SINGAPORE - Ms Haziqah Shariman, 19, was taken aback when a woman on the other end of a call said "your English is very good for a Malay" during her internship at a call centre earlier this year.
"It's one thing to face casual discrimination in your everyday life, but it was my first time facing this in a professional setting. It got me thinking if I will just be seen as a Malay for the rest of my life?" said Ms Haziqah.
The Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduate was one of the 21 peace ambassadors appointed by President Halimah Yacob on Sunday (Feb 21) at an event organised by youth-led interfaith initiative Roses of Peace (ROP) at the Amara Singapore.
The third batch of ambassadors, aged from 19 to 36, were appointed for a year to build bridges across various faith communities and champion ground-up peace-building initiatives.
Throughout the year, the ambassadors will also be trained in digital media advocacy and public speaking skills to better facilitate interfaith and intercultural discussions among youths.
Ms Haziqah said she will focus on facilitating discussions on casual discrimination in her capacity as a peace ambassador.
"I hope to break the norm of racial stereotyping because such comments, no matter how trivial, show a root of racism within us," she said.
On Sunday, Madam Halimah lauded ROP for establishing safe platforms where young people can have open discussions on racial and religious issues through workshops, forums and conferences.
Since it started in 2012, the ROP has engaged more than 3,000 youth volunteers from diverse faiths, and distributed over 50,000 roses with messages of peace.
In the face of new threats and challenges arising from misinformation spread through social media platforms, Madam Halimah noted that more of these ground-up efforts are needed to complement Government-led programmes as they are "more agile, nimble and are able to quickly rally support".
While current efforts at building cohesion is commendable, she said there is room to deepen the conversations.
"There is also scope to engage more deeply and meaningfully while being fully cognisant of the fact that there are some beliefs and principles which each faith holds so deeply that it will be simplistic to think that they can be overcome through open discourses alone," she said.
In such situations, people should focus on the common good and prioritise peace and harmony, she added.
Madam Halimah highlighted the case of a self-radicalised 16-year-old Singaporean student who was detained last month for planning to attack two mosques and kill worshippers in Singapore.
"It is a reminder that we must be vigilant and proactive in our efforts to combat these threats and keep up our efforts in engaging and educating each other," she said.
On Sunday, the newly appointed peace ambassadors attended an interfaith dialogue series titled Faithfully Yours held by senior faith leaders. It was led by Chief Rabbi of Singapore Mordechai Abergel, Habib Hassan Al-Attas of Ba'alwi Mosque and Bishop Terry Kee, vice-president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore.
They highlighted the importance of respecting the different faiths and religions in Singapore, espousing that even if people are not 100 per cent in line in their beliefs, they can still be courteous and understanding of each other.
ROP founder Mohamed Irshad, 31, said that this year's ambassador programme has been scaled down and tweaked to a hybrid virtual and physical model due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In June, the ambassadors will attend a peace-athon over two weekends to brainstorm a project that will promote interfaith peace and racial harmony and will implement it in the second half of the year, said Mr Irshad, a former Nominated Member of Parliament.
"My hope for this batch is that they can reach out to the younger audience because they're young and they speak the same lingo. Eventually, after one year, they'll move on to mentor the next batch like how it's always been done."