ANGLO-CHINESE SCHOOL (Junior) in Peck Hay Road and the nearby Madrasah Al-Irsyad in Winstedt Road are busy building bridges — of a special kind. They are promoting community bonding as well as racial and religious harmony among their pupils. Their joint efforts to create larger common spaces and foster bonding took on another level on Feb 18, 2006 when about 100 of their pupils took part in a soccer clinic at the madrasah’s football field, adjacent to the Newton Food Centre.
Parents, principals, teachers and grassroots leaders turned up early that Saturday morning to witness the event which also marked the launch of the Free Kicks Centre at the madrasah, formed in collaboration with the two schools.
Of the project, Mr Peter Tan Chong Tze, Principal of ACS (Junior), said: “Such are efforts that we are making to engage children while they are young and in the process, build better understanding among the various races as they grow up in Singapore.”
The Free Kicks programme, launched by the Central Singapore Community Development Council and The Racial and Religious Unity Steering Committee in Central Singapore (TRUST Central), aims to promote community bonding through sports. Children from different cultural backgrounds interact and develop through football.
The pupils from both ACS (J) and Madrasah Al-Irsyad will undergo a six-week training programme overseen by professional coaches from the Football Association of Singapore and some Young Lions. There will be a review at the end of the programme.
In launching the Free Kicks Centre, Mr Heng Chee How, Mayor of Central Singapore District and an MP for Jalan Besar GRC, said: “Racial and religious harmony and mutual confidence cannot be mandated by policy. Neither can they be achieved by mere book knowledge of similarities and differences in culture and practice.
Schools find common ground on football field
“Resilience is founded on the trust and confidence that different people and groups in society have in one another. For that to happen, people and groups must find or create opportunities to live, work and play together, solve problems together, and make progress together.
“The more we can find normal, natural ways of doing this – and the example of ACS (Junior), Madrasah Al-Irsyad and TRUST Central working the ground of a soccer field to enable fun, interaction and friendship is an excellent example – the more we will create enduring positive attitudes and value.”
Mr Heng said that each individual, whether a grassroots or religious leader, principal, parent, teacher, student, boss, unionist, or government official, could actively look out for such opportunities.
“The challenge for us,” he said, “is to open our eyes to see needs, match capabilities and leverage resources, and press on with tenacity to create sustained benefit and reward for friendship and active collaboration. This way of engaging the community will yield the best dividends over time.”
Methodist Message spoke to several pupils from the two schools, and all were thrilled to be able to participate in the soccer clinic.
Jonathan Ong, a Primary 6 pupil at ACS (Junior), is “very excited about this soccer clinic”. He said: “I’ll get to play football with new friends, and together we can sharpen our skills with the help of the coaches.”
The 12-year-old, who has been turning out for his school soccer team for the last two years, said he has two wishes for the coming year: “I hope to get into ACS (Independent) next year, and I hope to be able to represent the ACS (I) team.”
Jeffrey Adam Lightfoot, 11, a Primary 5 pupil at ACS (Junior), wants to “pick up as much as I can from the coaches”. “This is a wonderful opportunity for those of us who like to play football. I look forward to the other five clinic sessions in the coming Saturdays,” he said.
Mohd Hafiz Ishak, 17, Vice-Captain of Madrasah Al-Irsyad soccer team, said: “Not only can I enjoy playing football with my friends from ACS (Junior), but I can also pick up new skills from the coaches.
“I will also be making new friends, and I hope our friendship will grow as we play football together,” added Hafiz, who has been representing his school for the past two years.
His school soccer team-mate, Syaiful Firdaus Hashim, 16, said: “I’m glad that I have this opportunity to learn to play better football from the coaches. I’m also very happy I can meet some Young Lions.”
The soccer clinic supports the Community Engagement Programme highlighted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his recent dialogue with grassroots leaders and students.
In the light of the current difficult security situation worldwide, it is critical that racial and religious harmony in Singapore is not taken for granted, but continuously safeguarded.
STORY AND PICTURES BY PETER TEO