Simply talking to one another may be what it takes to break the ice between locals and new immigrants here.
The People's Association (PA), which is setting up chit-chat sessions in 20 neighbourhoods around the island, is hoping that sharing stories and social norms will help newcomers who have settled here get to know the people in their community better, and to feel more welcome.
It will also get "student ambassadors" to share neighbourly acts on social media, and it will partner grassroots organisations and clan associations to reach out to folk who have decided to call Singapore home.
The sessions will be a new approach, and new platform for sharing, said Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef, adviser to PA's Integration Council, who announced the new effort yesterday.
"It is getting up close and personal with people so that we can touch them," said Dr Fatimah, who is an MP for Marine Parade GRC.
The council was set up two years ago to help integrate new immigrants into the community.
At the PA's Integration and Naturalisation Champions Forum yesterday, grassroots leaders shared their experiences and challenges.
One from Sengkang West, for instance, said that immigrants tend to mix among themselves, and it is sometimes difficult to get them to participate in community activities.
Dr Fatimah said while that is understandable, it is important to form individual relationships with them, to break down the barriers and draw them in.
Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong, who was at the forum, noted how some people were concerned that Singapore was taking in too many foreigners, and that the Government had slowed down the inflow of new permanent residents and the foreign worker intake.
"For the immigrants who are here, we want them to make the effort to fit in. They must participate in the community, and respect our values, norms and way of life," added Mr Wong, who is also the Second Minister for Communications and Information.
The council also plans to get 150 polytechnic and university students on board as "integration ambassadors" who will share instances of good neighbourliness and graciousness on social media platforms.
In addition, it will work with various groups such as clan associations to encourage new immigrants to join more community events.
Help for newcomers
Grassroots activist Qiang Dayong believes more should be done to help foreigners new to these shores learn about Singapore life.
He remembers that when he and his wife first came to Singapore from China in 2000, they kept mostly to themselves. He said: "At that time, I didn't even know what a Residents' Committee was."
He only found out about them in 2006 after moving to Kaki Bukit, where the Residents' Committee (RC) was just steps away from his flat.
When he got his citizenship in 2009, Mr Qiang decided to participate more actively in RC activities. "I joined the RC at first as a way to help get myself and my family integrated into the community. But slowly, I realised that I can also help to contribute to their activities and efforts," said Mr Qiang, who spends about five hours each week on grassroots activities.
He believes many receive their citizenship only after having spent some time here, and are already familiar with Singapore's norms and culture.
"A lot of work is being done to integrate new citizens, but many of them have been here for a long time," he said.
"Maybe we should try to engage those who are still very new to the country. They are the ones who need practical information and help."
This article was published on May 11 in The Straits Times.
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