SINGAPORE — Mr Nor Syazwan Abdul Majid, 27, was initially intimidated in his efforts to have his voice heard by the authorities over his push to ensure the conservation of kampung houses on Pulau Ubin.
But over time, Mr Syazwan, a community volunteer and creator of Wan’s Ubin Journal, overcame his apprehensions and pressed his case effectively.
As a panellist in the third instalment of the TODAY Live Webinar series on Friday (Oct 20), he urged other youths to take the plunge to engage the authorities over issues that matter to them.
The topic under discussion was: How much of a say do youths have on government policies?
Mr Syazwan’s Wan’s Ubin Journal is a social platform that advocates for the preservation and celebration of the culture and heritage of the Orang Pulau community of Pulau Ubin.
“How do I make my point clear to the politicians to say that these kampung houses are not just slums or have hazards or are just disease-ridden, that there is actually value in them?” he said during the webinar.
He added that most politicians are also older, which makes engaging them an even more daunting task.
Mr Syazwan referred to one instance when he went head-to-head with nature groups after signs were posted to discourage foraging at Changi Beach.
He said that while the nature groups had good intentions, the signs had left the islander and coastal dweller communities, who engage in foraging for molluscs and shellfish on these beaches, feeling concerned and vulnerable.
“During this engagement with the Government at that time, there were only like three of us who were from the rural community, but the other overwhelming 90 per cent or more were from the nature community,” he said.
“So it’s very easy for us to be silenced.”
Even though this seemed at the time like an uphill challenge to Mr Syazwan, he urges youths not to “underestimate the power in your hand”.
“Continue to believe in yourself, that’s the most important thing,” he said.
“You need to believe in yourself because, in society, there’ll be a lot of people who will be naysayers, they will try to shut you down. You always need to believe in yourself.”
Another panellist, Mr David Tay, deputy director of youth engagement and youth leadership at the National Youth Council, urged youths to start small with their civic participation.
If these young poeple need to focus on their studies, then “just continue to study hard”, he added.
“Don’t feel pressured that you need to participate at the highest level; you don’t need to advocate for something fervently to participate.”
He said it can be as simple as learning more about something because building awareness of the topic can help.
“And maybe if there are pockets of time that’s available, then talk to people. You can travel, you can go to the community to volunteer at your own convenience.”
The webinar series was conducted in a hybrid format — with a live audience comprising about 50 youths from tertiary institutions and secondary schools, while being streamed live on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube.
It followed the recently published TODAY Youth Survey 2023.
The survey found that 75 per cent agree that it is important for young people to participate actively in civic discourse. Just over half (54 per cent) agree that the Government is receptive to differing or opposing views about its policies.
Among the respondents, about six in 10, or 58 per cent, believe that the Government is actively engaging and listening to young people on important issues.
The same proportion believes that youths’ views are taken into consideration by the Government in its policymaking.
Moderator Elizabeth Neo noted that slightly under half of respondents feel that the Government doesn’t exactly consider the opinions and the feedback of youths in policymaking. She asked the panellists whether that sentiment reflects what is happening on the ground.
Senior Journalist Taufiq Zalizan said this could be the case as youths groups are sometimes consulted a mere hour before a policy was announced. As such he said that the way youths are engaged is also important.
“They felt that, oh why did they bother with the engagement?” said Mr Taufiq.
“I think there’s quite a number of (social media) posts that mentioned that youths came in thinking that it was a two-way street and they could raise ideas.
“But it ended up that it became kind of like a lecture of sorts where the Government explained their stance.”
Ms Clarisse Cheong, a 17-year-old National Junior College student who attended the talk, mentioned how the webinar was “insightful” and agreed with how youths should not be overly reliant on social media for civic participation.
“People tend to forward things on social media without pausing to think about the legitimacy of it, which leads to a lot of fake news being shared,” she said.
She said she would prefer more alternative avenues for civic participation so that it “would be easier for us to step into this field”.