Introduction / History
Understanding the modern situation for Thai peoples in Singapore starts with knowing how immigration and the melding of cultures made the nation what it is today. Within twenty years after becoming a British trading colony in 1819, the barely occupied city of Singapura (Singapore) became one the largest attractors of immigrant workers in Asia. Consequently, the city became more shaped by the numerous people groups who made it home than the Malay Peninsula it is geographically connected to. Earlier on and especially when Singapore gained independence from Britain and then Malaysia in 1965, Chinese peoples dominated the island with Malay and Indian (Tamil) as large minorities. Other groups, such as Thai, have never enjoyed political or social power, but their labor has been vital to Singapore's astonishing economic growth.
Where are they located?
Thai people in Singapore do not live in one specific part of the island, but as with other ethnic groups in the city, they do have a particular area where they prefer to shop and socialize. In Singapore, a city of 175+ shopping malls, many people groups congregate around a certain mall, which contains shops and restaurants tailored to them. The Golden Mile Complex has become the Thai-focused mall in Singapore.
Because the majority of Thai who live in Singapore are employed as live-in domestic workers or laborers, they spend most of their time in Singaporean households or construction sites. In 2012, new laws require domestic workers to have one day off per week, which give them the opportunity to socialize with fellow Thai peoples. On their day off, Thai domestic workers can be found at the Golden Mile Complex or other locations throughout the island.
What are their lives like?
Today, Thai peoples in Singapore are divided between non-resident (temporary worker or student) and those who have gained permanent residency or citizenship. As of the 2010 census, only 5,650 Thai peoples in Singapore possessed permanent residency or citizenship, with 86% of them being female. Most of these women have gained such status through marriage to Singaporean men who are ethnically Chinese.
The majority of Thai people living in Singapore are temporary domestic workers, laborers along with a small number of students and professionals. Foreign workers hold nearly all construction and domestic employment positions in Singapore. With one out of every five households in Singapore employing a live-in domestic worker , female foreign workers, mostly from the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar are in high demand. In addition, Thai peoples move to Singapore for other labor, business and educational opportunities. Working in Singapore is a way for Thai people to improve their family's economic condition, but because of low wages matched with extremely high cost of living on the island they are usually unable to bring them along. Thus, as with other temporary workers, the daily lives of most Thai in Singapore centers around their work.
What are their beliefs?
Theravada Buddhism was introduced to Thailand in 329 B.C. Almost all of the Thai are devout followers of Buddha ("the enlightened one") and seek to eliminate suffering and improve their future by gaining merit in pursuit of perfect peace, or nirvana. It is important to note that the religion's foundation is the actual practice of Buddhism, not adherence to a set of truths or beliefs, as in Christianity. Though it was embraced even more after the constitutional revolution of 1932 , the practice of Buddhism by most Thai remains heavily syncretized with folk animism.
Training to become a Buddhist Monk in Thailand is not limited to those pursing life-long service. It is traditional for young men to live in a Buddhist monastery for three months to three years or longer in some cases, and then return to lay life. Those who have completed such training can sometimes be spotted in regular clothing but with very close cut hair. Because most male temporary workers who come to Singapore from Thailand are young, it is common for them to either have just completed this training or have plans to return to Thailand to do so.
With Buddhism being the majority religion of Chinese Singaporeans, Thai Buddhists fit in easily. In Thailand the syncretisation of Buddhism with folk animism is most evident by the "god" or "spirit" houses in front of homes and business. It is believed that sacrifices of food and or flowers placed in these doll-sized houses will appease the gods or spirits and prevent them from entering the home or business. Such "houses" and similar altars are seen throughout Singapore and especially at construction sites which attempt to accommodate the religion of their Thai workers.
What are their needs?
In order to determine their needs, an understanding of both the Thai people and the situation of immigrant workers in Singapore must be grasped. First, Thai people, whether in Thailand or Singapore, face problems with public health (Hepatitis, HIV), prostitution, poverty and lack of good employment. Though a Christian witness has been in Thailand since the 16th century, Thai people remain resistant to the Gospel.
Life for non-professional immigrant workers in Singapore is very different from that of Singaporeans. Most Thai workers in Singapore are between 18 and 35 years old and were engaged in labor before immigrating. The majority immigrate legally through employment agencies and are allowed to work in Singapore for four years. Construction workers typically work 6 days a week and live on-site or in a dormitory with female domestic workers living in-home. The daily wage for Thai workers is typically much less than what Singaporeans or Malaysians make for the same work and usually around ten times less than the national average wage.
Poor working conditions and being away from family are the greatest struggles for Thai workers in Singapore. Singaporean churches have recently started to take note of the great opportunity they have to reach the many immigrant workers with the Gospel. Creative ministries and programs have been started to reach both male and female workers. The challenge is always the lack of accessibility to Thai peoples because of the number of hours they work and the places they live; in addition to the limited years they spend in the country. A few Thai-language fellowships and services can be found across the island.
* Pray for Singaporean churches to begin creative ministries to Thai workers in Singapore.
* Pray for the working conditions of Thai workers in Singapore, especially that they would be allowed more time away from work, enabling more outreach to them.
Text source: Eric DeGrove