—even if it comes in the meagre form of croaking out lyrics of Home in the name of boosting the morale of our essential workers.

Credit – Memedef

Helpless and with absolutely zero control over the pandemic, it is human nature to want to grasp at whatever we can to make ourselves feel useful in some way—any way, albeit subconsciously.

Which is why we think that our cheering and singing is doing good for our front liners, because it is the reality that we choose to accept.

The flip side—which we have failed to see—is that it might be more damaging to the very group of people whom we are trying to encourage. The first reason, as mentioned earlier, is that the ruckus had in fact awakened workers who were trying to rest up in preparing for a long night of work ahead.

Secondly, the hypocrisy of this gesture actually serves to disappoint front liners, with many rolling their eyes in displeasure rather than warmly bearing the weight of our thanks. So at this point, we have achieved the exact opposite of what we have set out to do.

Before we go about parading our appreciation, let’s all make sure that we can say with certainty that we have already put our best foot forward where personal responsibility is concerned. Let the ones who scream and sing at 8 pm not be the very same people who scream at healthcare workers in hospitals who are just trying to do their jobs.

Tangible ways to help

So, the question that follows would most probably be—what can we do to actually help? Having done my fair share of research, trawling the internet, and personally speaking to a few frontline workers, I’ve put together some actionable steps we can take to contribute and ease the burden of our front liner and migrant friends.

1. Being a decent human being

Yes, it’s simpler than you think, and yet, some of us will do everything and anything but. Being a socially responsible and mindful citizen is actually the only thing that most front liners would like from us.

This includes playing our part by staying at home as much as possible, practising social distancing, upholding good personal hygiene, and being empathetic and kind towards our essential workers. After all, they go to work for us. The least we could do is to stay at home for them.

As it is, fighting COVID-19 is already challenging enough. The last thing that medical staff need is to be verbally and even potentially physically abused. Some healthcare workers have taken to Twitter to express their frustration over this whole matter, and to convey what they really need from us citizens.

Perhaps the next time we find ourselves racking our brains to find something we can do to help, let’s just start with the basics and lend a cooperative hand.

2. Volunteering

There’s nothing quite like showing support through meaningful actions, and volunteering your time is a great way to make a positive change in the lives of those struggling during this period. If you have some spare time during the Circuit Breaker period and would like to do something purposeful with it, here are some ways you can volunteer your time to show that you care.

SG Healthcare Corps

Even if you’re a non-healthcare professional, you can still help to support the healthcare scene in Singapore through administrative or supportive roles under the SG Healthcare Corps. Anyone is eligible to apply, as long as you’re above the age of 18. Apply here.

It’s Raining Raincoats

It’s Raining Raincoats is an initiative dedicated to the betterment of migrant workers in Singapore. Join their pool of volunteers to support them in various administrative or worker outreach tasks. Join their WhatsApp group or text Islean directly at 8139 6129.

300,000 Masks for Migrants

If you’re nifty with threads and needles, it’s time to put that talent to good use. Help to sew reusable face masks for our migrant friends for a more sustainable solution to their healthcare needs. If you’re up for the challenge of sewing 300 masks in 10 days or less, sign up here. As they are currently experiencing high volunteer volume, you can join the wait list for now.

If none of these options are up your alley, here are some other ways you can volunteer your unique skill sets.

3. Compensating them accordingly

As a wise friend once told me, “I don’t need my bosses to tell me they appreciate me, just give me more money.” And it seems that this sentiment is shared by others as well.

As it is, it appears that registered nurses in Singapore don’t bring home as much, compared to those in our Asian counterparts, as highlighted by Facebook user Daniel Yap. “Our praises for our Nurses and janitors seem so false and empty when you look at this,” he wrote.

While seemingly calculative at first glance, an increase in compensation is, really, the very least that can be done for our frontline workers, practically speaking. After all the sleepless nights, overtime, hard work, resilience, and sacrifices they’ve had to make, it only seems fair that they are duly and proportionately rewarded.

Credit – @jakefm on Twitter

More than just for personal spending, a pay increment will also help them tide through this period for various reasons. Be it footing bills, providing for their families, or paying for miscellaneous expenses—a little more goes a long way in supporting them and their loved ones.

We asked a colleague’s sister, a doctor, how else can citizens show that we care for healthcare workers:

Unfortunately, raising wages for them is not our call to make, but let’s hope that change-makers will see the necessity of it all. On 29 Feb, it was announced that in a show of solidarity, all cabinet ministers would be taking a month of pay cut, and that public officers on the front line would get “up to one extra month of special bonus”, though that is not quite the same as a salary increase.

If you strongly feel it worthy to appeal for that to happen, you can always start a petition on like this one.

4. Gifting

Gift A Meal With Fave

Since ordering in has become quite the norm of us nowadays, why not do good while you’re at it? Under Fave’s Gift A Meal tab, gift a meal to someone in need whenever you purchase one for yourself.

Majulah Belanja

We’re no genies, but we can help to grant some wishes at the very least. At Majulah Belanja, you can find a wish list made by dorm operators that will help to improve the quality of life of the workers residing in dorms. Alternatively, if you have some spare canned food or toiletries lying around, do consider gifting them.

Once a gift offer or request has been matched, the parties will be linked for the exchange. Think of it as tinder but for donations—except with none of the frivolousness, and all sorts of wholesomeness. Submit your gift offer here.

5. Donating

I understand that not everyone has the fiscal resources to make donations, and have hence left this as the final option. If you have the privilege to be blessed with more than you need and would like to share some with our migrant or frontline friends, there are many ways you can do so.

Covid-19 Migrant Support Coalition (CMSC) fundraiser

Some community organisation powerhouses—ItsRainingRaincoats, Migrant x Me, Citizen Adventures, and Singapore Migrant Friends—have joined forces for a fundraiser that hopes to raise S$1 million for migrant workers.

This will go towards meals, daily essentials, and occupational upgrading and engagement. They are currently halfway there. If you’d like to help, make your donation here.


Give.Asia aims to crowdfund S$200,000 for affected parties during this period. Their work includes distributing tokens of appreciation to frontline responders, raising food and supplies for low income families, and also working with affected communities to help them manage the situation. Donate here.

#HomeForAll Migrants

#HomeForAll Migrants is a collaborative campaign by the Collective of Migrant Efforts (COME) and NGOs, government agencies, and citizens. It aims to raise $800,000 to provide 20,000 migrant workers with rations over 10 days. Donate here.

Top Up Migrant Workers’ Prepaid Cards

For many migrant workers, their phone is the only lifeline that connects them to their loved ones back home. More than ever, it is important for them to stay connected with their families and friends in their hometowns because travel is essentially out of the question.

Non-profit organisation Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) is raising funds to help foreign workers living in dorms and who’ve been diagnosed with Covid-19, to ensure that they have enough funds in their prepaid SIM cards during this time. Donate here.

To wit, clapping and singing may seem like an appealing way to render our support at first glance. But in the grander scheme of things, it might be time to step back and reflect on whether it’s what our front liners truly need.

I genuinely do believe that we’re a nation that reflects deep empathy and humanity, and the last thing I’d want is for us to find ourselves engaging in hypocrisy festooned with confetti. We can all do better, so let’s.

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