Got milk? Book chronicles Singapore-Unicef partnership

The new book, Singapore And Unicef: Working For Children, documents, among other things, the commissioning of artwork featured on popular Unicef international greeting cards from four local artists, including that of Tay Bak Koi (left).
The new book, Singapore And Unicef: Working For Children, documents, among other things, the commissioning of artwork featured on popular Unicef international greeting cards from four local artists, including that of Tay Bak Koi (above).PHOTO: UNICEF

Older Singaporeans may remember receiving packets of milk as well as vaccinations against tuberculosis while in primary school, just after the country emerged from World War II.

But not many know that the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) organised and coordinated the distribution of milk and vaccines here, beginning in 1951.

These and other collaborations have since been recorded in a book, Singapore And Unicef: Working For Children, which was launched yesterday to celebrate both the group's 70th anniversary and the Republic's Golden Jubilee last year.

The 144-page book, written to chronicle the 50 years of history between Singapore and Unicef, includes stories from Singaporean Unicef staff on their humanitarian work worldwide, alongside pictures, interviews and first-hand accounts from volunteers and consultants, such as Singapore's former UN ambassador Tommy Koh.

The book also documents other collaborations, such as the raising of $38,000 for Unicef by students from Nanyang Technological University in 1992, as well as the commissioning of artwork featured on popular Unicef international greeting cards by four local artists - Yong Cheong Thye, Lee Hock Moh, Cristene Chang and Tay Bak Koi.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told a crowd of about 70 people during the book's launch at the Singapore Art Museum: "I used to be quite skinny as a child and I remember the free milk programme which we all had to line up for. But I must admit that it wasn't until I actually went through the book that I realised that both the BCG immunisation programme and the milk supplementation programme were in fact pioneered by Unicef.

"It is a good reminder that we have benefited from the wonderful work of Unicef... and Singapore ought to do more to support Unicef."

Typically, Unicef's physical presence in developed countries is through a national committee, an office which functions as a non-governmental organisation.

But Singapore is the only country without such a committee as Unicef is looking at a new partnership model involving the Singapore Government directly - which will be "the first of its kind", said Ms Cheng Wing-Sie, senior adviser for the Unicef East Asia-Pacific Office.

She added that negotiations for the partnership are ongoing.

This unique model arises from Singapore's "extraordinary transformation" and "tremendous journey of nation building", said Unicef East Asia-Pacific regional director Daniel Toole in a statement.

He noted Singapore's "invaluable human capacity, enormous intellectual and economic prowess and its 'can-do' spirit to the cause of tackling child poverty, child survival and growth".

Singapore's low infant, child and maternal mortality rates and high educational achievement were also in part due to early assistance from Unicef in setting up childhood vaccination systems, nutritional supplements, health education and social worker training, he added.

Unicef hopes to work with the Singapore Government to find ways to defend children's rights worldwide, he said.

The book's editors and co-writers, Ms Peggy Kek and Ms Penny Whitworth, agreed that developing nations can benefit from Singapore's expertise in these areas.

Both have experience working for Unicef efforts in Singapore and wrote the book to tell readers of the experiences of Singaporean Unicef workers abroad, as well as to inspire Singaporeans to contribute more to the work of Unicef.

The book will retail at major bookstores for $48 (hardback) and $24 (paperback).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2016, with the headline 'Got milk? Book chronicles S'pore-Unicef partnership'. Print Edition | Subscribe