Friday, April 17, 2009

When ‘adoption’ leads to integration: MM Lee

Alicia Wong

HIS two sons were “adopted” by host families when they went to the United States for military training, and shared their Thanksgiving dinners.

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew was “invited to endless events” when he was at Harvard University for a term, as the efforts of a graduate student to make him feel welcome also made him feel “very comfortable”.

Are Singaporean families, however, up to the challenge of adopting new immigrants? With such practices only slowly beginning here — a pilot host family programme by the People’s Association was launched last year — Mr Lee certainly hopes the public can take a leaf from a country with long experience in integration.

Both born-and-bred Singaporeans and new citizens need to foster closer ties and be united, if Singapore is to progress, he said. And like the PA volunteers who contacted 13,000 new immigrants last year, more need to step up, he urged.

The foundation for integration to be possible has already been laid with Singapore’s basic practice of meritocracy, said Mr Lee at a Singapore Press Holdings event to launch a Lianhe Zaobao weekly feature reaching out to new Chinese immigrants.

“There is no difference between race, religion, new or old citizens,” he said in Mandarin. And this principle came in for praise among participants at the seminar during the question-and-answer session.

A 22-year-old male recounted how he lived in a one-room flat when he came from China 13 years ago, but with the opportunities his family had, they now live in a five-room flat. A businesswoman, who came from Shanghai 20 years ago, started out as a housewife with three children, but now runs two companies.

To these new Singaporeans, Mr Lee also reminded that they need a good grasp of the English language — Singapore’s lingua franca — if they want to do well in Singapore.

“If you cannot reach the required standard (of English) it must be that you haven’t tried hard enough,” he said.

Meanwhile, their children can contribute, language-wise, if they speak fluent Mandarin, even with different accents, to raise local standards, added Mr Lee, who suggested that MediaCorp employ Chinese immigrants who can speak
fluent Mandarin as news readers.

Last year, there were over 20,000 new citizens and about 80,000 new Permanent Residents, up from 17,000 new citizens and 64,000 new PRs in 2007.

From TODAY, News – Monday, 13-April-2009
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