We had been thinking of ways to engage migrant workers beyond our conversations. Geylang Adventures, the guys behind the Back Alley Barbers project contacted us for a possible collaboration. They got us to toy with the idea of organising an event.
As the organisations in Singapore have programmes to take care of the basic needs of migrants such as food and medical care, we decided to touch upon an issue closer to their hearts — homesickness.
Migrant Mail was conceived as a pop-up booth that provided workers with the necessary materials to pen a letter.
Similar to us, many migrant workers are tech-savvy and use online platforms such as Skype, Viber or Weibo to keep in touch with their families back home.
However, we wished that they could take a moment to write down their thoughts in a letter. In addition, we enclosed a “Polaroid” photo of the individuals as a small surprise for the recipient, in a bid to appeal to the workers.
Their initial reactions were of suspicion, hesitance and curiosity.
Many waved us away before we could even utter a word. Others asked us if it was a publicity stunt for the instant camera company, Fujifilm. The few who lent us their ears, were amused by our motivations. Even fewer were the ones who spared a moment to pen their thoughts.
Our morning in Geylang yielded us a good 26 letters.
Being optimistic, we had prepared enough materials for 50 letters. 26 was far below our expectations. Turns out, a free “Polaroid” wasn’t a great enough incentive to write a letter.
We had intended to take the chance while they were writing their letters to initiate a conversation with them. We hoped to get to know them better, however there were no opportunities. As we struggled to find more people, our engagement with them became more fleeting.
Despite these setbacks, Migrant Mail did yield positive outcomes. Several of the 26 letters had their return addresses written at the back of the envelope. We see this as an invitation for the recipient to respond and a future exchange of letters.
Furthermore, we had the privilege of working with some okay guys at Geylang Adventures — a dedicated bunch who had worked tirelessly to realise Migrant Mail.
At the end of the day, all we spent was 10 dollars each and a little effort to wake up on a Sunday morning. For the smiles that we may have brought, it was well worth it.