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Weaving a strong social fabric through difficult times

Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth at OnePeople.sg’s “Regardless of Race Dialogue IV: Race Relations in Times of Adversity”

Dr Janil Puthucheary, Chairman of OnePeople.sg (OPSG),

Ladies and gentlemen

  1. Good morning and Selamat Hari Raya. I hope it is not too late for a Raya greeting!
  2. Dr Janil started off by saying how COVID-19 has actually changed our world and delayed the plans for OPSG, but actually we cannot afford any delay in action. I will share with you why, so bear with me as I share some details with you.
  3. Only a few months back – if you think about it it seems like a long time but its actually only been a few months since January, COVID-19 struck and our world was turned upside down. The virus knows no race or religion, knows no nationality - all countries, all races, all people of all faiths have been affected, and it doesn’t care if you are rich or poor. This pandemic has divided many societies, often along these lines, and reminds us why social cohesion is more important than ever before. And why is that so?

    Why is social cohesion important?

  4. COVID-19 has impacted us in many ways. It has and will continue to change the way we live, the way we work, and the way we play and socialise. Restrictions have been put in place to keep us safe. Some of these restrictions, such as safe physical distancing, will remain for a while.
  5. It has not been an easy time. People are understandably frustrated and anxious about when they can resume their lives and their livelihood. All this has put a stress on our societal fault-lines.

    a. Race and Religion. There have been instances where Chinese individuals were the target of suspicion – racist remarks were hurled at some Chinese; Singaporean Chinese were beaten up in the UK and Australia. Elsewhere, Muslims in India were ostracised after clusters of infection emerged from religious gatherings.  

    b. Foreign vs Local. There was a visceral reaction among the local population when reports emerged of people - some who appeared to be foreigners from the photos gathering at say, Robertson Quay. So before police investigations had been completed, there were already calls for foreigners to be deported. In another case of a lady who proclaimed herself a ‘sovereign’, the instinctive reaction of many people was to label her a foreigner. And when another person of a similar profile emerged at Sun Plaza, a stereotypical labelling along racial lines was made by netizens. There have also been instances of locals and foreigners spreading fake news over incidents such as suicides over lack of work and fights between migrant workers. This can create fear, panic and angst amongst our migrant workforce against locals. 

    c. Haves and Have-nots. There has been a disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on those who are less well-off in society. For example, while there have been some challenges for all parents to do home-based learning with their children, not every family can afford a laptop for each child, or provide a conducive home environment or Internet access for home-based learning. In other societies, some poorer communities struggled with the lack of medical support and testing capacity.
  6. A famous phrase in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities goes – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” In the worst of times, it is easy to blame someone who is different from ourselves – whether it is due to race, religion, or nationality. What we must realise is that viruses do not discriminate; people do.
  7. It is up to us to make the best of these times. We cheered on our frontline healthcare workers, who are truly doing a phenomenal job. And we should continue to appreciate our essential workers, such as hawkers, drivers, and cleaners who put themselves at risk for us by providing services to us on a daily basis.
  8. The road ahead to a new ‘COVID-19 safe’ environment will be a long one. While scientists are working on a vaccine, we may face more waves of infection if we do not remain vigilant. The road of economic recovery may be even longer.
  9. So we ask ourselves – what kind of society do we want to emerge from this pandemic? Do we want to be a divided Singapore? Or do we want to continue as a cohesive, caring, and united Singapore?

    How are we addressing these fault-lines?

  10. My ministry’s mission is to ensure that Singapore remains cohesive, caring and united. We work with partners and stakeholders like OPSG at many levels to deepen understanding, and build bonds of friendship and trust with one another. This is especially important during the pandemic, when we must work together as one united society, and let me share some examples. 

    Race and Religion
  11. The National Steering Committee on Racial and Religious Harmony (or NSC), is one platform to build close relationships between Government and our ethnic community leaders and apex religious leaders. The NSC issued a statement in March this year, calling on congregants to work with their religious leaders to implement the necessary measures, and to stay united against COVID-19. Religious organisations have worked with volunteers to deliver carepacks and masks to migrant workers, and meals to those in need. Last week, in celebration of Hari Raya, about 50 volunteers from our Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCCs) delivered more than 18,000 cookie packs to migrant workers in 16 facilities. The support from our religious communities has been invaluable.

    Foreign vs Local
  12. The National Integration Council (NIC) encourages integration efforts, including initiatives which promote positive interactions between Singaporeans and newcomers.
  13. Earlier this year, local and foreign-born volunteers from the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, worked together to distribute care packs and herbal tea to healthcare workers and Changi Airport staff.  More recently, volunteers and corporate sponsors of Migrant Workers’ Centre and Alliance of Guest Workers Outreach distributed hundreds of thousands of meals, masks, and other personal hygiene items to tens of thousands of migrant workers staying in smaller dormitories affected by the Circuit Breaker. Amongst those frontline and essential workers we depend on during this crisis, both locals and foreigners work side-by side to protect us.

    SGCares
  14. SG Cares is a movement that brings partners together to coordinate and tap on each other’s strength, resources and networks. By working together, we are able to have better clarity of needs, identify gaps, and collaborate to make a greater impact. This became apparent during COVID-19. Organisations and individuals started projects to show solidarity for the nation and appreciate frontline workers, set up funds to help the vulnerable segments, donate cash and essential items, and volunteer their time in areas such as distributing care packs and tele-befriending seniors. This generous display of care rejuvenates and inspires us to continue to do more for others.

    Youth Corps Singapore
  15. MCCY has been growing the platforms for volunteerism as an important pillar of an active, engaged citizenry. Youth Corps Singapore (YCS) recognises our youths’ desire to make a positive difference in their communities. During the Circuit Breaker period, YCS volunteers stepped up to support food charities in preparing and delivering meals to those in need, and conducted tele-befriending with youths-at-risk in partnership with the Ministry of Education’s UPLIFT (Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce).
  16. These are just some of MCCY’s initiatives to help us, as a united people to overcome our current challenges. But the Government, even with our community partners is not enough. We need the people.

    What can individuals do?

  17. The responsibility for building trust, respect and support is vested in each and every one of us.
  18. We are collectively responsible for weaving together the social fabric of Singapore. It starts with the single thread – the individual. We are Chinese, we are Malay, we are Indian; we are Christian, we are Muslim we are Hindus; we are athletes, we are classmates, we are colleagues, we are artists, we are volunteers. Each of us have different capacities and we have the ability to influence and engage in trust-building through our various identities.
  19. So individuals who bring others of different creeds together can build a community. We want each of the communities to be strong, but we do not want the communities to be exclusive. We want strong communities to be tied through the social fabric, we want them to be connected, we want trusting strong bonds between the communities as well. And who can do this? Every single one of us, because we have different identities. Individuals who connect communities of different religions, races and interest groups can do that for us, and individuals who can ensure our social fabric is to ensure a strong and colourful one, because we are all woven together tightly.
  20. Singapore is a multi-racial, and multi-religious society. We are a society that supports and cares for one another. Let us find new and innovative ways of engagement and interaction, and take action in areas we care about. Help extended during difficult times will be remembered, and will define us for years to come. So this is our chance to prove what of kind of people we are. We can take a stand against hateful and vitriolic posts, or we can share positive stories and spread unity and hope.

    Conclusion

  21. In conclusion, we must build Singapore together, for this is our home regardless of race, language or religion. COVID-19 will put a stress on our diverse society. The Government cannot do it alone although we will definitely do our part. Our community partners have stood up and stepped forward, but that is not enough. We need every single one of you to bridge the communities together. So with every Singaporean playing their part and staying united, we will overcome this pandemic and emerge a stronger and more cohesive Singapore.
  22. Let’s prove the world what kind of society we are in Singapore. Thank you, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts during the dialogue.

 

Last updated on 04 June 2020