“With a greater national focus on the issue of integration, constituencies such as Tampines Changkat – where the number of new citizens increased from 87 in 2007 to 168 last year – are also stepping up their efforts” (Welcoming Newcomers With Vouchers For Language Courses, Mr. Zul Othman).
I refer to the article, “Welcoming Newcomers With Vouchers For Language Courses” (September 28, 2009), by Mr. Zul Othman.
Integration schemes and interaction programmes within constituencies and communities are well-intentioned, and certainly have the potential to heighten understanding and exchanges between Singaporeans and expatriates. Initiatives such as the Community Integration Fund would most certainly facilitate the providence of more resources for Community Centres (CCs) and Community Development Councils (CDCs) in general.
However, I do believe that a line should be drawn to ensure that programmes are not presented to be forcibly contrived; that community leaders at the grassroots level should not be trying too hard to involve themselves in the entire integration process. Undeniably, institutions such as CCs and CDCs are perfect platforms for cross-border and multi-ethnicity interaction; but all these sponsored and facilitated activities should not be a means to an end. Bearing in mind that these aforementioned involvements and platforms can play important, complementary roles, the most important factor should still be the willingness of residents and neighbours to step out of their comfort zones to freely converse and interact with the newcomers. These traits cannot be taught or inculcated; and must originate from the gradual basis of an open and accepting society.
While we applaud the efforts of the community leaders for their passion and commitment, it is imperative to strike equilibrium between facilitated integration and natural, uncoerced harmonisation. Most crucially, the key is for Singaporeans to open up and make these expatriates feel welcomed. Dialogue and exchange are two-way processes, and both parties should not develop the unhealthy reliance on the authorities, and instead act as active catalysts and agents to bring about desired integration.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.