In­te­gra­tion cham­pi­ons lauded for fos­ter­ing so­cial har­mony

The Straits Times - - HOME - Seow Bei Yi

Eight years ago, Mr Ra­ma­lingam Vaithiyanathan moved from In­dia to a quiet neigh­bour­hood in Seran­goon.

He did not have any friends in the es­tate nor did he know which school to send his daugh­ter to.

It was by join­ing the Jalan Kayu Res­i­dents’ Com­mit­tee that the 41-year-old, who be­came a cit­i­zen this year, found friend­ship and sup­port for his fam­ily.

To give back to the com­mu­nity, he or­gan­ised a book do­na­tion drive last Oc­to­ber, bring­ing to- gether other new im­mi­grants and Sin­ga­pore­ans to help low-in­come fam­i­lies liv­ing nearby.

For his ef­forts, the chief au­to­ma­tion en­gi­neer won an award at the Peo­ple’s As­so­ci­a­tion In­clu­sive Awards and Ap­pre­ci­a­tion Nite.

He was one of more than 500 In­te­gra­tion and Nat­u­ral­i­sa­tion Cham­pi­ons (INCs), grass­roots vol­un­teers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from im­mi­grant as­so­ci­a­tions hon­oured at the event held at the Sin­ga­pore Chi­nese Cul­tural Cen­tre yes­ter­day.

“From my years of work with the Res­i­dents’ Com­mit­tee, we knew there were many chil­dren from un­der­priv­i­leged fam­i­lies in the rental units in Jalan Kayu,” he said. “They don’t have fi­nan­cial sup­port to buy books they like... We in­tend to con­tinue this project every year.”

Yes­ter­day, Man­power Min­is­ter Josephine Teo said INCs such as Mr Vaithiyanathan play a key role in fos­ter­ing friend­ships be­tween new­com­ers and Sin­ga­pore­ans.

“Sin­ga­pore’s state of so­cial har­mony is some­thing we cher­ish, but we must also know that it doesn’t come easy and we can­not take it for granted,” she said.

She noted that in other coun­tries, peo­ple are more in­ward-look­ing be­cause glob­al­i­sa­tion has threat­ened their liveli­hoods and made them more anx­ious about their fu­ture.

Such sit­u­a­tions have im­pacted in­di­vid­u­als’ daily en­coun­ters with for­eign­ers and im­mi­grants.

While striv­ing for a work­force in which lo­cals and for­eign­ers com­ple­ment one an­other, Sin­ga­pore strikes a “care­ful bal­ance” in for­eign man­power pol­icy, she said.

But the so­cial front is also im­por­tant, she added.

Once peo­ple have made up their minds to dis­like and dis­trust each other, it be­comes dif­fi­cult to bring them to­gether again, she said.

This is the rea­son the Na­tional In­te­gra­tion Coun­cil was set up in 2009. Ground-up ef­forts also help “snuff out the flames that in­cite dishar­mony”, she said.

In­te­gra­tion re­quires both sides to put in the ef­fort and Sin­ga­pore must find ways to mul­ti­ply these ef­forts for in­te­gra­tion to be ef­fec­tive and sus­tain­able, Mrs Teo said.

ST PHOTO: ARIF­FIN JA­MAR

Chief au­to­ma­tion en­gi­neer Ra­ma­lingam Vaithiyanathan, who moved from In­dia to Sin­ga­pore eight years ago, or­gan­ised a book do­na­tion drive last Oc­to­ber, which brought to­gether other new im­mi­grants and Sin­ga­pore­ans to help low-in­come fam­i­lies.

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