I first heard about Roses of Peace (ROP) through an Instagram post, and when I read its one-liner description – “a ground up, youth-driven initiative that seeks to bridge the gap in interfaith discourse” by “[empowering] youths to be leaders of change and peace ambassadors” – I was inspired to be a part of this growing, bottom-up, empowering movement. I major in political science, which means I learn about conflicts, wars and violence that took place and are taking place around the world. I learn that these conflicts are rooted in ignorance, stereotypes and misinformed prejudices that have become so pervasive and entrenched, such that they become harmful and breed into hatred towards a group that is of a different race or religion. I use these conflicts as cautionary tales in Singapore and this forms my underlying reason – my objective – for joining the ROP Ambassador Programme (ROPAP). It is without a doubt that Singapore is a peaceful country, especially in stark comparison to the violence in Gaza, the rise of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the States and the genocidal, inhumane injustice meted out to the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. But peace can be so very fragile, especially in a highly diverse country of languages, race and religion. If left unchecked, diversity in Singapore can cause political violence, strife and conflict seen in other countries today. Thus, I joined ROP, to play my part as a citizen of Singapore to preserve this sense of peace. And not just to preserve the peace, but to deepen this understanding of peace in our country, one that is rooted in a keen sense of understanding and free from stereotypes by reaching out and engaging with our society and community leaders. In this way, I hope, through ROPAP, I can play a part to solidify a deeper sense of understanding and peace into the psyche of our society.
Through my time in the ROPAP sessions, I was lucky enough to be equipped with lessons, insights and skills from highly-esteemed and distinguished speakers who are experts in their own respective fields. Ultimately, the ROPAP sessions provided me with the toolkits to achieve my intentions, objectives and goals, and to be a part of this empowering, youth movement to become peace ambassadors. And for that, I am immensely grateful to the ROP team. I had a deeper understanding of Singapore’s highly diverse society as well as its multiculturalism and multireligious landscape. We spoke about difficult topics, topics that were regarded to be highly sensitive and taboo, and we listened with empathy and understanding, keeping our judgements at bay. We learnt about what it means to be a leader, and we learnt that diversity needs to be accorded its due attention, for it can be a double-edged sword which may potentially lead to fear, stereotypes and misperceptions. We learnt how and what it means to engage with an audience and various stakeholders as well as to create meaningful campaigns to spread our messages across, through social media and digital media engagement. We learnt how to listen, actively and mindfully, as we continuously improve on our communication skills. It is definitely hard to pinpoint a single, training session which was the most valuable and enjoyable, for each training session attended was so useful and unique in their own ways. But what struck me was when Mr. Krish Raval, from the UK, posed a question to us during our Faith in Leadership Workshop. “What is leadership?”, he asked us, and we had difficulties coming up with an answer to the question, because it requires a multifaceted answer, for leadership means so many different things to different people. Indeed, there is no single, one-size-fits-all definition of leadership, for it is a process and a two-way street between the following and the follower. Yet, he stressed on the importance of being cognizant of boundaries and being flexible enough to navigate and manoeuvre through those boundaries. When Mr. Thione Niang came to speak to us at the end of that workshop, I couldn’t help but feel something stir within me as he recounted his life journey and difficulties with us, specifically in how he had to overcome a tremendous amount of adversity and poverty as he migrated to US with just $20 in his pocket. Yet, it was his sense of determination, perseverance and most importantly, hope that kept him going and held him on as the tidings got rough. His 2-minute speech was a thought-piece, as I sat there, reflecting on how I can possibly use my position of privilege that I have been lucky enough to be blessed with, to give back to the community.
And it is precisely the issue of privilege that got us talking in the experiential conversation with OnePeople.sg, as we coined a new term – “majority blindspots” – to talk about the privileges that the majority race has and might overlook. Yet, the conversations exuded so much as we also talked about the different facets of privileges – or blindspots – that exist, not just within the majority race but within and between minorities as well. All these held in a backdrop and prism of grace as we spoke truthfully and objectively, with the sole intention of learning from and understanding one another. This, to me, is the personification of peace that I would like to help play a part in achieving in our highly diverse society. Seeing how our ROPAP sessions are testament to that, I feel hopeful and inspired to transfer it to the wider community at large.
It is definitely not going to be easy, as the journey ahead is riddled with numerous challenges and hurdles for me and my team to overcome as we embark on our mini projects. Yet, I am hopeful and excited to put the soft skills learnt in our training sessions – to be empathetic, to actively listen, to open my heart to learning and consulting with various stakeholders as well as to engage with the community – so as to spark conversations in a safe environment about difficult topics, like race and religion and to reach out to other youths. In this way, I hope to be able to raise awareness for the peace cause. I hope that through the digital engagement skills and strategies learnt, I can spread the message of interfaith to promote a deeper understanding of peace, through effective and impactful campaigns. And with that, I hope that I can rally these youths to truly become the “leaders of change and peace ambassadors”, together with me, who can contribute to a deeper and everlasting sense of peace in Singapore 😊