$1m to give life to racial harmony ideas

MORE than $1 million from a national fund has been committed to youth and non-profit groups to turn ideas about promoting racial harmony into reality.

The money will support 37 projects under the $5 million Harmony Fund launched in March last year. Half of these are targeted at youth or are organised by youth.

"We are heartened by the response to the fund as such ground up projects will bring about greater interracial and inter-religious understanding," a spokesman for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), which administers the fund, said last week in the run-up to Racial Harmony Day today.

One of the youth projects is a game inspired by city building simulation game SimCity. Players compete to build a city and keep the peace between its inhabitants. If they answer quizzes about cultural practices correctly or help residents get along with one another in the game, they get credits to build more buildings.

Republic Polytechnic student Joe Tan, 21, designed the game with his team last year. He said: "We have received feedback that students play it when they are bored and they remember the fun facts about different cultures better compared to flipping through textbooks."

The game, which can be downloaded as a free app, has been introduced to students at about 30 secondary schools. The other projects use the arts or sports as a way to promote racial harmony.

Besides these efforts, a series of events has also been lined up this and next month to celebrate and foster strong ties among different racial and religious groups.

One key initiative is the Orange Ribbon Run on Aug 16, which will have a new category requiring runners to form teams made up of different ethnic groups. It is the only run here that aims to gather Singaporeans to make a stand against racism.

The inaugural run last year drew 5,000 participants who wore orange tees as they circled Marina Bay Sands Event Plaza. Since the 1990s, the orange ribbon has been adopted by various countries as the symbol of harmony, equality and freedom.

"We want the silent majority to make a stand rather than have the discourse skewed by a vocal minority," said Mr Gerald Singham, vice-chairman of racial harmony advocacy group OnePeople.sg, which is organising the run.

Last year, the group did a study on race relations with the Institute of Policy Studies. It found that although more than nine in 10 Singaporeans accept colleagues and neighbours of a different race, fewer than half of the 4,000 Singaporeans polled said they had a close friend of another race.

Mr Singham said the group analysed further and found that it is not that people do not want a close friend of another race, but they lack opportunities. "So we hope things like the run will naturally bring people together to form connections," he said.

About 400 people have already formed multi- ethnic teams and signed up for the run.

One team has people from five different ethnic groups: Pakistani, Chinese, Indian, Malay and Arab.

The group, mostly educators, first got to know one another when they were representing their different secondary schools at track events more than 30 years ago. Over the years, they have been running together weekly or monthly.

"It was a natural adjustment for us as we got to know one another's culture and way of life," said Mr Mohd Azman, 51, vice-principal of Millennia Institute.

For example, the group would sometimes go with Mr Azman to the mosque for him to finish his pre-dawn prayer before a run.

Mr Ow Kok Meng, 51, head of department for special projects at Pasir Ris Secondary, said: "These friendships are for life and when we walk the talk, we hope our children will pick it up."


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