Wednesday, 12 November 2014

UWC Day.

(See the preparation at the earlier blog post - ) 

Defining the people we see everyday at UWCSEA - UWC Day 2014

On UWC day, where we celebrate the day by showing our UWC values to the greater community, we sometimes forget to look internally, into the backbone of UWCSEA itself. And at this current moment, with the construction of the mega block, we have hundreds of ‘backbones’ walking around our campus. 

But unlike the staff members and even the Sodexo group, we know nothing, if not very little, when it comes to defining the construction workers, the backbones that are helping us at this moment. This UWC day, we aimed to expose at least a few of these untold stories, and to try and link the gaps between our knowledge of them and their knowledge of us. Also, to thank them for their service to us, we also provided a student-cooked lunch, accompanied by music, decor and gifts.

To start us off, we decided to talk to our peers, to see what they think about the construction workers. The construction workers are a part of our daily lives yet we have never
asked each other what we think of them and who they are to us. During the interviews, the responses were on two sides of the spectrum as the students had differing viewpoints. Half the students thought the construction workers were inspirational people as they worked tirelessly abroad in harsh conditions to provide a sustainable living for their families back home and therefore deserved a lot more respect than what’s given to them. However, there were those who felt unsafe and intimidated when walking past these workers, especially when they were in large groups. There was no correlation between the perspective of the students and their gender, nationality or age. Though these students all had different opinions, they all said that they were looking forward to getting to understand and serve the workers.

Mr. Thomas, who is currently supervising the construction of UWC Dover’s new megablock, took time out of his busy schedule to assist with the interviews and explain his impressions of the construction workers and their conditions. He said that the construction workers are treated better here than in other places that he has worked at before, and that he wanted to know more about the people who work around the campus. He mentioned the man who stands at the driveway, in rain or shine, in the morning and in the afternoon, to ensure traffic flows smoothly and we arrive to school safely. He is a person that everyone walks or drives past every day, but yet very few people know his story, and very few people know his name. Mr. Thomas wanted to know this untold story, and said that this activity was not only to give something back, but put a name on every face at UWC. Unfortunately, we could not find this man, but we found many other untold stories and names which spike the same level of intrigue.

Following an enlightening interview with Mr. Thomas, we met with Mr. Cairns. Mr. Cairns is the headmaster of UWC Dover Campus. Mr. Cairns was introduced in a very interesting manner. Mr. Thomas had informed us that a journalist who used to work for the BBC, had taken time out of his busy schedule to meet with us and help us out. All of the information provided about the guest speaker was true, but none of us expected Mr. Cairns to walk through the door. Mr. Cairns proved helpful in our video-making process, and when it came to the interview, he shared his insight with us. Since Mr. Cairns has travelled around the world, he sees a difference in how people treat construction workers in Singapore compared to other nations. He also finds many of the construction workers as warm and friendly people, who say ‘hello’ whenever he walks by. He also said that some people were slightly dismissive when talking to the construction workers.

Afterwards, we headed towards the construction sites to interview the various construciton workers. Like our student body, the construction workers themselves are diverse, from Hong Kong, China, India (various regions), but only from Asia. There are over 500 construction workers, but we treated the Indian workers on 1st October because hosting 500 workers together would be a hard task to cover. Most of the Indian workers are from the southern region, Tamil Nadu, and a few are from West Bengal. There were also a handful of workers from Bangladesh.

When we interviewed the construction workers, considering the fact that the workers need not have been genuine in their answers to the interviews they gave, we can tell that they sincerely enjoyed having students do something for them on UWC day. They have a sort of pride in them for the students studying here, coming from their own diverse countries. They have a mutual but invisible attachment with the students and that is beautiful. They all seem to be happy with the kindness and the caring nature of UWC and are looking forward to spending more time with UWC.

Through the interviews we carried out with the construction workers, we also found that all of the construction workers we interviewed have gone through further studies in university. Their qualifications ranged from Mechanical Engineering to Economics. Others, which we did not manage to interview, had special skills that allowed them to carry out certain tasks around the site, such as being able to operate the crane. Overall, everyone on the construction site had something special to offer, whether it be with or without an education.

One of the aims of the video was to uncover the untold stories, and to put a name on every face at this school. We interviewed four construction workers to find out more about them, and their interviews showed how little we knew about them. Generally, the three of them were all educated, and thought that us UWC students were hardworking and diligent students, and were proud of us. One of them even offered their help if we ever needed any help. They all had family outside Singapore, and communicated with them regularly. Throughout the entire interview, they had smiling faces and cooperated well, so it created a warm atmosphere during the interview. One of our major questions was how they communicate with each other, as some people do not speak the same language as others. The workers said that they would use hybrids of the other language and English, or just pure English. This shows that they have managed to adapt very well to this clear obstacle. Overall, after walking out of the interview, it was clear that the construction workers demonstrated optimism, determination and care towards their co-workers, staff members and the students, which is what helps build a broader UWC community.
The day was very memorable and informative for us. We were able to be a part of the entire preparation process for the day and learn more about the lives of the construction workers and the work of our our peers as the day progressed. We were also given the opportunity to be treated like real journalists as we were able to visit the construction site and observe the conditions of the workers first hand. We felt privileged that we were given the opportunity to seek advice and information from a professional journalist, Mr. Cairns. Throughout the day we were able to record and witness what each side was doing - our peers working hard to make an enjoyable experience for the workers and the workers waiting in anticipation for a traditional meal. At the end of the day we were left feeling humble, educated and fortunate. It was an amazing experience to be able to witness and record what was happening behind the curtains as the students prepared the food. It was equally amazing, if not uplifting, to serve the construction workers and receive gratitude and appreciation for our small effort. After seeing how troublesome and difficult their lives were,  we were grateful for being born into our own families. Their general optimism and upbeat behaviour also provided us with moral support, and we felt that if they could still smile when they are miles away from home, we should pay our respects to them and learn from them.

We feel that even though we have uncovered the untold stories, and we tried to help them by giving something back to them, they still managed to give something back to us, by warming our hearts with their smiles and general optimism, and we feel this is what abiding by the UWC values can give you.

Arjit Gupta, 
Aadithya Gowthaman, 
Sanah Budhraja
Sean Asahara Thio
Vignesh Srivathsan
Leila Fuerst

The Final Video...