SINGAPORE: In the span of about a month, they almost went from honeymoon to homeless.
With the prospect of no roof over their heads and with only S$20 to hand, Sri Lankan couple Brahim Casseem and Dilka Dilukshi were bracing themselves to sleep rough.
“That was a difficult situation, because we didn’t have any other way,” said Mr Casseem, 30.”We didn’t even know who was going to help us. So we didn’t have any choice, we (chose) to sleep on the road.”
But it wasn’t supposed to be like this.
The couple arrived on Mar 11 in Singapore for a two-week honeymoon. Back then, there were fewer than 200 COVID-19 cases in Singapore.
“We chose Singapore because we didn’t need the tourist visa to come here,” said Mr Casseem. “We decided to go to Indonesia but we thought that Singapore would be better. That’s why we came here.”
READ: Malaysian boy lives alone in Singapore for months, so that he won’t miss school during the COVID-19 outbreak
The couple had heard about the coronavirus spreading in China, but that was about the extent of their knowledge of COVID-19, said Mr Casseem.
“We knew about coronavirus, but we didn’t think it would get this bad. In Sri Lanka there was no news about the virus then, we heard the news only about one Chinese woman in Sri Lanka.”
The couple had saved up a considerable amount of money for the two-week trip – the flight tickets cost about 80,000 Sri Lankan rupees (S$611) in total and they also brought along about S$1,000 for expenses.
Upon arriving in Singapore, Mr Casseem and Ms Dilukshi realised that things were not as rosy as they had thought. They were advised by the person they were staying with to limit their travel around the island given the COVID-19 situation.
“We didn’t know anyone … because he is a Sri Lankan, so what he said, we did,” said Brahim. “He said don’t go anywhere far … don’t go out on Saturday and Sunday.”
They heeded that advice and limited their activities. “We felt bad, but more than that we thought about staying without getting infected by the virus … We felt disappointed but what could we do? We needed our lives, more than (anything).”
Towards the end of their original stay in Singapore, the couple received the news that Sri Lanka had implemented a lockdown. Their flight back home had been cancelled.
READ: COVID-19: Phase 2 of post-circuit breaker reopening could begin before end-June, says Lawrence Wong
But Mr Casseem and Ms Dilukshi maintained a positive outlook – they still had some spare cash and another 50,000 Sri Lankan rupees (S$380) in savings to supplement this.
Said Brahim: “We thought within one month we would be able to leave … it would be okay in Sri Lanka, the airports would be open, all would be working and we can go.”
But as the days ticked by, the couple realised they might be stuck in Singapore for longer than they expected. They sent out a distress call to various official Sri Lankan entities, hoping to receive some help.
Back home, the couple’s family grew concerned but were limited in how they could help. “My father had stopped work (due to the lockdown for more than one month, he couldn’t do anything,” explained Mr Casseem, who works as a musician in Sri Lanka.
“IT WAS A MIRACLE”
Alerted to Mr Casseem and Ms Dilukshi’s situation, local charity Project Providence stepped in.
The group, which calls itself a “temporary COVID-19 crisis response initiative” was set up in April to support the needs of migrant workers living outside dormitories and temporary construction quarters. They have also been helping other groups of foreigners in Singapore.
“Project Providence volunteers hold the fundamental belief that we should reach out to offer guests assistance in their time of need. This is core to our identity as Singaporeans and the kampung spirit that we have long cherished,” it said in response to queries from CNA.
“We understood how scary it must be to be stranded in a foreign land without strong community support or adequate financial resources during COVID-19.”
Project Providence was alerted to the couple’s case by charity organisation Homeless Hearts of Singapore and offered them an overnight stay with one of its partner hotels.
This was a godsend for Mr Casseem and Ms Dilukshi.
“We had to move to another place because we couldn’t pay the room rent any more,” said Mr Casseem. “He (the landlord) didn’t have to help but it was about humanity … There was no flight back home and (we thought) everybody understood that.”
The couple were put up for the night at a hotel in Little India and were supplied with meals by Project Providence.
“We kept our stuff and we were sitting down at the car park. It was less than half an hour and they called and sent a vehicle,” said Mr Casseem. “For us, it was a miracle. Because we were planning to sleep on the road and there was someone calling us to help.”
The next day, they were moved to another hotel in Clarke Quay by the Sri Lankan High Commission.
The couple is now staying at Hotel 81 in Geylang, as they wait for a flight back home. The funds for their tickets were raised by members of the local Sri Lankan community and Ms Dilukshi’s friends back in Sri Lanka, said Mr Casseem.
They continue to keep in touch with members of Project Providence, whom Mr Casseem describes as “angels”. Just last week, they sent a cake to Ms Dilukshi for a belated 29th birthday celebration.
“It is priceless, I used to say that they are angels from the sky on earth,” he added. “They didn’t have to help us … they are doing everything, more than we are thinking, more than expected.”
There have been a number of false dawns for the couple – earlier this month, they were told there would be a flight home, only for it to be cancelled on the day of departure.
“We planned everything. What would happen after we went to Sri Lanka, what we are doing, where we are going,” recalled Mr Casseem. (When we were told it was cancelled), all our hopes were finished. After that we didn’t hope much.”
After another cancelled flight put paid to their plans to return, the couple is now hoping to return home on a flight on Tuesday (Jun 2). But they are not getting carried away just yet.
“Only after we get into the flight and we land in Sri Lanka, then we will be happy,” said Mr Casseem. “I was telling my friend, I will step down from the flight and I will be rolling on the floor (in happiness).”
For now, all Mr Caseem and Ms Dilka can do is wait. Mr Casseem spends much of his time playing his guitar – which he calls an extension of himself, while Ms Dilka busies herself on a Facebook group on homemade cooking.
“Sometimes we get bored but there’s no choice,” Mr Casseem said. “Sometimes we used to regret coming to Singapore in this situation. Maybe this is something which has to happen, we can’t change it. There is no point getting worried about the past.”
When asked what he misses most about home, Mr Casseem has a one-word answer.
Published at Sun, 31 May 2020 22:10:42 +0000