Friday 27 November 2015

Singapore Soka Association: Giving back to society in more ways than one

It's not just parades - Soka association has been devoting most of its time to helping the needy
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 26 Nov 2015

Think of the Singapore Soka Association and what usually come to mind are the colourful mass displays by hundreds of participants at National Day or Chingay parades.

But the Japanese Buddhist group, which has been in Singapore for more than 40 years, actually spends most of its time on ongoing charity projects and volunteer work rather than large-scale events.

Its members visit Dover Park Hospice every month to offer coffee and toast to the patients and spend time with them.

They also provide befriending services and plan activities for the disabled through SPD, which supports people with disabilities.

Every year, Soka also looks to organise one major project.

This year, on Saturday, it will hold its third edition of Bag of Hope, involving about 120 volunteers.
The association will donate supplies such as food and shopping trolleys to about 400 beneficiaries of Pertapis Education and Welfare Centre. The centre will then pass on the aid to needy families in the community that it has identified.

Soka has already secured contributions of about 1,000 10kg packets of rice and 350 trolleys. On the day of the event, volunteers will shop for other supplies such as noodles, canned food or biscuits.

It is the third time Soka is organising Bag of Hope. While the event initially focused on collecting donated items for beneficiaries, with less direct contact between both parties, volunteers are now involved in the distribution as well.

This year's event will also include a blood donation drive managed by the Singapore Red Cross and National Blood Bank.

Mr Dennis Lee, Soka's director of arts, culture and community, said the association works with different welfare groups each time for Bag of Hope.

In 2009, it raised about $35,000 worth of food supplies for about 250 needy families and, in 2012, it raised around $50,000 worth of supplies for about 300 families.

It hopes to raise at least $50,000 worth of supplies this year.

As for Soka's active participation in national events, Soka dance instructor Pua Jin Wen said the association sees it as another way to give back to society.

"Through dance and performances, we hope to spread a certain message - of peace and positive energy," he said.

The 29-year-old full-time dance instructor has helped to choreograph performances for major events, including the Sea Games, over the past five years. The number of people involved in these mass displays varies each year - the largest group of Soka performers consisted of up to 5,000 performers in the 1988 National Day Parade.

The performance content and demographic profile of participants vary according to the theme of the event as well. The Youth Olympic Games, for example, involved about 1,300 young people.

For some large-scale events, the group rehearses at army camps, said Mr Pua, before moving on to the actual performance grounds.

To him, such performances are a celebration of peace, which encourages an environment for the arts and culture to flourish.

"It's always about contributing to and showing an appreciation for our community."

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