Meet 43-year-old Mr Bernard Tan and his 62-year-old mother, Mdm Alice Neo. In just a month, they hand-sewed 600 face masks for foreign workers at the Changi Lodge Dormitory.

When Covid-19 saw its first cases in Singapore, Mr Tan, a logistics manager for the Tekong Polder construction project, was worried that his foreign employees would contract the virus. At that point in time, the workers often worked and lived in close proximity, making it difficult for them to practise social distancing.

While the workers were provided with surgical masks at work, Mr Tan wasn’t sure if they had access to good masks back in their dorms. Dissatisfied with the quality of off-the-shelf reusable masks which are often “thin and not sturdy [enough] for prolonged use in the construction site”, Mr Tan decided to make his own with his mother, a retired seamstress.

Mr Bernard Tan (left) and his mother (right). The mother and son duo have been making reusable face masks for foreign workers since mid-March when social distancing measures kicked in. Photo Credit: Bernard Tan

Weaving Together As A Team

When Mr Tan saw the significant rise in Covid-19 infections among foreign workers living in dorms, he decided to rally his neighbours at the Tampines Trilliant condominium to help sew more masks. 

Mr Tan’s workers at the Changi Lodge dormitory wearing the face masks Mr Tan had sewn for them. Photo Credit: Bernard Tan.

He says: “It was about that time when my neighbour told me that [Ms Cheng Li Hui] was also busy soliciting home-made masks for NGOs, foreign workers and the less privileged, directing me to the Sew Love SG Facebook Group to find out more.”

The Sew Love SG initiative was started by Ms Cheng Li Hui, a Member of Parliament who represents the Tampines East ward. She took to Facebook in early April to recruit volunteers to make reusable cloth masks for foreign workers, students and nursing home residents. 

Mr Tan and his neighbours have since directed their efforts to supporting the initiative. They’ve contributed 2,200 masks to the cause since mid-April and have another 800 masks in the making.

Staying Productive During Circuit Breaker

Ms Manusha Chandrasiri, 45, also volunteers with Sew Love SG. 

With more time on her hands during the circuit breaker, the 45-year-old began sewing masks in a bid to “do something productive as [her family was] all caged in”.

Ms Chandrasiri also took this as an opportunity to educate her two daughters and roped them in to help with the efforts. She hopes that it will help them “understand their social responsibilities towards the community.” 

Proud that she could help her mother sew masks, Ms Chandrasiri’s 10-year-old daughter Nelini emphasises the importance of wearing masks, a way of “protecting each other” from the virus.

Nelini folding the masks neatly before packing it in clean ziplock bags. Photo Credit: Manusha Chandrasiri
The masks are washed and dried. Photo Credit: Manusha Chandrasiri
Hand sewn face masks being dropped off at the collection point outside the Tampines Community Centre
The hand-sewn masks are dropped off outside Tampines Town Council.
Photo Credit: Manusha Chandrasiri

On average, Ms Chandrasiri spends about five to seven minutes sewing each mask and has made 100 of them so far.

“This was a very special experience for both the kids and me,” she says.

Heartened by the efforts of volunteers all around Singapore, Ms Chandrasiri adds that Singaporeans can “do so much together.”

Edited by: Christel Yan

Proofread by: Hannah Fletcher