SINGAPORE - To those who have heard of them, the freemasons may seem like a "secret society", a group whose rituals and activities are shrouded in mystery.
In an effort to clear up the myths surrounding the group, it has for the first time made a major public announcement about a charitable initiative it is setting up.
The Masonic Charitable Foundation will be officially launched on Saturday (June 8) to financially support underprivileged students here.
Its launch coincides with Singapore's bicentennial, which commemorates 200 years since a British trading post was established in Singapore by perhaps the most famous freemason, Sir Stamford Raffles.
Dr David Staples, grand secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England, said: "Singaporean history is intertwined with freemason history, and we think it's nice to mark that."
He and Sir David Wootton, assistant grand master of the United Grand Lodge of England, are in Singapore for the assembly of The District Grand Lodge of the Eastern Archipelago over the weekend, which is the coordinating body for lodges in the region and part of the United Grand Lodge of England.
Freemasons, who form a fraternal organisation over 300 years old that has its roots in medieval stonemasonry, are organised into groups called lodges.
Given the privacy they maintained, they have been plagued by conspiracy theories over the years.
However, said Dr Staples: "This is a myth we are trying to counter, by telling people who we are and what we do.
"Society is changing, there's an expectation that things are understood and more transparent. Similarly, we are changing with the times."
Said Sir David: "Freemasons have a purpose whereby we try to better ourselves as individuals and try to serve the communities that we come from."
The new foundation has been funded with $1 million from The District Grand Lodge of the Eastern Archipelago and will provide scholarships to needy and deserving students.
The students will be sourced through the network of contacts that lodges in Singapore have built up from their past community work, as well as through applications, though the details of the application process have yet to be finalised.
The foundation will also carry out fundraising efforts.
To help the public learn more about freemasonry, the Freemasons' Hall will be hosting open houses every Saturday and Sunday this month.
Members of the public are welcome to walk in between noon and 4pm, and guided tours are available between noon and 3pm.