Schools celebrate Racial Harmony Day

President recalls how 1964 race riots affected her, emphasises need for social cohesion

President Halimah Yacob and Senior Parliamentary Secretary Low Yen Ling at Punggol Green Primary yesterday to celebrate Racial Harmony Day.
President Halimah Yacob and Senior Parliamentary Secretary Low Yen Ling at Punggol Green Primary yesterday to celebrate Racial Harmony Day.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Mock Indian (above), Malay and Chinese wedding ceremonies being performed by the staff and students of Chua Chu Kang Secondary School in celebration of Singapore's diversity, with Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung (above, left) looking on.
Mock Indian (above), Malay and Chinese wedding ceremonies being performed by the staff and students of Chua Chu Kang Secondary School in celebration of Singapore's diversity, with Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung (above, left) looking on. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
Mock Indian, Malay (above) and Chinese wedding ceremonies being performed by the staff and students of Chua Chu Kang Secondary School in celebration of Singapore's diversity, with Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung looking on.
Mock Indian, Malay (above) and Chinese wedding ceremonies being performed by the staff and students of Chua Chu Kang Secondary School in celebration of Singapore's diversity, with Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung looking on. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
Mock Indian, Malay and Chinese (above) wedding ceremonies being performed by the staff and students of Chua Chu Kang Secondary School in celebration of Singapore's diversity, with Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung looking on.
Mock Indian, Malay and Chinese (above) wedding ceremonies being performed by the staff and students of Chua Chu Kang Secondary School in celebration of Singapore's diversity, with Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung looking on. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

A group of children and their neighbours huddle in a living room as an elderly man recalls his kampung days. More neighbours join them and the group breaks into the Malay folk song Rasa Sayang, with fresh lyrics celebrating Singapore's racial diversity.

This was a scene in a play by Punggol Green Primary School pupils for Racial Harmony Day, celebrated annually by primary and secondary schools to mark the communal riots of 1964.

President Halimah Yacob, who visited the school yesterday, recalled how she was caught in the riots.

She and her mother were unable to return home as they had missed the cut-off time imposed by the curfew, so they sought refuge at her mother's food stall from late in the evening till the next morning.

"It was one of the most frightening days of my life. My mother and I were just hiding behind the three-wheeled cart the whole time," she said.

Today's youth do not have to go through such experiences, said Madam Halimah. This is why it is the duty of those who experienced such tensions to "remind them of the importance of keeping social cohesion and racial harmony", she added.

"We all want to look beyond race, beyond religion, beyond culture, beyond politics. It's a long journey, something we must work very hard on," she added.

Other ministers, including Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung and Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah, commemorated Racial Harmony Day, which is officially tomorrow, with the students of four other primary and secondary schools around Singapore.

President Halimah and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Low Yen Ling joined in Punggol Green Primary's festivities by participating in activities at booths featuring cross-cultural art and sports, as well as a Harmony Dance involving pupils from both the primary school and adjoining MOE Kindergarten @ Punggol Green.

They also put the final touches on a collaborative art piece depicting the theme of this year's Racial Harmony Day: The Singapore Connection.

Close friends Renee Ong Tze Tong and Alya Mohamed Fahrurrazi, both nine, got the chance to speak to Madam Halimah about their friendship, which started when they sat beside each other on the first day of Primary 1.

Renee said: "We didn't even realise we were of different races. We were just excited to go for recess together."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2019, with the headline 'Schools celebrate Racial Harmony Day'. Subscribe