Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Compassion should start in our own backyard: Tan Chuan-Jin

By Yvonne Lim, TODAY, 26 May 2015

While Singaporeans may seek to help the needy in other countries, they should not forget the underprivileged in their own backyards, said newly-appointed Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin.

Mr Tan, who took over the portfolio last month, reminded some 200 students at Ngee Ann Polytechnic today (May 25) that there are many members of Singapore’s society who are struggling.

“In our own neighbourhood, there are those who need help, and there are things we can do, even at the very simple level. We don’t need to go to another country to repair villages and help the poor,” he said.

He made these remarks during a 50-minute forum, which was part of a seminar themed “What will you give up for a better society?”, organised by Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Interdisciplinary Studies. Aimed at encouraging students to build a better society, it features speakers from social enterprises and organisations.

In his opening remarks, Mr Tan said that the Government cannot mandate a compassionate and caring society, but these are values essential for building a great nation.

“It is not just about economic success. Deep down, building a great nation is about having the right values. This defines who we are, it is about our soul. These are things you cannot mandate. If a nation doesn’t care, but is just being driven by individual ambition and materialism, I’m not sure if the basis of that nation will last very long,” he said.

In response to a question from the floor about what Mr Tan, in his new capacity, plans to do to help families who are struggling financially, the minister said that he would direct efforts more “upstream”, and in doing so, try to prevent social problems before they can occur.

The reasons families end up in difficult financial situations are varied, ranging from divorce, incarceration, drug addiction and overspending, and there is no “one size fits all” solution.

One example of dealing with the problem “upstream” would be to reach out to young children from broken families and support them as they grow, to give them a fighting chance to take a different path as an adult.

Asked whether the casinos at the Integrated Resorts (IRs) have brought more social ills into the Republic, Mr Tan said the decision to introduce IRs here was a necessary “judgement call” on the part of the Government to serve as an economic anchor in the region.

“Even without the IRs, people will find a way to gamble if they want to gamble — like going on online gambling sites, or going to neighbouring countries,” he said. The key is to manage the numbers, he said, citing the entry levy for Singaporeans and permanent residents as one measure.

Responding to a question on whether Singapore’s economic growth has compromised society’s ability to be compassionate, Mr Tan said that economic progress does not preclude being compassionate.

“As a country, we can’t choose to slow down, because this will affect our economy and we will be left behind as our neighbours move forward. But caring for one another is a choice — whether we are prepared to sacrifice the time to reach out to someone,” the minister said.

After the session, Mr Tan also joined participants in signing pledges to contribute towards a better society. In his pledge, the minister wrote: “I will do what I can to help those who need help and build a more caring society.”

The seminar ends on Friday.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic students pledge to create a better Singapore
Their pledges are part of a five-day seminar that aims to get students thinking about active citizenship.
By Chan Luo Er, Channel NewsAsia, 25 May 2015

Ngee Ann Polytechnic students are coming together to pledge to create a better Singapore as they celebrate the nation's Golden Jubilee.

Their pledges are part of a five-day seminar that aims to get students thinking about active citizenship. They will be given the chance to engage with speakers from different sectors of society to better understand their contributions to addressing national issues.

The seminar was launched in 2009 and is organised by Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Interdisciplinary Studies for all third-year students taking the "World Issues: A Singapore Perspective" module.

Student Chua Hui Wen Elaine said: "Making a pledge is something like you are writing down a commitment and you are going to do it. I am in the Food Aid Club. In the CCA in school, it is at a very micro-level and I would like to do it on a larger scale."

Another student, Chia Jun Xuan Justin, noted: "I do interact with (the cleaners) but it was not so much and not on a daily basis. After making this pledge, I would really go the extra mile to talk to the cleaners, to ask them about their day and to really thank them for the hard work they have put in."

This is the fifth seminar held by the school but the first time students are making pledges.

Mr Andrew Sabaratnam, director of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said: "Past experience has shown that students have come back to say 'because it was our initiative and we did it ourselves, and we made a difference, we want to do more'. We do not want our students to just sit in the comfort zones of their homes and feel sympathetic towards the needy. We want them to get up and do something."


A keynote speaker on Monday (May 25) was the Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin. He said that building a great nation goes beyond just economic success. It is also about values, and that is something the Government cannot mandate.

He noted: "It is not just about all the wonderful buildings, and all these great achievements - win the Malaysian FA Cup, come back … all these are very useful but it goes beyond that. Deep down inside, building a great nation, I think, is about values, it is about who we are, it is about our soul."

Mr Tan added: "Some of us will feel very sad at the old ladies selling tissue paper or pushing trolleys collecting cardboard boxes. We read about it online, we get very angry, we get agitated. We seem to say a lot and feel a lot and talk a lot about it. But how many of us actually care enough to do something beyond just talking? Talking is actually very easy and it is very easy to just comment on stuff that you do not have to do."

One of the questions raised during the session was whether the nation's lack of compassion is a trade-off for economic development. Mr Tan said that economic progress does not preclude compassion, and that it all boils down to individual choice. He said that it is up to an individual to choose a slower pace of life but not as viable for a country to slow down its pace.

During the course of the seminar, there will also be booths by various community service clubs where students can sign up to volunteer.

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