The Ties That Bind

SIF Connects! Singapore, a two-day biennial event, celebrates friendships and collaborations between Singaporeans and world communities. Highlights include ShiOK! Nite, an evening of festivities and cultural performances, and the presentation of SIF Awards to volunteers, both local and overseas.

BY AUDRINA GAN
 

D

iversity and inclusion strengthen and help to grow communities. These were the values on showcase at SIF Connects! Singapore 2019. More than 100 programme alumni, partners and friends from around the world joined in the fifth edition of the event, which took place in December last year. Themed “Remembering the Past, Celebrating the Present, Embracing the Future for a Better World”, the event sought new ideas and collaborations that can build and deepen cross-cultural understanding between Singaporeans and world communities.

More than 100 local and international Friends of SIF and programme alumni at the fifth edition of SIF Connects! Singapore, held in December 2019.

Participants visited a mix of community spaces, social enterprises and urban green spaces – beginning with a tour of the centrepiece event, “From Singapore to Singaporean: The Bicentennial Experience”, at Fort Canning Park to mark 200 years of the city-state’s founding.

AS A PLATFORM FOR THE SIF’S GLOBAL PROGRAMME ALUMNI, PARTNERS AND FRIENDS TO RECONNECT AND RENEW FRIENDSHIPS, SIF CONNECTS! HAS BEEN HELD IN 15 CITIES SINCE 2010.

Here, they saw key moments in Singapore’s early years from just a fishing village back in 1299, and experienced the country’s transformation to a modern-day cosmopolis through a series of sights, sounds and drama.

The manner in which the country has navigated challenges over the centuries – by staying open and connected to regional and international developments – made an impact on the participants.

“When small countries are open to new ideas, they attract more talent and innovation leading to development. This is how Singapore has built itself up to become an international hub,” shared Harry Pham, SIF representative in Ho Chi Minh City.

International attendees were given a tour of integrated community spaces such as Our Tampines Hub; participants from around the world reconnected and formed new friendships.

REIMAGINING SINGAPORE
With a broader understanding of the nation-state’s history and unique challenges in mind, participants set off on the rest of the programme.

Participants enjoyed a tour of the Singapore Sustainability Gallery at Marina Barrage to learn about Singapore’s sustainable development blueprint.

Among these were visits to Singapore’s largest integrated community and lifestyle hub, Our Tampines Hub (OTH), where residents can enjoy a range of facilities that include a stadium and library, as well as community club programmes.

Participants also learnt about the various environmental sustainability features and initiatives at OTH, and ended the day indulging in different local flavours at the hawker centre. “As a student of public policy, I am always on the lookout for ideas on how the Singapore Government crafts effective policies to engage its people,” says McRhon Banderlipe from the Philippines. “My experience here at OTH shows that, regardless of one’s culture, background and race, you can actually bring people together in a space as vibrant and expansive as this to eat, do things and have fun together.”

He adds that this is the type of spirit that the whole of Southeast Asia can foster. “In cities such as Manila and Bangkok, with people from diverse backgrounds, you need community spaces like OTH to enable them to celebrate their differences while creating a better mutual understanding.”

A visit to an urban farming centre gave participants insights into advanced technologies used for growing green produce.

For Saranlak Ong, a representative from King Mongkut’s University Of Technology Thonburi, Thailand (KMUTT), Singapore’s urban farming industry was particularly inspiring as a solution for the resourcescarce country to ensure its food security.

“ WHEN SMALL COUNTRIES ARE OPEN TO NEW IDEAS, THEY ATTRACT MORE TALENT AND INNOVATION, LEADING TO DEVELOPMENT. THIS IS HOW SINGAPORE HAS BUILT ITSELF UP TO BECOME AN INTERNATIONAL HUB, ” SAID HARRY PHAM, THE SIF’S VIETNAM REPRESENTATIVE.

“It is a brilliant idea to have urban farms in Singapore,” she shared, following a visit to Citizen Farm by Edible Garden City, a social enterprise that integrates natural systems with modern technology to create a more sustainable urban farming model.

“I know Singapore is short on natural resources and imports a lot of goods from other countries, so having this concept would be very productive for the country.” Besides gaining a deeper appreciation of Singapore’s innovations in inclusivity and sustainability, as well as the island-nation’s enduring spirit, SIF alumnus Taweesak Krtijaroen felt the programme allowed participants to gain first-hand insights and best practices through experiential learning.

“Classroom training is an old method of learning,” shared Taweesak, an associate professor at KMUTT who had been involving his students in SIF Connects! Singapore as part of an overseas study visit since 2013. “Taking part in the SIF’s programmes will help them to broaden their perspectives on community and social innovation projects.”

“ Singapore plays an important leadership role in Southeast Asia, not just due to its unique location but also the backgrounds and capabilities that exist here. The SIF is a critical organisation that endeavours to bring different cultures and communities together. ”


Matthew Herrmann, former SIF representative in Washington, DC

CELEBRATING SIF VOLUNTEERS
As a platform for the SIF’s global programme alumni, partners and friends to reconnect and renew friendships, SIF Connects! has been held in 15 cities since 2010. The biennial local edition culminated in ShiOK! Nite, an evening of celebration.

It was filled with festivities as guests mingled and reconnected over a spread of Singaporean delights, visited exhibit booths featuring the work of the SIF’s programme alumni, and pledged their support for a better world. Cultural performances at the event included traditional Vietnamese Quan Ho folk music – recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage – and Cheo musical theatre (a popular 12th-century Vietnamese art form) by the country’s Ecopark Art Club. Local comedian Fakkah Fuzz regaled the audience with stand-up comedy, while Singaporean musician Clement Chow gave a rendition of None of This Came Easy, a heartfelt ballad he had written especially for Singapore’s bicentennial year. Guests also joined in the traditional Prae Wa Thai dance put together by KMUTT students.

The SIF Connects! Singapore participants visited an urban farm to gain a better understanding of the sustainable food production innovations in the land-scarce country; the visitors also took a bike tour that focused on the city-state’s growing emphasis on alternative transportation; overseas attendees sampled local food at a hawker centre and learnt more about Singapore’s multicultural cuisine.

Taking the opportunity to commemorate International Volunteer Day, which falls on December 5 every year, a specially commissioned publication by the SIF, Building a Better World, was displayed during the event. The book showcases 25 inspiring stories of the SIF’s Citizen Ambassadors who have collaborated with world communities to effect positive change.

Notably, the book was presented by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, during the Paris Peace Forum that was held in the French capital late last year. The forum itself is an annual platform for nations to “reflect together, propose concrete initiatives, and reinvent multilateralism and all forms of contemporary cooperation”.

“ MY EXPERIENCE IN OUR TAMPINES HUB SHOWS THAT REGARDLESS OF ONE’S CULTURE, BACKGROUND AND RACE, YOU CAN ACTUALLY BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER IN A SPACE AS VIBRANT AND EXPANSIVE AS THIS TO EAT, DO THINGS AND HAVE FUN TOGETHER, ” FILIPINO PARTICIPANT MCRHON BANDERLIPE.

From Left: Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam with the Building a Better World publication in Paris; Singapore stand-up comedian Fakkah Fuzz entertained the guests at ShiOK! Nite .

There was also no better occasion to recognise the contribution of SIF volunteers, who were presented awards in two categories. The Commendation Awards were given to Friends of SIF who have generously contributed their time and talent across the SIF’s programmes while nurturing ties and trust between Singapore and world communities, while the Dedication Awards recognised those who have volunteered on the organisation’s programmes for consecutive years (full list below).

Ms Sim Ann (in pink), SIF executive director Jean Tan (front row, fourth from left) and SIF governor David Chong (front row, fourth from right) with winners of the Commendation Awards.

Two individuals walked away with the Global Citizen Award for having collaborated with the SIF across multiple programmes in local and overseas communities over the years. Celia Tan, a specialist volunteer, has played a critical role in developing healthcare projects around Asia for the past 17 years, while Elim Chew has actively supported a myriad of SIF programmes – from providing strategic advice and direction as a former member on its board of governors to shaping the organisation’s signature Young Social Entrepreneurs programme, which marked its first decade last year.

Guest of Honour Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Culture, Communication and Youth, making her pledge for a better world.

Leslie Tan, Russ Neu and Victor Samuel Rajadurai received the Citizen Ambassador Award for their respective contributions to the SIF’s Cultural Exchange, Good Business and Volunteer Cooperation programmes.

Cultural performances kept the guests enthralled throughout the evening.

And for helping to nurture the “kampung spirit” between Singapore and world communities on the people-to-people level, Matthew Herrmann (United States), Shawn Lourdusamy (Malaysia) and Siddharth Pisharody (India) were honoured with the Gotong Royong Award. These awards were presented by SIF governor David Chong and Guest of Honour Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Communications and Information and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

Reflecting on the SIF’s role in building people-to-people relations across the globe, Herrmann, former SIF representative in Washington, DC, said: “Singapore plays an important leadership role in Southeast Asia, not just due to its unique location but also because of the backgrounds and capabilities that exist here.

“The SIF is a critical organisation that endeavours to bring different cultures and communities together.”

HONOURING SIF VOLUNTEERS

COMMENDATION AWARDS

Global Citizen Award

For individuals who have partnered the SIF on various fronts and across multiple programmes through the years, to effect positive change in local and overseas communities.
 
Celia Tan
Elim Chew

Citizen Ambassador Award

For Singaporeans who have given their time, talent or other notable contributions to support the work of the SIF.
 
Leslie Tan
 

Cultural Exchange
Russ Neu
 

Good Business
 
Victor Samuel Rajadurai
Volunteer Cooperation

Friend of Singapore – Gotong Royong Award

For overseas friends who helped nurture the “kampung spirit” between Singapore and world communities on the people-to-people level.
 
Matthew Herrmann
United States
Shawn Lourdusamy
Malaysia
Siddharth Pisharody
India

DEDICATION AWARDS

These are given to Friends of SIF, who have volunteered with its programmes for consecutive years to effect positive change in overseas communities.

Long Service Award – 15 Years

Celia Tan

Long Service Award – 10 Years

Anette Sundfor Jacobsen
Irene Toh
 
Lim Swee Hia
 
Ramaswamy Akhileswaran

Long Service Award – 5 Years

Anna Tan
 
Azlina Binte Ahmad
Beryl Wong
 
Cheng Kwei Chai
Effie Chew
 
Eng Jia Yen
 
Goh Lee Gan
 
Keith Chua
 

Long Service Award – 5 Years

Kevin Teo
 
Loh Cheng
 
Maurice Tan
 
Rajan Raju
 
Satsheel Shrotriya
Sridhar Arunachalam
Wong Wui Jin
 

 


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