Integration champions lauded for fostering social harmony

Chief automation engineer Ramalingam Vaithiyanathan, who moved from India to Singapore eight years ago, organised a book donation drive last October, which brought together other new immigrants and Singaporeans to help low-income families.
Chief automation engineer Ramalingam Vaithiyanathan, who moved from India to Singapore eight years ago, organised a book donation drive last October, which brought together other new immigrants and Singaporeans to help low-income families.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Eight years ago, Mr Ramalingam Vaithiyanathan moved from India to a quiet neighbourhood in Serangoon.

He did not have any friends in the estate nor did he know which school to send his daughter to.

It was by joining the Jalan Kayu Residents' Committee that the 41-year-old, who became a citizen this year, found friendship and support for his family.

To give back to the community, he organised a book donation drive last October, bringing together other new immigrants and Singaporeans to help low-income families living nearby.

For his efforts, the chief automation engineer won an award at the People's Association Inclusive Awards and Appreciation Nite.

He was one of more than 500 Integration and Naturalisation Champions (INCs), grassroots volunteers and representatives from immigrant associations honoured at the event held at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre yesterday.

"From my years of work with the Residents' Committee, we knew there were many children from underprivileged families in the rental units in Jalan Kayu," he said. "They don't have financial support to buy books they like... We intend to continue this project every year."

Yesterday, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said INCs such as Mr Vaithiyanathan play a key role in fostering friendships between newcomers and Singaporeans.

"Singapore's state of social harmony is something we cherish, but we must also know that it doesn't come easy and we cannot take it for granted," she said.

She noted that in other countries, people are more inward-looking because globalisation has threatened their livelihoods and made them more anxious about their future.

Such situations have impacted individuals' daily encounters with foreigners and immigrants.

While striving for a workforce in which locals and foreigners complement one another, Singapore strikes a "careful balance" in foreign manpower policy, she said.

But the social front is also important, she added.

Once people have made up their minds to dislike and distrust each other, it becomes difficult to bring them together again, she said.

This is the reason the National Integration Council was set up in 2009. Ground-up efforts also help "snuff out the flames that incite disharmony", she said.

Integration requires both sides to put in the effort and Singapore must find ways to multiply these efforts for integration to be effective and sustainable, Mrs Teo said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2018, with the headline 'Integration champions lauded for fostering social harmony'. Print Edition | Subscribe