Encouraging youth advocacy to safeguard Singapore’s social harmony
Speech by Mr Baey Yam Keng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth at the OnePeople.sg Model United Nations Conference
19 June 2018
Mdm Rahayu Mahzam, Board Member of OnePeople.sg
Mr Mohamed Nasim, Board Member of OnePeople.sg
Mr Ong Keen Choon, Executive Director
Mr Ramesh Ganeson, Director of OnePeople.sg
Teachers and Students
Ladies and Gentlemen
- It gives me great pleasure to join you this morning at the opening of the OnePeople Model United Nations (OPMUN) Conference 2018. I understand that we have among us a diverse group of both local and international youth delegates from a wide range of schools, from secondary to pre-tertiary institutions. Thank you very much for participating in this Conference, and I look forward to a robust discussion on race and religion in Singapore.
Safeguarding our racial and religious harmony is a shared responsibility
- In a world where racial and religious differences continue to polarise societies, Singapore is fortunate to be a nation where people of different races, religions, and backgrounds live in harmony.
- ISIS may be fading in the Middle East, but the threat of terrorism and extremist ideologies has not abated. The recent suicide bombings in Surabaya, Indonesia underscore this. Singapore is also not immune; in fact, there has been a rise in the number of radicalised Singaporeans. On the other hand, in the U.S. and Europe, societies have seen growing Islamophobia, which in turn alienates Muslim communities. While the radicalised are the very few, their misguided actions may warp societies’ perceptions of Muslim communities as a whole, undermining social cohesion and trust between people.
- We cannot let such divides happen in Singapore. We must continue to strengthen community bonds through engaging with those who are different from us. In the process, we can develop a deeper understanding and mutual appreciation of our beliefs and faiths.
Through dialogue, we can appreciate and respect diverse perspectives
- Today’s conference is an excellent example and opportunity for you to exchange viewpoints and explore different perspectives with your peers. Through dialogue, you can also discover areas of common interest, be enriched by the diversity of ideas, and come up with better solutions for the benefit of our communities.
- About 20% of the participants here come from overseas, so this is also a chance for us to learn from our peers who live in neighbouring countries. They may be grappling with very similar issues, so it would be useful to know more about the approaches they have taken.
- Apart from OPMUN, I would like to encourage you to participate in other dialogues supported by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) too. We started the BRIDGE initiative last year to support community-led initiatives that use dialogue to deepen understanding on issues of race and religion. I attended one such inter-faith dialogue at the National IRCC Convention this January, where many youth participants were encouraged to ask “inconvenient questions” to the panel of religious leaders and practitioners about their faith. These “inconvenient questions” are questions that we are sometimes too shy or embarrassed to ask. But we created an environment where it’s safe, where people trust one another so that questions that we have in our minds but may not ask in normal circumstances can be surfaced. Questions raised ranged from issues on evangelism to inter-religious marriage, and it was encouraging to see how sensitive questions on religion were handled in a respectful yet engaging way for the youths.
- At the national level, we recently launched Youth Conversations, a series of discussions on what is important to you as a young person. Through these conversations, you can give input on issues that are close to your heart, connect with other like-minded youths, and come up with ideas for change. I encourage you to find out more about BRIDGE and Youth Conversations, and join us at future sessions.
We will support you in championing causes that make a difference to Singapore
- As future leaders of Singapore, you play an important role in safeguarding the social harmony our forefathers have worked so hard to achieve. OPMUN itself is spearheaded by a group of youth advocates from OnePeople.sg, who conceptualise and organise the entire conference.
- One of the youth advocates is Leonard Sim, a student at Anderson Junior college who has helped to initiate various racial harmony programmes in school, such as an inter-racial and religious diorama competition for his peers to learn about the different cultures and festivals celebrated in Singapore. Leonard has since been appointed as the Deputy Secretary-General of OPMUN, and has worked hard with his peers to bring this conference to you. I am heartened to see youths like Leonard stepping up to lead initiatives that he is passionate about.
- At MCCY, we will support you in championing causes that make a difference to Singapore. For example, the Harmony Fund supports ground-up, creative projects by NGOs that promote racial and religious harmony in Singapore. You can also consider applying for the Young Changemakers Grant, which provides seed funding and resources to support your ideas into implementation. The National Youth Fund will also support you by providing funding for ground-up initiatives to spark social change.
- Finally, I would like to thank OnePeople.sg, as well as all our youth advocates and volunteers for making this conference possible. Wishing everyone an enjoyable and enriching time together. Thank you, and have a great day ahead!