SINGAPORE - Madam Wong Choi Ow has had to use a wheelchair to get around since a pelvic operation last year, but this did not stop the sprightly 81-year-old from joining a community event at Marina Bay early this morning with 5,000 Singaporeans from all races and walks of life.
She was wheeled by South East Community Development Council (CDC) volunteer Monica Ma, 66. The duo became fast friends through the CDC's Neighbours For Active Living programme, which matches volunteers with elderly residents to build a close-knit community.
Today's event, organised by all five CDCs, aimed to highlight the strength of such community bonds as Singapore celebrates its Golden Jubilee. It was attended by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, mayors of all five districts and MPs, who also joined in a 2.5km walk around the bay.
South East District mayor Maliki Osman said a cohesive community has been important to Singapore, adding: "It is even more critical today, given recent developments of terrorist threats."
Such cohesion includes a level of trust and understanding in a multiracial society, added Dr Maliki, who is also Minister of State for Defence and National Development.
"We may be different in some respects, but we are the same, we are all Singaporeans," he told reporters. "CDCs have a more critical role to bring people together, deepen that understanding and enhance appreciation (of one another) so that we can move forward and weather any possible storm that may come."
His comments come as government leaders have stressed the importance of safeguarding racial harmony in the face of the global terror threat, and as the Home Affairs Ministry said last week that a 19-year-old self-radicalised Singaporean had been detained for planning to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terror group in Syria and to carry out attacks here.
Central Singapore District mayor Denise Phua also told reporters she foresees CDCs playing a greater role as the "glue" between people, with "society developing a different complexion with non-traditional family definitions".
She also hopes CDCs can be the bridge between residents and policymakers by reflecting emerging needs on the ground.
Speaking to participants briefly, PM Lee called on them to look back on the nation's progress since 1965 as they passed by key landmarks of today's Singapore on their walk around the bay.
"Fifty years ago, this was water. Around Marina Bay there was no Marina South, no Gardens By The Bay, no Marina Bay Sands, no Floating Platform," he said. "Now we have all these, let's enjoy it, let's work to make it better."