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DIPA SWAMINATHAN (b. 1971)

LAWYER AND FOUNDER, ITSRAININGRAINCOATS

For Dipa Swaminathan, the intersection of chance, instinct and compassion guided her work in helping migrant workers. In 2014, she spotted two workers drenched in the rain with only a small piece of cardboard over their heads, and invited them to take shelter in her home. Three months later, she was contacted by the police after one of the men attempted suicide – then still an arrestable offence – because his employer had not paid him for six months. She had given him her name card, now she was his only point of contact. Spurred to action, she sent persistent emails to the authorities, managing to get the charges dropped and his wages paid.

“If I hadn’t come forward to help him that day, God knows what else would have happened. It was a powerful realisation, because we are in the position to help, we can really make a difference for these guys,” she says.

The incident led to her start ItsRainingRaincoats, a community with over 500 volunteers that spread kindness to migrant workers in Singapore and raises awareness about the issues they face. The initiative won the President’s Volunteerism and Philanthropy Award in 2017. One of its year-round initiatives is to collect unsold food from Starbucks every Saturday and distribute them to the migrant community. This too started from a chance encounter, when Dipa noticed staff from a Starbucks outlet in Singapore Polyclinic throwing out unsold items at the end of the day. The group also collects and gives out presents for migrant workers for Christmas, edible goodies for Chinese New Year, and phone cards on Deepavali.

Migrant workers are one of the most vulnerable groups in Singapore, the true reality of which COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated. ItsRainingRaincoats has been kept on its toes during this time, due to the pervasive spread of the pandemic amongst the community. But just as how it guided her actions before, following her instincts might be key to how the group will deal with the future. She says: “We don’t have a fixed plan. Every plan would have turned on its head by now given what has happened the last few months. We will continue to grow, that’s for sure. But that growth will be organic. Not down to some impersonal blueprint.”

ItsRainingRaincoats is one of the 7 projects supported by T:>Care, an initiative established by T:>Works to support projects created and developed by women to make positive change in our communities. To know more about ItsRainingRaincoats, visit its Facebook page @itsrainingraincoats.