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Public Engagement in Singapore: Preventing Religious & Racial Conflict
Monday, September 26th, 2011

On September 21st, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean attended the International Conference on Community Engagement in Singapore. The Conference was specifically aimed to discuss, “Countering Extremism and Building Social Resilience through Community Engagement”.

At the conference, Mr. Teo applauded the success of the Community Engagement Program (CEP) which was launched in 2006 in Singapore to enhance racial and religious harmony. This program was created to strengthen the understanding and ties between people of different races and religions, and build up Singapore’s skills and knowledge in coping with emergencies. Through the program, the community is involved in response plans that are activated when a crisis occurs, and ensures that Singaporeans will work together to cope with them.

As reported in Singapore news on Wednesday, Mr. Teo mentioned how the program has inspired many citizens to take ownership of their future. He reminded Singaporeans that they should be proud of what has been achieved, and strive to bring even more people into the program.

He highlighted the Geylang Serai area, which has the largest concentration of racial and religious organizations in Singapore with some 120 religious institutions, clan associations and civic organizations. In February of this year, a fire broke out at the Chong Hood Lim Association, a Buddhist temple housed within a shophouse in the area. The temple and the Coronation Baptist Church next door became structurally unstable. Upon learning that the church would be unable to conduct service sessions, the temple’s management agreed to share its newly-acquired activity centre nearby to temporarily allow the church to continue conducting service sessions. Mr. Teo said subsequently, the church was able to find its own space, but what was important was the spirit of help from the community that was evident.

He went on to say, “We have learnt from campaigns of the past that a top-down approach may get a project started expeditiously. However, to have it take root and be sustainable in the long term, it has to inspire the ground and gain traction. It is only when the people on the ground take ownership and see meaning in it that the programme works.”

I was inspired to read that Singapore has implemented such socially-empowered engagement. It’s refreshing to know that an ideology we believe in also rings true across seas: That the top can initiate, but ultimately, we can’t ignore the influence that comes from the grassroots beneath. I think this is the path to a better democracy in the long run.

-Holly Clark-

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