On the Canvas 2: It's Raining Raincoats

On the Canvas 2: It's Raining Raincoats

Dipa Swaminathan is, to put it mildly, a woman who gets things done. A Harvard-educated lawyer with over 24 years of professional experience, she currently holds the position of Assistant General Counsel at Singtel. In 2015 she founded the successful social initiative It's Raining Raincoats, which won the President's Award for Philanthropy and Volunteerism in 2017 and 2020. 
It's Raining Raincoats (IRR) is a ground-up movement - supported fully by volunteers and donations - that seeks to improve the lives of migrant workers in Singapore, and encourage their integration into the broader community. 
Canvas & Weaves sat down with Dipa to find out more!
Dipa Raining Raincoat

Dipa is wearing a Tie and dyed handkerchief maxi dress

Help At Hand

The efforts of IRR and others to bring attention to the difficulties migrant workers face has not been in vain, especially after 2020's events. The plight of many migrant workers opened hearts, minds and purses... and what's more, just because Singapore seems to be through the worst of the pandemic, doesn't meant that people stopped paying attention.

In February this year, when a facility in Tuas caught fire, several migrant workers were badly injured, and some lost their lives. In support of their families, IRR put together a fundraising effort.

"We raised $600,000 in three days," shares Dipa. The funds will go out equally to the victims during this difficult time. 

Rain & Shelter 

The story of It's Raining Raincoats is one Dipa has probably told many times, but it's certainly one worth retelling.  

"I was driving along in my car during a rainstorm, and I stopped to offer a lift to two migrant workers who were getting soaked," she explains. 

Dipa became friends with the two workers, and shared her contact details with them. Then one day she got a startling call. One of the workers had attempted suicide, and was now being detained by the police; Dipa's was the only phone number he had with him.

"Of course, I went down and bailed him out - in those days attempting suicide was still a crime. I found out that his employer had not paid him for many months." 

Dipa, a born fighter, went into battle. The worker was successfully cleared of all charges, and the police got his employer to pay him his back wages instead. This early victory was the first of many. 

Dipa Its raining Raincoats

Dipa is wearing a Tie and dyed handkerchief maxi dress

Why 'Raincoats'? 

Dipa grows animated, almost amused when she tells us the story. "I noticed one day at a worksite that all the workers were still working in heavy rain; but the only 'raincoats' they had were black plastic trash bags."

Dipa called the contractor in charge of the worksite. So persistent was she that they hung up on her!

"But next time I went past the worksite, the workers had proper yellow raincoats!" The triumphant moment still makes her smile.

Dip Its raining raincoatsThe Universe Conspires

IRR operates solely with the help of volunteers - a core group of 80, and a wider pool of 1000 helping hands. There are no overheads, no office, no marketing budget - nothing but the kindness of strangers, and Dipa's own grit and determination. 

How do they do it? One of Dipa's favourite phrases is, "The universe conspires."

The stars themselves certainly do seem to align themselves with IRR. Dipa has many stories to tell, where all the right things seemed to fall into place at the right time.

"A worker approached us to ask if there was any way we could find donated safety boots." In most cases, workers get only one pair of safety boots sponsored by their company. Once these boots wear out (as they rapidly do, with daily use), the workers must find a way to purchase their own.

Before IRR even had time to put out the call, they received an offer: someone had 200 pairs of safety boots to donate!

Isolated, Not Alone

A worthy cause at any time, IRR became a beacon of light during the 2020 pandemic, mobilising hundreds of volunteers to distribute 600,000 hot meals and 120,000 care packages to migrant workers stuck in Singapore, confined to dormitories. In addition, 12,000 workers were able to keep in touch with their families in isolation with mobile data top-ups arranged by IRR.

The universe conspired, once again, to bring together the right people. 

"We had a request for Carom boards," she said, referring to the tabletop game popular in Bangladesh and India, which usually requires a plywood playing board about 74cm in size, and can cost up to $120 per set. "And again, before we needed to do anything, a group of NUS students approached us - they were putting together 20 Carom boards to donate!"

Mindfully Stylish 

As you can see, Dipa has a lot on her plate - and, unsurprisingly, she does not prioritise being 'fashionable'. "For me, being fit is what gives me confidence," she shares. "When I find time to exercise, I carry myself better, and my clothes look good!" 

Dipa describes her style as boho, valuing simple, easy to wear pieces. She sticks to basic separates for work, and favours long comfortable dresses away from the office - especially halter tops. "I think the best part of me is my arms!" 

Her home space is also eclectic and mindfully decorated. Each piece in her home is bought to last a lifetime, and Dipa also prefers to purchase items that evoke a memory or sentimental attachment.  

"Like this necklace I'm wearing," she says, referring to a beautiful blue-beaded piece. "I bought this in Bali, and when I wear it, I remember the place, the experience, the street where I found it." For this reason, Dipa rarely shops in Singapore.

Minimised, not Minimalist

Dipa does not consider herself a minimalist - "You can certainly do a Marie Kondo thing, but there's still the question of where all that stuff is going to go, after you've got rid of it. Will it all end up in some landfill?" 

Instead, she aims towards simply making good use of what's already there, and avoiding unnecessary purchases. "I'm currently on a mission - no new bags and clothes for 12 months!" 

dipa its raining raincoatsHer experiences with IRR has also made her aware of how selective one needs to be when space is an issue. 

"We run free clothing bazaars, and we've realised that because most migrant workers have very limited space for personal belongings, they have to choose carefully what they take home. Even if a shirt is free, you still have to consider - does it fit right? Is it comfortable? Do I like it? They have to be selective, and only pick the items that are really suitable."

IRR is currently involved in assisting the Ministry of Manpower in the vaccination drive for migrant workers.

If you'd like to be a part of the solution with It's Raining Raincoats, look them up on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/itsrainingraincoats/



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