Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Racial Harmony Day: Respect across all races, religions vital for Singapore

By Amanda Lee, TODAY, 22 Jul 2014

Noting that Singapore has thrived due to her openness to international trade flow, knowledge and culture, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat stressed yesterday that it is important for the Republic to continue to embrace diversity.

Speaking at an event at Elias Park Primary School marking the 50th anniversary of the 1964 racial riots, he said this means going beyond understanding the main races here, to “respecting all people, regardless of race, language or religion, who live and work in Singapore”.

“Good relationships can only be built if we better understand those around us,” he said, noting that he was heartened by the results of a recent study on racial and religious harmony.

Conducted by and the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), the survey showed that two in three people here feel there is religious harmony and the majority are satisfied with the rights religious groups have.

But the survey also found that there was a growing perception of prejudices across nationalities compared with five years ago, while comfort levels across race and religion appeared to have remained largely unchanged.

While schools and community groups have done a good job in educating subsequent generations about the importance of racial and religious harmony, Mr Heng said there are areas that need to be worked on, such as building interest in intercultural understanding and interaction.

He added: “We have to continue to build strong bonds in our community — bonds of trust, friendship and understanding — to meet the challenges of the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous global environment we face today.”

Calling on Singaporeans to encourage others to be advocates of racial harmony, Mr Heng said has also changed how it aims to promote values of respect and understanding.

Unlike in previous years, Primary 4 students will be making orange ribbons — a symbol of racial harmony — and giving them to individuals from another culture in return for a nugget about cultures and practices in their communities.

At Elias Park Primary School yesterday, 32 Primary 4 students acted as student guides to 60 kindergarten children from PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Pasir Ris Block 517 and PCF Pasir Ris Block 738.

One of the students, Foong Wei Qi, said she shared with the children about Chinese New Year traditions such as the reunion dinner, lion dance and visits to relatives’ homes.

Elias Park Primary School
Posted by Ministry of Education, Singapore on Monday, July 21, 2014

Remembering the 1964 riots
The Straits Times, 22 Jul 2014

RACIAL Harmony Day is celebrated annually on July 21 to remember the racial riots between Malays and Chinese in Singapore, the first of which started on that day in 1964.

That year, two riots erupted following Singapore's merger with the Federation of Malaysia in September 1963.

At that time, the Malays in Singapore were upset that despite the merger with Malaysia, they would not be entitled to special privileges under the 1957 Federation of Malaya Constitution.

The first riot began when Malays and Chinese exchanged taunts and insults during a celebration of Prophet Muhammad's birthday at the Padang on July 21.

The ensuing violence lasted five days and left 22 people dead and more than 450 injured - the highest number of casualties in a local riot.

The second riot broke out in September when a Malay trishaw rider was stabbed to death.

'Reach out beyond main races here'
Vital to embrace diversity as landscape alters: Heng
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 22 Jul 2014

SINGAPOREANS have to go beyond understanding the main races here, to respect everyone who lives and works here, regardless of their race, language, or religion, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Racial Harmony Day yesterday.

Addressing pupils at Elias Park Primary School in Pasir Ris, Mr Heng said Singapore had thrived due to its "openness to international trade flow".

"As Singapore moves towards a more diverse landscape, it is important that we continue to embrace diversity. Let us all do our part to understand other cultures, and going beyond that, let us also be advocates of racial harmony," he added.

He urged pupils to befriend those of other cultures, races and religions, and to encourage their friends to do the same.

His message was reiterated by Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah, Minister of State for Education and Communications and Information Sim Ann, and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower Hawazi Daipi yesterday.

More than 39,000 Primary 4 pupils celebrated the day by making orange ribbons.

Since the 1990s, many countries have adopted the orange ribbon as a symbol of harmony, equality and freedom. In Singapore,, a national body focused on building racial and religious harmony, uses it to symbolise racial harmony.

Primary 4 pupils in all 190 primary schools were each given a kit containing materials to make six ribbons. Each wore one on the uniform, and gave the rest to friends from other cultures, with an accompanying note encouraging them to find out more about other cultures and practices.

The Primary 4 pupils at Elias Park Primary School even hosted about 60 children from two neighbouring PAP Community Foundation kindergartens, giving them orange ribbons and exchanging stories about their cultures.

One of them, Kevin Yong, 10, said: "I also taught the kindergarten children how to play traditional games such as capteh and "five stones". I told them that we shouldn't say impolite things to people from other cultures. We should try and appreciate their cultures and understand them."

Aayan Vatsa, also 10, who exchanged orange ribbons with his friends, said: "I received a card with a message on Chinese New Year. I know they use red packets with money, called hongbao."

At Fuhua Primary School, Ms Grace Fu, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources and Foreign Affairs, launched a roving exhibition tracing the history of Singapore's grassroots movement. It will go to schools, public libraries and community clubs, to create more awareness of grassroots leaders' work and the importance of social cohesion.

Ms Fu, who also chairs the National Community Leadership Institute, also launched its Youth Leadership Programme yesterday. The programme, made up of 11 schemes ranging from half-day sessions to three-day camps, aims to reach out to youth to inspire them to serve the community, and stand up for issues they care passionately about.

The July 21, 1964 racial riot showed Singapore's peace cannot be taken for granted, Ms Fu said. "There are people in the world fighting one another over race, over religion. So we must protect this."

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