IT TOOK grassroots leader Goh Peng Hong four visits over a two-month period before he finally made face-to-face contact with an Indian expatriate couple who moved into his Woodlands Drive neighbourhood.
As an Integration and Naturalisation Champion (INC) – grassroots leaders who help new immigrants integrate with the community – he wanted to meet the couple and offer them help if needed.
But he found an empty flat each time as the couple were still at work. So why didn’t he just leave them a note with his contact details?
Said the 40-year-old, who chairs the Sembawang Zone H Residents’ Committee and leads 10 other INCs in the ward: ‘Nothing beats a firm handshake and a warm smile.’ His efforts have paid off. The couple have warmed up and approached him for advice on housing matters.
This personal touch was what People’s Association (PA) deputy chairman Lim Boon Heng highlighted at an appreciation dinner for INCs last night. An initiative started by the PA in January last year, the number of INCs has risen from 500 to 700 this year. They operate in all 84 constituencies.
Addressing about 500 INCs at the Orchid Country Club, Mr Lim said that from April last year to March this year, INCs visited 90 per cent of new immigrants in their constituencies and had face-to- face contact with at least half of them.
‘Very often, our INCs have to make several attempts just to meet the new immigrants personally,’ said Mr Lim, who is Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.
‘This personal touch is important to build rapport and gain their trust for subsequent contacts and interaction, and more importantly, to get them involved in community and grassroots activities.’
Another INC, Mr Peter Seah, vice-chairman of the Yew Mei Green executive condominium neighbourhood committee, also makes repeated visits till he makes face-to-face contact with the new immigrants living there.
‘It’s easier to invite them to join us for activities once we’ve met them in person,’ said Mr Seah, 44.
At the dinner, INC leaders shared strategies that worked for them.
These included a cricket tournament organised by Indian expatriates in Punggol Central, weekly cultural dance classes taught by Thai residents in Sembawang and a Chinese classics interest group led by Chinese nationals in Yew Tee.
Such efforts are important to prevent friction and tensions between Singaporeans and new immigrants, said Mr Lim.
More immigrants were taking on permanent residence (PR) and citizenship as a result of the Government’s efforts to attract more foreign talent, he noted. There were 63,300 new PRs and 17,300 new citizens last year.
To recognise the work of the INCs, Mr Lim announced that the PA will introduce an INC Award next year.
Madam Judith Lee, 50, chairman of the Tampines East Zone 4 Residents’ Committee, welcomed the move: ‘It’s a good starting point to recognise the INCs’ efforts. But for many, we already feel good helping the foreigners living among us.’