Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Punggol helps foreigners fit in

Grassroots leaders start activities for them to bond with S'poreans

WITH more new immigrants living in Punggol Central, grassroots leaders in the area have created new activities to help them bond with Singaporeans.

The ward in the Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC set up a cricket league late last year to cater to Indian expatriates. Soon after, a Filipino community cultural group was formed.

Mr Charles Chong, the ward's MP, said yesterday that he started noticing a growing number of new immigrants in the neighbourhood three years ago.

He estimated that about 10 per cent of the residents in some blocks could be permanent residents or new citizens, but was unable to pinpoint the precise number. Punggol Central has 48,000 residents in all.

Most of the new immigrants are from India, China, the Philippines and Myanmar.

'They are usually very happy to be here and have settled in well,' Mr Chong said.

With his trademark grin, he added: 'When you ask Singaporean residents for feedback, they will complain that they have to wait more than 15 minutes for the bus. But when you ask new immigrants, they are happy that the bus comes in under 30 minutes.'

Mr Chong was giving the media an update on key programmes in the ward ahead of a ministerial visit by Law Minister and Second Home Affairs Minister K.Shanmugam next month.

The formation of the cricket league was prompted by the sight of Indian nationals in the constituency playing cricket almost every weekend, he said.

Called the Sengkang Cricket League, it now has four teams of 12 members each. Five of its members are Singaporean. The league competition starts this weekend, and the finals will be on July5 - the day of Mr Shanmugam's visit.

The Filipino cultural group was formed by Filipina Maria Esmeralda Escalderon, a 46-year-old homemaker who is also a grassroots leader.

Its 15 members are a mix of new citizens, PRs and foreign domestic workers. They gather to sing and dance, and are now looking at learning how to cook local food.

'The purpose of the group is to bond, share with Singaporeans and create harmony,' said MsEscalderon.

Beyond integration efforts, grassroots leaders are also giving jobless residents a hand. Their five-year-old job-matching programme, Project Success, has matched more than 1,500 residents to jobs, including work within the constituency.

One beneficiary of the project is Mr Chong Chang, 61, a former renovation contractor who was retrenched two years ago.

Six months ago, the Sengkang Community Club hired him to manage traffic flow and collect carpark fees.

'I am quite appreciative that there are jobs for older people,' he said, adding that he earns $50 to $60 a day.

Another grassroots initiative: Offering jobless residents the chance to sell items like clothes at 14 pushcart stalls at the community club.

Mr Augustine Ang, 56, earns $500 to $800 a month selling stickers and soccer memorabilia at one of the carts.

Noting that such pushcarts usually cost around $2,000 to $3,000 to rent, he said: 'I am very satisfied with this arrangement.'

Source: Straits Times, 16 June 2009

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