The “Imagining Youth Seminar”, organised by Yayasan Mendaki was held on 17 September 2011 at The Pod, National Library, was attended by youths and adults who are concerned with the state of Singapore youths today. I had arrived a tad too early being the ever enthusiast about attending seminars, I had arrived 15 minutes earlier to an empty registration desk.
The purpose of the seminar; to discuss on the feasibility of having our very own Youth Charter, this was the result of the Forward Planning Exercise (FPE) under the Community Leaders Forum (CLF).
The seminar started with a presentation by Mendaki’s Research and Policy Department’s Rafiz who gave the audience an introduction into the facts and figures of Malay-Muslim youths in Singapore. Making up a third of the Malay population, youths under the age of 19 forms a large proportion of the national community, only 2nd to the Indian community. With more than half of the Malay population under the age of 35, the youths can definitely make a significant contribution towards the community-at-large.
It is also extremely important that youths are given the appropriate avenues to help them maximise their potential worth; either through the academics or any other area that they are proficient in worth being recognised as contribution to society. It should also be noted that lifelong labellings often happen during one’s youthful period in age.
I for one, can definitely connect with that statement as I’ve had my fair share of labellings from the time I was 15 all the way to now and some words that I’ve been associated with include but not limited to are; popular, famous, casanova, flirt, controversial, over-achiever, dreamer, etc. Not all words used can be considered to have a positive effect on someone and whilst I’m someone who’s not bothered by the labels credited to me, there are times when I get overly worried everytime someone says they’ve heard about me. The next question from me would be “Is it good or bad stuff that you’ve heard?”
Kicking off the presentations were Dr Kenneth Paul Tan, Dr Rahil Ismail and Dr Azhar Ibrahim Alwee.
Presenting on “The possibilities and limitations of youth activism in Singapore”, Dr Kenneth Paul Tan of the NUS LKY School of Public Policy spoke much about the different kinds of youth activism which has existed around the world and how it has affected change in government policies. Youth activism, often associated with street protests is also a popular form of activity which youths engage in as a community to raise issues of unhappiness and whilst Singapore had its’ fair share of such protests in the 50’s and 60’s, it is almost unheard of today because of the change in law and order.
Dr Tan also spoke about the irony of what the Singapore government means when it says that it wants youths to be more involved in the society. One good example would be how youths get involved in the society by expressing their views and thoughts in artistic form through their own initiatives; Graffiti. The government wouldn’t allow such works of expression by youths to go unpunished because it is deemed to be against the law. The irony of it, seriously.
Another example raised was how a group of RGS students and residents living in Buangkok had started a campaign to “Save the White Elephant”. This campaign was of course to get the government to not allow the Buangkok MRT station which had been constructed, left there unused. The result of the campaign? The police had stepped in and gave strong warnings to those involved.
In short, as much as the government wants youths to contribute to society, youths are only allowed to do so if they dance to the tune of the government. Anything else different would be considered “REBELLIOUS”.
Dr Rahil presented on her paper, “Critical Multiculturalism in Changing Global Landscapes Youth Citizenship in Age of Insecurity” which spoke about how multiculturalism is viewed differently by different people. Whilst we can consider ourselves to be multicultural, another perspective could lament that we are multiracial which denotes a different meaning altogether as culture is inter-linked with lifestyles and faith whilst race is merely a division to differentiate one from the other through their racial group.
She had also spoke of the education system being a processing factory – this was something which I had written about in ‘Singapore’s Social Engineering’. Also raised was the topic of “Islamaphobia”, a term coined by groups of people who began to feel worried about the rapid growth and expansion of Islam in Europe and U.S. How segments of society in the world have began to differentiate Muslims into ‘Radical Muslims’ and ‘Moderate Muslims’ without any particular checklist on how a Muslim deserves to be placed under which category – a form of racism at best.
Whilst the morning session covered speakers from the academia, the afternoon session had practitioners; Explora Singapore (Abdul Shukor and Ahmad Taufiq), ClubBilya (Muzaiyanah) and By Definition Pte Ltd (Suryakenchana).
Explora Singapore’s Abdul Shukor and Ahmad Taufiq spoke at length about experiential learning as a tool to change youths and how organisations shouldn’t be expecting overnight changes or success from a 2-day camp. Both of them spoke much about an area of concern which I had previously raised in a conversation with a staff in Ministry for Community, Youth and Sports (MCYS); about having proper programmes in homes and prisons can help with motivation and change in the individual. Currently, the Singapore Prisons Service focuses more on discipline rather than developing those convicted.
I had discussed this at length with the MCYS staff about my interest to step in with my team from By Definition to develop customised programmes to help educate, motivate and hopefully be able to set in effect a change in the behaviours and thinking of those in cells.
Muzaiyanah of ClubBilya spoke about the programmes run there and how Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) cannot work with Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) and Non-Profit Organisations (NPOs) as results are often intangible rather than tangible.
Suryakenchana of By Definition Pte Ltd spoke about the importance to develop leadership teams rather than individuals and how these leadership traits and characteristics can be developed through volunteer work. He spoke about his 22 years of experience volunteering with 4PM and how he has ascended through the ranks to be the Vice-President and how the experience of volunteering in 4PM has helped him had a change of perspective in world view and in how he conducts himself. He also spoke of the importance of volunteering and networking which has allowed him to work with other organisations directly, bypassing red tape and making bigger changes.
In the lead up to the wrap up of the session, a Focus Group Discussion (FGD) was organised and presentations by each individual group were made. I was in the ‘Gender’ group and presented on it.
Gender roles have generally evolved over time at home and in society. Previously, females were tasked to mop and sweep the floors whilst males were tasked to do the climbing and cleaning. In recent times, such roles have been reversed and are no longer relevant. LGBT issues in the past, although frowned upon are now more accepted as media has played a big role in helping society to be more accepting of LGBTs. I quoted an example of how ‘GLEE’ had helped many who remained in the closet to come out in the open and be proud of it and even challenged those who used to frown upon them. Another issue we raised was also on young single mothers.
At the end of it all, we believe that it is extremely important to tap onto the media network and to work closely with the media to determine the direction we want to see in our youths. Producing tv shows which depict more positive messages on the youths and community-at-large as well as entertainment targeted towards positive youth development. Spreading messages about youth events will also be made easier if we have good collaborations and relationships with media networks and as such I had spoke about “Media as the Catalyst for Change”
In the Guest-Of-Honour’s closing address, Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman, had quoted my “Media as a Catalyst for Change” and disagreed with me, instead he mentioned that change should be from the youth – the individual. However, I believe that the comment he made was perhaps politically motivated rather than backed up with a strong refute as I’m sure he’d agree with me on how media (traditional and new) has played a big part in the outcome of the recent elections and how media has always played a pivotal role in influencing any society (otherwise, The Online Citizen wouldn’t have been asked to be gazetted). Perhaps, he had made that comment because of the possible hassle that any group might encounter in a working collaboration with the Media Development Authority (MDA).
Even now, this is a form of media. So, yeah.. I hope you’re reading this Dr Maliki.
Whatever the case, there will be a follow up to this next session in the form of a Youth Sympsosium in 2012 and I hope that organisations who will be the beneficiaries of such programmes be in attendance so that the concerns and needs can be raised for solutions to be worked upon. I say this because with so many brains and experience in youth work discussing on what the youth needs, I felt that there was a void in presence as the organisations who are in need weren’t there.