SINGAPORE - Student leaders - and a three-month-old kitten - got uninterrupted face-time with Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin on Tuesday at a camp organised by the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The Animal Welfare Youth Leadership Camp for young leaders from local secondary schools, polytechnics and junior colleges aims to inspire young people to be advocates in animal welfare. Speakers include Ms Anbarasi Boopal, deputy chief executive of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, and Ms Veron Lau from the Cat Welfare Society.
But at a question and answer session with Mr Tan, students asked not only about animal welfare issues but also about bilateral relations with other countries, Mr Tan's role models in leadership and how to handle setbacks and failures among other topics.
St Joseph's Institution student Ryan Loh, 18, asked what qualities are required of leaders in light of the tension between the United States and China, and which side Singapore should take.
In response, Mr Tan said it would be best if we do not side anyone.
He added that there are four considerations when it comes to looking at the best interests for our nation - Singapore as a society, individual Singaporeans, present needs and future needs.
But bilateral relations remain very important, he said.
"We are a price taker," said Mr Tan. "Our space in the world didn't happen by chance. It was carved out."
He said the the situation was dynamic and complex.
"Be creative and navigate the situation as best you can," he said.
Catholic Junior College student Tan Li Zhong, 18, asked about leaders adapting to the demands to their followers and asked if such leaders were mediocre.
Mr Tan said leaders have to make decisions in the best interest of the whole team, even as different people have different requests and needs.
He cited limitations like time and budgets that leaders have to consider as well.
Limitations also exist when it comes to animal welfare. In response to a question on what the government is doing with regard to the increased interaction between wildlife and humans, Mr Tan told the students that the needs of the nation are complex.
"Don't always ask what the government is doing about it," said Mr Tan. "The government can't do everything, it really requires us as a community - the voluntary welfare organisations and the public - to create awareness."
Animal welfare groups are doing a lot to raise awareness, he said.
"The more information we have, the more aware we are, the less potential friction arises, because we realise there are things that we can do to co-exist," he said.
He added that the government will play a part in creating policies to deal with some of these issues.
The camp will see around 30 students spending two days learning about different areas of animal welfare such as for pets, in the wild, for research, agriculture and entertainment. They will identify a problem and present a possible solution at the end of the camp on Wednesday (May 31).