Let Foreigners Celebrate

Civic plaza
 
The plan by a group of Filipinos in Singapore to celebrate their country’s Independence Day has run into some trouble. The event, which is planned for June 8, will take place at Ngee Ann City’s Civic Plaza in Orchard Road, if the group’s permit application is approved by the authorities. 
 
Last weekend, the Filipino group – The Pilipino Independence Day Council Singapore (PID-CS) – put up a status update on its Facebook page. It also published two posters for the event. Here is one of them:
 
Philippine Independence Celebration Singapore
 
It soon attracted criticisms from various quarters, presumably Singaporeans. These took issue with the use of the Singapore skyline in the poster, along with the words “inter-dependence” and “two nations”. Finally, the protest, which seems to be led by the Facebook page “Say ‘No’ to an overpopulated Singapore”, says “we are against them in celebrating their country's Independence on Singapore soil. We urge them, however, to do so in their own Embassy compound.”
 
I think it is sad to see that we are protesting a simple celebration by foreigners in our midst. These Filipinos are undoubtedly here to work, to help care for our elderly, our children, our households, and also to work here as construction workers, among many other professions. And they are here for years on end. 
 
We should instead of decrying them celebrating their country’s independence day, be welcoming of it. It is a chance for us to know more about them, and indeed to participate in the celebrations. We may yet learn a thing or two from those who have come from faraway lands.
 
There is no doubt that there is a tension between Singaporeans and foreigners, and this is exacerbated by the recent riot in Little India, and the recent spate of crimes and offences committed by members of the foreign community.
 
But to then extrapolate from this and paint or to cast all foreigners as unwelcomed guests or “undesirables” would be to do oneself a dishonour.
 
Why do I say this? Because it would mean that one does not appreciate or is not aware of all the good things that foreigners have done for us, besides the obvious ones – such as building what we see around us, and those who are more immediately visible such as domestic workers or salespeople.
 
There are also those who go about contributing to our Singaporean society in their own quiet ways.
 
On 14 April, Nazeera Mohamed posted a story on her Facebook page, which has since attracted many “likes”. Her story was nothing spectacular or sensational. But it was nonetheless heartwarming.
 
Nazeera had gone to the blood bank to make a donation but was rejected because of her low haemoglobin count. 
 
There at the blood bank was also this Indian man, who apparently had been sitting and waiting there quietly.
 
“As I quite sadly proceeded to get my belongings from my younger sister who accompanied me,” Nazeera wrote, “I couldn't possibly have left that place without talking to this Indian man, who had a certain calmness to him - and had instilled a curiosity in me to wonder if he was a construction worker. Because if he was, he must be one amazing soul.”
 
The man’s name is Abhines and he hails from Tamil Nadu in India. He has been here in Singapore since 2007, and is indeed a construction worker.
 
Abhines was there to make his fourth blood donation. 
 
“His blood is of a rare type and he mentioned that where he came from, they lacked the necessities to preserve the blood in good condition,” says Nazeera. “Abhines says he wants to donate blood even though he's a construction worker because donating blood is a rare thing amongst his peers.”
 
Nazeera says that she hopes Abhines’ kind act of potentially saving some 12 Singaporean lives now (one donation can save 3 lives), will help change whatever warped perception we may have of the foreigners in our midst.
 
“So that next time hopefully we too, can be like him - or be kind to those like him, just as he is kind to us,” Nazeera says.
 
And there are many foreigners who go about doing their charitable work quietly, away from the spotlight. Even foreigners helping fellow foreigners who are in trouble in Singapore.
 
foreigners in singapore
 
Debbie Fordyce is one such selfless individual. Her target group to help? The migrant worker, those such as Abhines.
 
Several years ago, Debbie came across some destitute migrant workers who were literally sleeping on the streets in Little India. She decided to start The Cuff Road Project, where free meals are provided to migrant workers who are, for one reason or another, down and out in Singapore and have no means of supporting themselves.
 
To date, the project has dished out almost 200,000 meals to migrant workers in need.
 
Debbie, who is 60 and has four children, also opens her condominium unit to these workers, while they sort out their problems. 
 
"I don't get anything out of it except perhaps the pleasure of their company. None of the workers I meet can afford to spend $200 a month on a place to stay," she said. "I have a big house. My children have left home. It makes sense to for me to let the workers stay here.”
 
In 2011, her work so impressed the American Women’s Association that they named her its International Woman of the Year. 
 
But she does not see herself as any hero. “They are guest workers in Singapore,” she once said of the migrant workers. “I am their volunteer.”
 
And volunteering is what Cecilia Cheung does as well. 
 
The Hong Kong actress has “settled down” in Singapore with her two young sons. The boys are attending school in Singapore. 
 
Ms Cheung said she chose Singapore instead of Hong Kong or China because she wanted her sons to have a normal life, something which is hard to do with the “strong paparazzi” presence in the other two countries, she said.
 
But Cheung is not just another star which has fallen into Singapore. She spends quite a bit of time doing voluntary community work with a local volunteer organisation as well. 
 
“When I don’t have to fly back to Hong Kong for work, I will go maybe three to four times a week,” she told the media in January. (See here)
 
She has been spotted handing out food packets to the elderly and the poor in HDB estates as part of the work of charity organisation, Willing Hearts.
 
"To bend down picking up 300 lunch packs & punnets of pears for handing out to the beneficiaries can be quite a back breaking exercise. It was a pleasant surprise for them to see Cecilia and several requested to pose with her.
 
"She lovingly gave them warm hugs & kisses on their cheeks when handing out the packs," Willing Hearts said on its Facebook page.
 
foreigners in singapore
 
You can watch a video of the food distribution here on: Willing Hearts.
 
As mentioned earlier, there are many like Abhines, Debbie and Cecilia going about lending a helping hand in their own quiet way. I know of several groups of expats who take time off work each year to do their part to raise funds for charity, too.
 
As the PID-CS co-chairman, Rychie Andres, said to the media, when asked about the protest against the Filipino Independence Day celebration event, “Our drive is to be part of the community and try to open up to other nationalities.”
 
Indeed, as part of its celebrations, it has organised a blood donation drive and a visit to an elderly home.
 
So, let’s be more aware and understanding of what our foreign friends are doing, just as some of them are trying to understand us as well, and are chipping in to make our society a better one for all.
 

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