In an article written for the Straits Times in January 2014, Singapore’s then-Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Mr Lawrence Wong, referred to the vision of Singapore’s former Foreign Minister and one of the nation’s pioneer leaders, the late Mr S Rajaratnam, which called for Singapore to be a “democracy of deeds and not words”.1 One Singaporean who has truly embodied that vision is Mr Sarjit Singh, who inspires many through his multiple roles in strengthening the nation’s social fabric.
An engineering consultant, Sarjit currently serves as the Chairman of the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle (IRCC) at Radin Mas, a position he has been holding since 2008. His efforts to promote racial harmony have also seen him serve as a Member of the OnePeople.sg2 Management Committee from 2011 to 2014, where he also served on its community engagement sub- committee over the same period.
Sarjit explained that his motivation to promote racial harmony comes from his personal experience during a troubled time in Singapore’s history. “The racial riots and tension in Singapore when I was still young showed me the importance of strong inter-racial relations in Singapore.”3 Moreover, his exposure to different races and cultures when he was younger is another factor behind his efforts in promoting racial harmony. He added: “I was born into a village where all my neighbours were Malay but I studied at Christian schools like Saint Joseph’s Institution. I grew up with people who had different beliefs.”4
Deservingly, Sarjit was recognised as a champion by the Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth in inter-racial and religious harmony at the inaugural IRCC Awards Night [earlier this year] when he received two honours – the Colours Award for being an outstanding IRCC Chairman, along with the Harmony Award for Radin Mas IRCC for the Best Project, ‘Race with Faith 2015’.5
However, Sarjit’s contributions do not just end there. He has also been actively involved in several grassroots organisations and committees. He was the Chairman of the Bukit Merah Central Residents’ Committee (RC) from 1987 to 2003 and, presently, the Vice Chairman of the Bukit Merah Community Club Management Committee. At Radin Mas, he serves in multiple roles. These include being a Member of and Silver Ambassador for the Radin Mas Community Emergency and Engagement Committee, Member of the Town Council Neighbourhood Standing Committee for 2011- 2012, Secretary of the Community Arts and Culture Committee since 2012 and, currently, the Vice Chairman of the Community Sports Club.
An active sportsman, Sarjit also assists in organising the ‘Harmony’ bowling tournament every year. He has also, in the past, played in inter-constituency hockey and other tournaments. He was previously a Management Committee member of Singapore Khalsa Association (SKA) and helped to organise overseas hockey tours.
Sarjit has, incredibly, been able to still find time to be a Trainer for the Community Engagement Programme (a Ministry of Home Affairs programme), a registered Mediator with Central Community Mediation Centre since 2007, a Family Life Champion for Radin Mas from 2005 to 2008 and a licensed Solemniser for marriages since 2004. He also served on the advisory committees of two Institute of Technical Education (ITE) campuses from 1990 to 2001.
With such an incredible list of contributions under his belt, two questions come to mind – how does Sarjit find the time to do this amount of public service work and what motivates him to contribute so much time and resources in this regard?
The 69-year old grandfather explained that his entry into grassroots work was the result of a chance meeting. He was working for the General Electric Company (GEC) in 1977 when he ran into former Singapore minister, Mr Lim Chee Onn, who was then Member of Parliament for Bukit Merah and worked for Keppel Corporation. The express lifts in Keppel Corporation’s then-Ocean Towers Building were installed and maintained by GEC. Recognising Sarjit as one of his residents, Mr Lim approached him to come forward and serve in the grassroots. This chance invitation turned into a lifetime of public service. He was appointed to the advisory committee of the Bukit Merah ITE and started off as a Secretary at the RC.
“Sarjit has been an active and dedicated grassroots leader with Radin Mas constituency for 29 years. A man who wears many hats, he currently holds four grassroots appointments in Radin Mas constituency. He is also a licensed solemniser, a registered mediator and a Silver Ambassador among the many portfolios that he is currently holding.
He has been the Chairman of Radin Mas IRCC since 2008 and plays an important role to roll out activities and programmes to build and establish deeper understanding and trust among the various religious communities in Radin Mas.
It is not an overnight success for him, as it all started with a single step to contribute something back to the community 29 years ago. Just as every little drop contributes to an ocean, every effort goes a long way in making a difference to the community one lives in. I am glad to see his involvement receiving recognition and look forward to his continued contributions toward the community.
Mr Sam Tan
Minister of State
Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Manpower Singapore
Tragedy struck Sarjit a few years later though as his first wife unexpectedly passed away. However, that episode also taught him an important lesson – the value of the social circles that he had made through his grassroots involvement. “The support of my grassroots colleagues during that difficult time inspired me to want to come out and contribute more as I realised how important it was to do things for others.”6
Sarjit admitted that the biggest challenge he faced in his public service involvement was time management as he had to juggle his work, family and multiple community roles. “As a result, family time was sacrificed as I missed many family functions. However, it was well worth it!”7 To help him address this issue, Sarjit often brought his family along for many of his grassroots activities.
He explained with pride that his two children then and, more recently, his second wife, have been party to his community service involvement. For his public service contributions, Sarjit was awarded the Pingat Bakti Masyarakat (the Public Service Medal)8 in 1994, the Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow Award for Community Service in 2000 (for ITE Alumni) and the Outstanding Community Award by Radin Mas Citizens Consultative Committee in 2009.
Besides his contributions, Sarjit also inspires others in continuously upgrading themselves through his own actions. He started his education at the Vocational and Industrial Training Board (VITB)9 at its Balestier Road campus. Upon graduation, he joined the Public Utilities Board (PUB) as an In-Plant-Trainee, which Sarjit described as somewhat of “an apprenticeship scheme”. At the same time, he attended night classes to complete an Advance Craft Certificate and sat for exams conducted by the City & Guilds (United Kingdom) through distance learning.10
After two years at PUB, Sarjit joined GEC, where he again upgraded his qualifications through a four-year diploma course at the Management Development Institute of Singapore, completing it in 1986. His desire to further upgrade himself saw Sarjit completing a Master in Business Administration programme at the Victoria University of Technology in 2001 and also being awarded a Certificate in Academic Excellence in International Logistics and Business Strategy. After he was retrenched in 2000 when GEC was acquired by General Electric, Sarjit did not give up and used his qualifications and experience to start his own consulting firm, Engineering and Management Services.11
In his article, Mr Wong further commented that Mr Rajaratnam’s vision is a “…high goal worth striving for, which gets to the heart of what makes for a healthy democracy – an active citizenry, engaged in the community, working together for the public good.”12 Well, through his never-say-die attitude and determined spirit, Sarjit has certainly contributed significantly towards a healthy democracy of deeds in Singapore.
1 Towards a ‘democracy of deeds’ for Singapore, Lawrence Wong, The Straits Times, June 3, 2014.
2 OnePeople.sg was established in 1997 to promote racial harmony and spearhead programmes and initiatives to bring the different ethnic communities together. It was launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as an organisation that champions racial harmony initiatives in Singapore. See http://www.onepeople.sg.
3. Interview with Mr Sarjit Singh, October 7, 2015.
4 Racial Harmony Champion wins Award, The New Paper, August 1, 2015.
5 As part of its efforts to expand its outreach to engage the youth, Radin
Mas IRCC has been organising youth-centric events annually since 2013. In 2015, it organised the ‘Race with Faith 2015’ which was modelled after The Amazing Race concept where participants had to complete tasks at designated stopover stations which were the various religious organisations in Radin Mas division. Ibid. See also https:// www.ircc.sg/en/Programmes/2015/Jan/Radin.
6 Interview with Mr Sarjit Singh, op. cit. 7 Ibid.
The Pingat Bakti Masyarakat was instituted in 1973. The medal is awarded to any person who has rendered commendable public ser- vice in Singapore or for his or her achievement in the field of arts and letters, sports, the sciences, business, the professions and the labour movement. See http://www.pmo.gov.sg/nationaldayawards.
9 The VITB was the predecessor to the Institute of Technical Education, a post-secondary institution that provides pre-employment training to secondary school leavers and continuing education and training to working adults. See www.moe.gov.sg.
10 It boils down to passion, time management, The New Paper, September 8, 2014.
11 Ibid. 12 Towards a ‘democracy of deeds’ for Singapore, op. cit.
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