Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Keep the Door Wide Open

WHEN gunman Cho Seung-Hui massacred 32 people at the Virginia Tech campus, many things went through my mind.

The one thought that has nagged me this week is how we welcome new immigrants into our society.

With Singapore's ageing population and the birth rate well below replacement level, we have heard all too often the need for an open-door policy.

After all, immigrants help to increase our gene pool, bring additional investment into our economy and contribute to economic development.

Moreover, with Singapore promoting itself as an educational hub, we can expect more immigrants at all strata of society.

A few weeks ago, my brother was watching a football match in which his 11-year-old son was playing. My brother was angry as the other school had fielded a foreign student who was as big as an adult to play in a primary school football game. But we found out that as long as the student is not above 14 years old, he is allowed to represent the primary school.

How should a parent and even local students respond to such an incident? Should they accept it as part of a representation of society? Or should there be a system in place where competition should be on a level playing field?

It is a well-known fact that many schools have been importing foreign talent to boost their sports teams and increase their chances of performing well in competitions. This has often discouraged locals like my nephew who have to play against those who are bigger, older or stronger than they are.

We can argue that this is a part of life and it is a good preparation for the workplace where we have to compete with foreign talent.

However, if the competition is not seen as fair and just, a sense of resentment will build up among the locals, and soon a culture may come about where immigrants are not made to feel welcome.

Though immigrants have become a part of the local community, perhaps there is still a need for new ways to promote a sense of belonging among the foreign talent that is flowing into Singapore.

We must not forget that our society was established by immigrants from all over the world. When Sir Stamford Raffles set up the trading post of Singapore, he made an effort to welcome people from all walks of life, recognising that this is the fastest way to establish a vibrant society. We must keep this in mind as we make an effort to welcome new immigrants.

When they speak with a different accent, when they show different tastes in food and clothing, when they express their culture in ways that are different from ours — we should accept them with an open heart, nor hurt them with words such as "go back to your homeland".

Neither should we talk behind their backs, complaining about unfair competition and unjust treatment.

Instead, we should welcome them with open arms for they offer insights and experiences that we might not be able to have if they were not here to interact with us.

Without the enriching presence of immigrants, we Singaporeans would be like frogs living in a well, unable to see beyond the narrow confines of our homes.

As for my nephew and my brother, all I can say to them is: Welcome to the world of globalisation where competition only rewards those with talent and ability. The presence of the foreign student will only encourage us to work harder and enhance our capacity to play better in the next game.

How uninteresting life in this country would be if there were no foreigners to spur us on to work harder, better and smarter.

This article first appeared in Today on 24.4.2007
The writer is a mother of six who looks forward to having her children forge friendships with people from all over the world.
Where's that much-touted friendliness?
Letter from Jenom James Nyam published in TOday on 2.5.2007

I agree with Ms Frances Ong's unbiased opinion in "Keep the Door Wide Open" (April 24), which solemnly urged Singaporeans to be more receptive and accommodating of foreigners.

In doing research about Singapore before applying to study here, I found the welcoming attitude of Singaporeans proudly publicised on all the websites that I sought information at.

I also recall the famous smiling face of the Singapore Girl aired periodically on Cable News Network (CNN) and the Four Million Smiles of last year's World Bank/IMF Meeting.

I had heard and read about Singapore's place in international circles as Asia's crossroad of colours, cultures and civilisation — much like the reputations the United States and Switzerland enjoy. What the trio are reputed to have in common is their ability to accommodate almost everybody, regardless of their background.

This was why I chose to come to Singapore.

However, after reading Ms Ong's piece, I helplessly found myself supporting her views based on the contrasting reality that I've met with since coming here in August last year.

For the past eight months, the much-touted friendliness and warmth has been hardly anywhere to be found. It is sad that I have had the privilege of seeing faces genuinely smiling at me only on a very few occasions.

Singaporeans should remember that the foreigners and tourists to Singapore are non-commissioned ambassadors of the land.

If Ms Ong's surname was Toh, I would have guessed that she was the mother of Geraldine — a Singaporean who once surprised me in a library by stirring up a meaningful conversation with me, despite my non-Asian looks.

For a dark-skinned foreigner from Nigeria who cannot in all honesty boast of being socially accepted by society in Singapore, it was a brief moment of respite.

Ms Ong's challenge to her compatriots is a candid charge for change.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

I am woman hear me roar

The recent visit of Dr. Margaret Chan the Director General of WHO who said that Singapore is her second home made me reflect on the following issues.

What do Nancy Pelosi and Margaret Chan have in common?

Apart from the obvious fact that they are women, they share the following characteristics. They are all above 50 years old, and they are contributing actively to society.

Nancy Pelosi at age 66 and a mother of 5, is the 60th and present speaker of the United States House of Representatives which makes her the highest-ranking woman in the US government. She is also the first woman in U.S. history to hold this office

Dr. Margaret Chan at age 60 is the Director General of the World Health Organisation.(WHO). She was the first female in Hong Kong to head the Department of Health and left after 25 years of service to join the WHO.

This brings to mind another famous Dr. Margaret Chan, who breath life into the character Emily of Emeral Hill. At the age of 52 she obtained her PHD and 4 years later she embarked on a new career as a faculity member at the Singapore Management University.

No, this is not another femanist article about how women have managed to break the glass ceiling or that they have managed to break into the stratified world of men.

What strick me was that these are woman who are married, have managed to bring up children and yet at an age where many are contented to retire they have embarked on new careers that challenge their comfrt zone.

I have met several highly educated stay-at-home mum who have taken the courages step to stop climbing the career ladder for a while to bring up their children.

Sometime they will be hit with insecurity and worried that they will nt be able to enter the market once their children have grown up. At other the times, they worried that all their education have been wasted as they spend their time driving their children from schools to enrichment classes and back home.

Yes agesim do exist as expamlified by Dr Chan when she tried to apply for a universtiy post at another local university.

But these three women gave us who are aged forty and above hope. Many stay-at-home mum will start to look for jobs when they are around this age. Like Dr Chan, they must be willing to start work at the entry level or low level. Dr. Chan, armed with a Phd, started work at SMU teaching remedial English. After 10 months she was promoted based on her performance. Later she was promoted to a fully fledged faculity member.