Over the weekend, I got introduced by a friend to a humanitarian organisation, Mercy Relief, that has been going to parts of Asia to provide disaster relief efforts including the Asian Tsunami of 2004. Their executive director, Frederick, was talking about how humanitarian efforts, such as those by Mercy Relief, are actually a form of “soft power” that can help extend Singapore’s influence and image overseas. He mused about how Singapore is often seen as a unfeeling and cold place where business and money is all we talk about.
That got me thinking about how extensive are Singapore’s efforts in the humanitarian sector? After all, it is a developed country and relatively wealthy. Yet, strangely, it is rare to hear us playing a role like USA, Japan or Europe in humanitarian efforts. Suddenly, our small size and position is drummed up when we talk about such efforts. We have sent troops and money to help during major disasters like the tsunami, but I’m just wondering to what extent are our efforts compared to other countries? Perhaps, one strategic limitation is ASEAN’s policy to not interfere in the domestic affairs of its members. Yet, with the ASEAN Charter being ratified, how will that change the way things are now?
Moreover, I think more and more of our youth are joining these efforts to go overseas to spread goodwill under the Singapore flag and seeing humanitarian work as part of their lives. So will that spur the growth of this sector in Singapore and make it even viable to work in it professionally in years to come? I think this is one sector that can enhance Singapore’s foreign relations with other states and in a sense such “soft power” is definitely power to be reckoned with too.
On another note, Mercy Relief is in the works to launch a new program called “Trash-To-Go”, where they collect unwanted things, like watches, shoes and glasses, and get them refurbished to be donated to local charities and for their overseas expeditions too. If you are interested to help them out, you should touch base with them.
21st Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF)
Finally, from 4th April to 14th April, SIFF is back! I missed last year’s one because I was overseas but I’m definitely going to catch this one. If this doesn’t make you smile, you should go here instead.