The Green Roof of the Marina Barrage was brimming with people, with shrieks of excitement and incessant laughter from men, women and children of various races.
Some were getting their bright orange kites ready, while others, with kites already soaring, took turns to tug on the strings. The sun was shining against the clear blue sky on that windy Sunday, which made it perfect for kite flying.
Groups of friends as well as families made up the 200 people who attended Racism GoFlyKite on Oct 22. Organised by OnePeople.sg, a charity organisation which champions racial harmony initiatives in Singapore, the event was created to bring the community together to discuss and celebrate racial diversity. Dr Janil Puthucheary, the charity’s chairman, said it allowed people to learn about each other’s culture and have fun by doing meaningful things together.
He said: “This is one of the ways we can help to forge closer ties and tackle misconceptions. This will create another opportunity for better understanding in today’s society where we are seeing an increasing cultural mix.”
Mr Puthucheary also wanted people to be more aware of issues about multiculturalism and multiracialism, which every generation of Singaporeans will have to deal with, whether it’s casual racist jokes or stereotypes. He stressed that people needed to be more understanding and more forgiving of one another. Also, he believes that young people, with their aspirations and ideals, will have an important role to play.
Participants came together to build and design their own kites, writing messages in support of racial harmony on these before flying them.
“Smile more to the unknowns. Judge less,” was the message written on the kite of Ms Sruthi Sadanand, who came to Singapore from Chennai, India, a year-and-a-half ago for a Master’s degree at the National University of Singapore (NUS). The 25-year-old student noticed that the students here didn’t smile enough due to their hectic schedules and wanted to encourage these young people to do it more.
Miss Sadanand said: “I feel that elderly people, such as the cleaning uncles and aunties in my university, smile more. They would come over, sit, talk and smile at me. It gives me a great feeling when you see someone smile and I feel more comfortable.”
Writing down her message and flying her kite with other participants gave her a sense of hope and encouragement. She also got to meet like-minded people who were coming together to bring about a positive change.
Miss Tiziana Tan, a facilitator of the event, believes that supporting this event was very important in generating organic conversations that work towards building racial harmony in Singapore. She felt that with new groups like mixed-race couples, migrant workers, new citizens and expatriates in Singapore, it would be a good time to promote a more inclusive and accepting environment.
Miss Tan was born in Vietnam but was adopted by a Singaporean family. The 22 year old has lived here all her life but became a citizen just two years ago. The proud Singaporean recalled how difficult it was growing up because of her ethnicity.
“Some girls from my school even referred to me as a Vietnamese bride. At the time, I was young and did not really stand up to these racist comments but took it in my stride and moved on,” said Ms Tan.
Since then, she had found ways to make a positive impact on community building by leading and participating in initiatives like Racism GoFlyKite. She wrote on her kite: “A mean comment does not define who you are but your response does.” It served as a reminder to her and other people who encounter negative comments to respond in a way that builds strength, character and positivity.
The kites with their messages will eventually be showcased during the Orange Ribbon Walk 2017 on Nov 11 at the Esplanade Park, as part of the Orange Ribbon Movement. Each year, OnePeople.sg rallies the community to speak up against prejudice and build an iconic ground up movement against it. The theme for this year’s walk is Rise Against Racism.