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Ex-construction worker grateful S’pore is ‘safe, secure home for my family’

He first came to Singapore in 1995 at the age of 28 and worked as a construction worker, drawing just $16 a day.

Mr Nadanasigamani Senthil, now 48, recalled how he had come here from India intending to just make some money to send back home.

“I came to Singapore with small dreams. But I saw so much opportunity, and I fell in love with it. The safety, security, law and order – I saw that it was a very good place to call home.”

Now, Mr Senthil is director of electrical engineering firm Triple Power Engineering, and the chairman of the Indian activities executive committee at Cheng San Community Club.

When he first came here on a work permit, he lived in construction sites for more than two years while squirrelling away what he could to pay for part-time studies at Singapore Polytechnic and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

He recalled how difficult it was for migrant workers back then.

“Last time, we had to use whatever materials we could find to build shelters to stay in at the construction site,” he said. “These days, the workers stay in well-run dormitories.”

Despite the struggle, he attained qualifications in electrical installation from the polytechnic in 1996 and ITE in 1997, which he then used to get an Employment Pass.

While he was happy about upgrading himself and the opportunities, it was an incident in 1998 that cemented his dream of making Singapore his home.

Mr Senthil recalled how on an evening after work that year, he came across a case of snatch theft.

“I heard a woman shouting that there was a thief, and saw a man running past,” he said. “I gave chase and managed to catch him, while a passer-by called the police.”

The man was arrested.

The next day, Mr Senthil said the police showed up at the construction site he was working at to look for him, and waited for him to take a shower before taking him to the station to give his statement.

The officers were kind to him, and the police had later given him a letter of appreciation for helping catch the snatch thief.

Mr Senthil said: “This was a turning point for me. Knowing that the Singapore Police Force was friendly and approachable made me tell my fellow workers that they should not hesitate to report any wrongdoing we see to the police.”

He added that it also made him want to volunteer to do more in the community.

He became a volunteer at Whampoa Community Club (CC) in 2000, and became a member at Cheng San CC in 2004 when he moved there.

At the same time, Mr Senthil continued pursuing part-time studies, attaining numerous qualifications, including a Higher Nitec at ITE in 2000 and a diploma in electrical technology from Ngee Ann Polytechnic in 2007.

He became a Singapore permanent resident in 2001, and finally gained citizenship in 2008.

Even then, he did not cease striving to improve himself, attaining a specialist diploma in mechanical and electrical coordination from BCA Academy in 2009.

Mr Senthil said his dream is to get a degree and become a professional engineer here.

Speaking to The Straits Times at the SGSecure Community Conference at The Star Vista on Friday, Mr Senthil said he is thankful to Singapore for all the opportunities he has been given, and strongly believes in giving back to the community.

“I came here as a construction worker, and was given the opportunity to keep upgrading and growing myself to where I am now. I am very thankful for everything Singapore has given me, and I want to give back to my country.”

When SGSecure was launched in 2016, Mr Senthil had been quick to download the mobile application and participate in the movement, seeing it as a way to give back to the community.

He urged others to participate in the SGSecure movement, saying that it was because of SGSecure that he was prepared when a fire broke out in his neighbour’s flat in November last year.

The fire at a block at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 had engulfed a flat on the 16th storey, and Mr Senthil had rushed into the unit to ensure his neighbours were safe.

As a registered SGSecure responder, he also helped evacuate his neighbours, and fought the fire until the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) arrived.

He said: “Since 2013, I’ve been going at least once every year for emergency preparedness training, and so I knew what to do when the fire broke out.

“Of course, the real-life fire was much bigger than what we had during training, but it was good that I already had some level of training on what to do.”

He was later given the SCDF Community Lifesaver Award.

Mr Senthil got married in 2018 and has a one-year-old son, with a second child on the way. He said he hopes his children will grow up here and also serve the community as he does.

“Singapore has given me so much, and I will give back to the community and country that has given me a safe and secure home for my family,” he said.

“I hope that when my children grow up, they also volunteer and serve in the community as second-generation citizens.”