Alan Soh

I am my own columnist, sharing my own thoughts and experiences!


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“Bridge The Gap”: A Youth Discussion On Inequality And The Class Divide In Singapore

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Yesterday morning, I attended this discussion session on inequality at *Scape Centre to expand my thinking, and to hear more in terms of perspectives of other young Singaporeans on this current hot topic. This is good because this closed-door event is not organized by any other governmental organizations, with a “government statement”. There was no media coverage. The discussion was organised under the rules of Chatham House, where all participants and speakers involved agreed that everything that has been said during this event will not be used for reporting. Hence, everyone who turned up was able to share his/her most honest insights based on observations and growing-up experiences.

I haven’t read the book titled “This Is What Inequality Looks Like”, written by Ms Teo You Yenn. I will find an opportunity to search for it to read one day.

I believe there is a certain extent of inequality in all countries, including Singapore. The crucial point, is how do we acknowledge it, tackle it as a community of Singaporeans, and take concrete actions to uplift others who are struggling to scale up in life, due to their disadvantaged backgrounds.

During break-out group discussions, I gave my own inputs, from the angle of someone who is from a low-middle family background, neighbourhood school, Normal (Academic) stream, EM2, ITE, hard-of-hearing, late mature honours degree student-to-be-next-year.

Speaking from the point-of-view of someone who went through the education system in the 1980s, I always thought MOE had a bit hand contributing to inequality among Singaporeans as they grow up. There is some degree of educational stratification, resulting from the effects of Primary 3 streaming examinations.

I guess I must be the only one who could be from a low SES (socio-economical status) background, in a room full of university students, civil servants, academics, editors, lawyers etc. Thankfully there was one media professional who understood fully what I meant because we are the same age-group! Haha..

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There was one speaker who spoke on 3 elements which are needed to beat inequality – choice, circumstance, and community.

On personal basis, I think we must always remember this – we always have a choice to decide becoming good or bad. Once in a while, it is okay to whine but to make a complaint every time is totally pointless. Developing the resilience muscle is what we need to do. A positive outlook is essential.

Being aware of own circumstances, I say, it is a life skill. Look at where you are now, with a macro view. With a calm rational mind, I believe we can strategize with a plan, and with a never-give-up attitude, we can aim to go to where we want to go. Adversity would only make us stronger.

The odds might stack up against us. In my growing-up years, I learnt that when our parents are unable to provide us with the resources we need, we should all the more think about how we can go out to get them, using our own ability.

If you can visualize it, you can achieve it definitely. The warrior mentality.

Community wise, I think it will be good to be aware of the available avenues one can turn to, for help. A community of supporting hands. To navigate smoothly through the seas of life, it matters too when it comes to whom you know.

Your inner circle of friends.

Your inner circle of influences.

Are they able to support and challenge you intellectually, to elevate you to a higher level?

I am a firm believer of positive peer influence. I often emphasize this heavily to the younger ones – You have to be selective with friends whom you mix around with. Like that saying goes, “If you want to fly like an eagle, don’t swim with the ducks!”

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The questions posed are difficult. This should spur us all to think hard about inequality in Singapore.

What kind of Singapore do we want to see in 15 or 50 years’ time?

Kudos to Clarence and Jin Yao for doing this grounds-up initiative!

My own viewpoint is that to beat inequality, it is not a matter of how fast you progress ahead of others but more of how well you improve and soar higher in life. Do bear in mind that there are some Singaporeans among us, who are late bloomers.

To tackle this issue, for a start, I think we ourselves can really start sharing our personal stories on online media platforms about how we overcome odds/challenges to beat perceived inequality on our own, to go where we want to go, to be a source of inspiration and encouragement to fellow Singaporeans who are currently struggling at their disadvantaged backgrounds, and could fall through the cracks.

And for those of us who succeed eventually, please do give back and assist those who are now in similar situations as you were before.

 

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Quick thoughts – Exams

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For someone like me, a young working adult who is back at textbooks after a good 10-year+ hiatus, it is definitely not easy. I believe this happens to many of us who are in similar circumstances. Familiar?

I had my first paper yesterday.

Yes, I do pay attention in class and do my assignments diligently but somehow the anxiety sets in during moments before entering the examination room. The mind may go half blank. A sentiment shared by a few of my course-mates in our Whatsapp group chat.

Tackling 4 out of 7 essay questions are quite a challenge.

You should be able to write fluently if you understand the lesson concepts well.

Keep cool and calm. Use pencil to scribble quick notes on question paper to remember facts.

Have sufficient rest the day before.

Oh yes, I think it is advisable to have a half-full meal before the exam paper. You would not want to have that heavy urge to go toilet halfway during the exam time-slot right?

Good luck to all those of us who are having exams during this year-end period! Fight on! Don’t give up! 🙂


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Breaking The Sound Barrier (Part 2)

Breaking the Sound Barrier

Breaking the SOUND barrier. Because there is NO you or them.

Through my NTU mentees, a journalist from TODAY came to knew about this project, and approached me to seek my inputs on questions he had about employment for deaf Singaporeans today.

1. What were some of the difficulties you faced during job hunt as someone who is hard of hearing? What was some of the feedback, or comments you heard from prospective employers? Has that changed, why or why not?
My response:
First and foremost, I am not born totally deaf. Hence I am not deaf mute.
I am born with a dead right ear, which means I still go to normal schools communicating with people with my left ear until the days when I was a student of ITE Bishan when I had bacterial infection in my left ear. As such I have to wear a hearing aid.
I am effectively bilingual. I can talk to anyone normally.
I did a cochlear implant surgery on my right ear in 2011.
At that point of time, I somehow knew that it will be MORE challenging, should I apply for jobs in future.
I am thankful that SG Enable and SPD employment support division provides me help.
Often in my younger days, I struggled with the dilemma of making my condition known in my CV to be submitted to employers. Because I am worried – Will it blow my chances of being granted a job interview? Being older now, I am more accepting of my disability and thus making it known in my job applications.
Frankly speaking, till today I hesitate to include phone numbers in job applications because what if I could not hear the recruiters well over the phone? Unless the mode of contact is via mobile text messaging.
Having said so, I still have to be honest about my hearing problem.
Interview sessions are for both parties to find out more about each other pertaining the job opening.
My method is – I try to be more comfortable, and perceive the potential employer “as a friend”, which it takes away the stress of “trying too hard to impress the other party”, and just be myself. The other party would also feel more comfortable. Words will come out freely and naturally. If the other party wishes to converse in Mandarin, I am able to switch effortlessly.
I try to do some small talk first to find something in common between us.
Once there is a common interest, there is rapport built and mood becomes more relaxing.
For sure, I must of course do some research on the employer before attending the interview so that I am able to answer his questions.
This is what I learnt from my journalism module when I studied Mass Communications at MDIS. The interview technique.
I guess, the little advantage which I think I have over other Singaporeans with similar condition is that, I can talk things upfront with employers during job interviews, telling them what I can or cannot do, things which interest me, my working style, experiences which I hope to gain etc.
The first question I always asked, is about communication aspect.
Questions like – Are you open to giving work instructions via emails or whatsapp? How often should we communicate face-to-face?
The feedback I got from employers, often is that “you look normal okay”, “you worry too much”, “nothing to worry about communication part since we can have a normal conversation like this”.
If I do not get the job, I would rather choose to think that I don’t fit the requirements than about my hearing disability. 
I don’t cry over spill milk. I just move on.
I sit down, reflect and do something about my employability skills.
This year I intend to upgrade myself academically so that I can deepen my existing knowledge and skills.
The most important thing is, the deaf individual should display a keen interest to learn something new and be humble.
Having that can-do spirit.
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2. What do you think employers today should change, in terms of hiring deaf persons, or persons who are hard of hearing? 
My response:
Like able-bodied Singaporeans, the deaf community have various talents and abilities.
Very often we Singaporeans tend to look at people, passing judgement first on what they cannot do. These days, we become very critical of others.
I urge everyone including employers to look at surrounding people on what they can do first.
This is the biggest take-away I gain, from my previous job at a social enterprise, interacting with special needs workers.
If we give them opportunities, they might surprise you sometimes. Many of them could be raw diamonds, having innate potential to go far in life.
There is always a solution to every problem, if we are willing to pause, and think harder.
Be open-minded.
Be willing to learn the various communication modes with the deaf and hard-of-hearing such as simple sign-language or using Whatsapp (thanks to mobile technology).
They cannot hear well. They are very visual. Employers can give simple instructions in the form of pictures.
Work processes can be redesigned in a way that these deaf employees can do what they are required to do, bypassing their limitations. 
A little job stress is however essential, to make them grow. No pain, no gain.
If they do something well, praise them publicly for job well done. This will further boost their self-confidence.
Best still after sometime, employer can send them for skills-grading courses to enhance their competencies and self-dignity; and with skills certification, they can command a higher take-home pay.
We also need more deaf role models to be highlighted in mass media.
Sharing their stories of how they overcome odds to become what they are today.
This is to change the perceptions of the deaf community in the eyes of employers and Singaporeans alike.

Singapore should be truly an inclusive society where we really LEAVE NO ONE BEHIND.

Let’s lift every Singaporean up together. 

3. Why do you think employers might not be overly keen on hiring deaf people? 
My response:
Very often I believe some employers might think that “they cannot hear, cannot listen to work instructions, need to always look after them, as such they cannot make it.”
Or they might perceive that all members of deaf community are lowly educated, have bad attitudes, cannot handle a single job well.
This is a very flawed perception of them. They can be further trained.
Many of them are nice people.
As such, “Breaking the Sound Barrier” project initiated by Wong Jia Rong and his team aims to correct any misconceptions about the deaf, hoping employers across all sectors in Singapore understand that these special Singaporeans have employable qualities too.
The only little issue is – they cannot hear you well.


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Do you tell MFA where you are going when going overseas?

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First and foremost, this is not a blog entry to do any form of publicity for Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). Rather, I see it as a form of generating more public awareness among Singaporeans.

How often, OR do you inform MFA where you are heading to prior to your overseas trips?

How many Singaporeans do that?

This could be the question posed by Ms Joan Pereira, Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar GRC during a Committee of Supply  (COS) debate for MFA in Singapore Budget 2017 during Parliament on Thursday 2 March 2017

Mr Maliki Osman, Senior Minister of State for MFA replied, saying that many Singaporeans who travel overseas don’t bother to e-register with MFA. He added that there is a “big disparity” between 400,000 e-registrants and the 7.5 million outbound trips made by Singaporeans in 2016 – and this does not include the more than 16 million overland trips made to neighbouring Malaysia every year.

I may be hard of hearing. Yes I am not required to apply for any exit permit with Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) but I make it a point to e-register with MFA whenever going overseas. Why?

This is so that in the event of any life-threatening situation, MFA in Singapore has a way to locate me, and advises me what to do, be it phone-call/email or text messaging. This is very important especially if I am travelling alone.

Putting Singapore embassies or missions aside, do you know this is a FREE service offered by MFA to assist all Singapore citizens before they step out of the country?

It merely takes few minutes to do it online.

You may be heading overseas for work or studies. The information you provide to MFA will allow its relevant officials to contact you in order to make sure that you are safe and alright should anything happens during your period of overseas travel or stay, and offers you help. Wherever you are in the world.

Mr Maliki said, 8 out of 10 calls that MFA currently receives during emergency situations are from the next-of-kin of Singaporeans who did not e-register, Mr Maliki said.

He gave an example of a Singaporean in China who had not e-registered but later complained that MFA did not reach out to him after a disaster occurred.

Unfortunately, many Singaporeans don’t bother. They take many things for granted. Sigh.
Either they really don’t know about this or just see no need to do it. Or ermm..just lazy?

Personally speaking, although it is a voluntary act, I think this is a matter of personal responsibility. For myself and family members.

Well if anything happens, please don’t complain the Government doesn’t care.

This is the web portal URL for E-register service with MFA – click here.


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Helping people take flight in 2017!

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It is a brand new year.

It is time for us to take charge of our lives, and strive to equip ourselves with new skills so that we can be independent and fly high.

A friend of mine has founded a new social enterprise called Taking Flight 启飞, which aims to help provide fair employment opportunities and personal development for disadvantaged youths in Singapore (which includes physically challenged, at-risk and those below the poverty line).

This is achieved through business process consultations with small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) to clearly identify portions of the value chain that could be undertaken by these Singaporean youths.

 

Together with the job match, Taking Flight will look to value-add to the persons in the following areas:

i) Personal Development (such as On-boarding, Workplace training, Continuing Education)

ii) Financial Development (such as Coaching/ Mentoring by experienced volunteers, financial literacy skills)

iii) Career Development

 

The social enterprise has currently started efforts in the financial industry to take on a few different roles starting March 2017. This pilot effort will provide part-time employment for a duration of 3 months before review and scaling.

Looking for Singaporeans or Permanent Residents who are:

– aged 18 years old and above,

– able to speak simple English with anyone outdoors,

– can be from disadvantaged families, physically-challenged, deaf, or youths-at-risks,

– IT savvy enough to use a smartphone or a tablet PC.

If you or know any fellow Singaporeans who have a keen desire to break out of their cycles to become someone strong and independent one day, would like to occupy free time slots to earn some income on part-time basis, this is the place for them to start embarking on a journey of personal transformation.

Working hours are flexible. The jobscope is doable and it pay wells.

The founder has more than 15 years of prior work experience in conceptualisation, implementation and reviewing of the Youth Sector Development Framework and establishing grant relations with many non-profit organisations in Singapore.

He is not looking at 20 individuals, in fact more than 100.

To find out more details via a non-obligatory chat over a cup of friendly coffee, or to express interest, you may e-mail me at alan.soh@hotmail.sg or Mr Yap Keng Hwee at yapkenghwee@yahoo.com.


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Quick Thoughts on LBGT

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He could not tolerate 2 men kissing, so the 29-year old man became angry and went on a shooting spree killing 49 fellow human beings who were in a gay bar in Orlando with a rifle gun. It happened this week.

What wrong did these people do to end up being killed tragically?

It chills me when I see there are people among us who cheered the shootings made by the American killer, thinking along the line that “oh these LGBT people really deserve to die, if only we can do the same to the same group of people here in Singapore”.

Why do we have people in this world who just could not accept differences among us?

 
Please allow me to see things in an objective viewpoint.
Who started the “war” in the first place? Very often, I think it is the non-LGBT group especially the very conservative ones with a religious perspective.
 
Group A don’t offend Group B, yet Group B keep attacking Group A.
It is natural that Group A would rebut back, seeking equal treatment actively.
 
This is because Group B cannot tolerate the existence of Group A.
(Of course I don’t deny the fact that there are some LGBTs who keep pushing the boundary line.)
 

Come on, we are all not saints.

 
Among people in the LGBT group, they could be our brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunties, sons, daughters, or very close friends. They did not offend you but are you going to end the relationship simply because of their sexual orientation?
 
Ask ourselves – are we willing to sit down and talk openly with them in the first place, seek to understand them without any pre-judgement? Are our eyes blinded by misconceptions? More importantly, do we respect and accept them for who they are? Are they friendly to you? Do you still love them the same as before?
 

It is regrettable that there are people in this world who just don’t understand the simple saying – “Treat others as how you would like to be treated”.

 
Many of us are not patient, and don’t listen enough to understand the other party. Some of us simply look at matters from our own perspective. Cannot give and take.
This explains why conflicts or wars still exist in many parts of the world today. 😦


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Inclusiveness. Perception.

A recent survey commissioned by Lien Foundation reveals that in these 1000+ respondents, only 1 in 10 Singaporeans is confident of interacting with a child with special needs. 50% of the adults polled are comfortable with having a child with special needs in their children’s class. And finally, only 8% of the people polled are willing to make a child with special needs feel welcomed.

What does it say about us? Why? Why this discomfort? Is it because of misconception, pre-judgement or stereo-typing? Thinking that people with special needs among us are “stupid”, “unable to contribute to society”, “always depending on others for help”, “can’t achieve much in life” or “better not to be seen and heard”? Why are there Singaporeans not walking the talk about inclusiveness in the Lion City?

In my course of work, my interactions with Singaporeans with special needs often made me go awe. Because I discovered some of them have hidden talents. Most importantly, these people are easy to get along with. They are very friendly people. I feel at ease talking to them.

We should focus at what these people can do, NOT what they cannot do. Like anyone of us, some of them are born with different gifts. From there, we can redesign job-scopes to cater to their strengths. They are a hidden pool of potential talents, if we give them opportunities to develop their abilities. They are raw diamonds.

I always believe disability happens only if I am disabled in the mindset, not my physical limitations. Of course people are entitled to their own opinions at the end of the day.
This is beyond my control.

At the end of the day, it is about our perceptions. How we see this special group of people. It is a matter of our willingness to understand these fellow Singaporeans with special needs.

Let us open our hearts and minds.  They might just surprise you with their abilities. 🙂