Youth summit sends messages of hope and embracing diversity

Lasalle College of The Arts student Claire Teo took part in a mass fan dance on Aug 26 as part of a two-day Youth Summit. She said she was fortunate to have the support of friends and fellow participants. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Lasalle College of The Arts student Claire Teo suffers from an eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa and has vision limited to the scope of a 10 cent coin.

But the 19-year-old's visual impairment did not stop her from participating in a mass fan dance on Sunday (Aug 26) as part of the two-day Youth Summit, under Buddhist organisation the Singapore Soka Association's Youth Division.

The event was held at Our Tampines Hub and saw over 13,500 youths from various backgrounds, ethnic groups and faiths participating over the weekend. The summit's theme was "choose hope - embracing diversity, empowering lives".

Miss Teo said taking part in the performance was challenging, but she was fortunate to have the support of friends and fellow participants.

To learn the dance steps she had to rely on a friend who verbally described each move.

"It took a lot of patience on her part, but my friend has been very supportive and fellow participants have been very encouraging," said Miss Teo, who practised for three months.

"I see this summit as a gathering of people who want to fight for hope and peace. I want to contribute and say that I've chosen hope. I hope that whoever sees us dance will be encouraged and choose hope with us."

Speaking at the closing of the summit, Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Culture, Community and Youth, said: "We cannot take our racial and religious harmony for granted. This bears emphasising because our country's openness - through immigration and the influence of the Internet- contributes to an increasingly complex religious landscape."

She also said it was important to bridge understanding among ethnic and religious groups. "This will strengthen the foundation for trust and respect between diverse communities, for us to face future challenges together as one people."

The summit also included exhibitions featuring young people who had made a difference, such as Mr Abdul Hakeem Mohamed Yunos, 26, chairman of the Jamiyah Singapore Youth Group which started the initiative 'Muslim Youth Ambassador of Peace'.

The initiative aims to counter threats to peace and raise awareness about self-radicalism. Mr Hakeem said: "We need to understand each other so we can co-exist and embrace diversity. We shouldn't be afraid to talk about things like radicalism, in fact we should discuss it."

Since May, the Singapore Soka Association's Youth Division has been organising various projects in the lead-up to the summit, which included interactive opportunities with the community and interfaith groups, as well as projects for the less privileged.

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