Every year, The Singapore Women’s Weekly gives prominence to 18 distinguished and powerful women who are successful in their own right as part of the Great Women Of Our Time awards. Meet 2020’s Public Service & Education Nominee, Dipa Swaminathan, the founder of It’s Raining Raincoats.

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Meet Dipa Swaminathan – Great Women Of Our Time 2020 Public Service & Education Nominee

When Dipa came across two migrant workers soaking wet in a thunderstorm and gave them food and dry clothes to change into until the rain stopped, she didn’t realise that this very moment would be the catalyst for It’s Raining Raincoats, a social initiative that started as a Facebook page aimed at improving the welfare of migrant workers in Singapore.

Dipa Swaminathan Great Women Of Our Time
It’s Raining Raincoats aims to spread compassion and awareness towards migrant workers in Singapore.

“They left after the rain ended and I also gave them my number. I said, ‘If you ever get into any trouble you can always reach me. I’m a lawyer.’ Then a few months later, I got a call from the police, saying one of those two guys had tried to commit suicide the night before. He tried to hang himself and the only number he had with him was mine. At that time, attempted suicide was a crime so he was arrested and somebody had to come and post bail. Because the only number the worker had was mine, they asked me if I was willing to go and post bail. So I did.”

“I did all of that, but then I came back and I emailed the police to say that he was not really a criminal, he was a victim. Because when I met him, he told me that he hadn’t been paid his wages by the employer for six months and he didn’t know what else to do so he just decided to end it all. So I kept emailing the police every day and after a week I got a call from the police officer in charge to say that they have dropped all charges against him, they’ve got his employer to pay him all his back wages and he had been released. Then a month later, he was again at my gate like a man reborn. He had this long beard and he was freshly shaven and he came to thank me. It was such a powerful revelation that with very little involvement I could change the course for this man.”

Dipa Swaminathan Great Women Of Our Time
Dipa’s work with and outside of It’s Raining Raincoats is grounuded on the simple belief that you shouldn’t be scared to do something good. If you want to be compassionate, you should be able to do that without overthinking it.

For the 48 year old, migrant workers were a group that appealed to her compassionate instincts. “I felt that they were vulnerable and those of us in a position of being able to help them should help them. Because it can make a lot of difference to them if a Singaporean or resident steps out to speak on their behalf or give them something when they are in need of assistance. And my whole view and ideology on it were driven by the simple belief that you shouldn’t be scared to do something good. If you want to be compassionate, you should be able to do that without overthinking it.” 

With the onset of Covid-19, awareness for migrant workers has increased this year. They’ve been in the news a lot more, and it might even be said that people are taking more definitive stances on their views on the welfare and wellbeing of migrant workers in Singapore. “What we like to do at It’s Raining Raincoats is to relay those positive stories in the hopes that it raises the bar for everybody. If you accentuate the positive stories, the stories of positive interactions between residents and the workers, our hope is that others who are maybe on the borderline, sitting on the fence will also be encouraged to do the same.”

Dipa Swaminathan Great Women Of Our Time
It’s Raining Raincoats had 250 volunteers but now, with (and even in spite) of the pandemic, they have about 500 on their roster.

In 2017, It’s Raining Raincoats was named the Kampong Spirit winner at the President’s Volunteerism & Philanthropy Awards. With the pandemic, the volunteer numbers for the organisation have almost doubled in the last three or four months. “Fortunately for us at It’s Raining Raincoats, the people who reach out to us are the ones who are moved by their plight and want to help them and welcome them into their communities. There are thousands of those people that we hear from on a weekly basis and it is very heartening for us. So I don’t want to wear rose-tinted glasses, and I’m not saying that everybody’s views about them are changing, but it is very heartening to see the number of people who want to reach out and help them.”

The Great Women Of Our Time Awards 2020 is brought to you by the presenter, Lancôme.