You are My Brother
You are My Brother
Our friendship began in an unexpected place: the ICU of Singapore General Hospital (SGH) Burn Unit.
I still remember that afternoon in late 2016, when we received a call from a social worker, asking us to visit a 22-year-old patient, who had suffered from a third-degree burn due to an explosion at work. His name was Rahman, a Bangladeshi migrant worker.
I was a volunteer at Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME), an NGO that provides immediate crisis intervention to migrant workers in Singapore. HOME also offers them education and training programmes to improve their economic prospects.
When I first met Rahman, he was bandaged like a mummy. I wondered if he would pull through. The doctor, who first attended to him at the A&E, had shared that 73 per cent of his body was burned and his chance of survival was only 20 per cent. Miraculously, he survived and was discharged after six months in hospital. He continued to receive numerous treatment for his injury, including reconstruction and laser treatment. His left eyesight and hearing ability were also seriously affected. To make things worse, his employer stopped paying his medical bills and wages. That is why HOME stepped in to assist him with his medical expenses and work injury claim.
During this period, Rahman shared with me that he was a keen learner since he was young. Back home, he had to stop going to school after completing his primary education, because he had to work to support the schooling of his two younger siblings. But his desire to learn did not stop. He borrowed books from his friends and continued studying on his own. He even passed the public examination, the equivalent to Singapore’s O levels.
To help build a better future for his family, he came to work in Singapore as a gardener at just 20 years old. He performed very well in his job and was praised by his boss. But it was also the same workplace where the terrible accident happened.
While receiving treatment and waiting for his injury assessment, Rahman took English and computer lessons with the help of HOME’s volunteers. He then offered to be a translator for us and other Bangladeshi workers. One day after I accompanied him for his skin treatment, he asked me to accompany him to the Burn Unit. He was welcomed by the nurses and staff like a longtime friend. The nurses asked Rahman if he could help one Bangladeshi burn patient, who was depressed and refused to eat. After a short conversation with the patient in Bengali, Rahman used his mobile phone to call the patient’s parents and let him talk to them. I was a bit shocked as the IDD call would have been quite costly, especially for Rahman. After the call, the patient was willing to listen to the nurse and eat the grapes that we brought.
I was curious to know what Rahman had said to the patient and he simply shared, “I told him if I can make it, you can too.” He was using himself as a living example to encourage other burn patients. No wonder Rahman received SGH’s Most Inspirational Patient award in 2017!
Though Rahman has an uncertain future and a disfigured appearance, he remains positive and hopeful. He has never complained about his condition but is instead thankful to the people who have helped him along the way.
We have shared many wonderful moments, like tasting his Bengali cooking, advocating for migrant workers, and having pizza and ice-cream with my family.
I might be old enough to be Rahman’s father, but it is I who has learnt so much from him. He refuses to give up his dreams even after the tragedy. He tries in every way to help himself and others. His generosity, resilience and positivity are just some of his many qualities that will stay with me, etched in my memory.
Rahman eventually received his compensation and returned home last year. Before leaving Singapore, he hugged me and said, “You are my brother and you stay in my house when you visit Bangladesh.”
Now he is building a school in his village for young children, charging a nominal fee of S$1.80 per month. He never stops amazing me and I plan to visit him once his school is up and running.