Duty of older generation to remind the young of need for social cohesion: President Halimah

President Halimah Yacob and Ms Low Yen Ling join in the Harmony Dance by students of Punggol Green Primary School at the school's commemoration of Racial Harmony Day on July 19, 2019.
President Halimah Yacob and Ms Low Yen Ling join in the Harmony Dance by students of Punggol Green Primary School at the school's commemoration of Racial Harmony Day on July 19, 2019. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - 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 (PGPS) pupils for Racial Harmony Day, celebrated annually by primary and secondary schools to mark communal riots in 1964.

President Halimah Yacob, who was at the school on Friday (July 19), recalled how she was caught in the riots. She and her mother could not return home before the curfew that had been imposed, so they had to seek 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, which is why for those who experienced such tensions, "it is our duty then to remind them of the importance of keeping social cohesion and racial harmony", said Madam Halimah. "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."

Other ministers, including Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung and Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah, commemorated Racial Harmony Day, which officially falls on Sunday (July 21), with students in four other primary and secondary schools around Singapore.

President Halimah and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Low Yen Ling joined in PGPS' festivities by participating in activity booths featuring cross-cultural art and sports, and 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 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, nine, said: "We didn't even realise we were of different races: we were just excited to go for recess together."