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Speech By DPM Lee Hsien Loong, At The People's Association Youth Movement 30th Anniversary Dinner And Dance on Friday, 28 December 2001

28 Dec 2001
Good evening
Ladies and gentlemen

1. I am very happy to join you this evening to celebrate the People's Association Youth Movement's (PAYM) 30th Anniversary.

2. The PAYM was established in 1971, with the objective of providing wholesome activities for youths to develop into responsible citizens. Singapore was then a very different place. We had only recently become independent, and had just started on the long road of economic development. The country was poor, and so were many Singa-poreans. There was a strong sense of national challenge, as Singaporeans worked hard together to overcome the problems and make Singapore a success.

3. For the youths, life was much simpler. PAYM's programmes centred around activities and facilities at 'Community Centres' (CCs). Basketball and table tennis were popular. Only a few homes had televisions, and watching TV at the CCs was another favourite pastime. Many youth groups also participated in gotong royong projects. They were excited about taking part in National Day Parades, and helping to organise parties and dinners for residents.

4. But as Singapore developed and prospered, so too has our society changed. Our youths have progressively become better educated and more cosmopolitan in their outlook. They come from homes with far more creature comforts, and have grown up used to more affluence. They seek new and more interesting experiences. Traditional activities at the CCs are no longer 'in'.

5. To keep pace, the PAYM has had to expand the scope of its activities. The basic approach stays rooted in the 'heartlands', but in place of table tennis and basketball, the PAYM has shifted to trendy new sports like street soccer, floorball and street basketball. It has introduced new courses ranging from ceramic art to home deejaying.

6. The PAYM has also continued to mobilise our youths to do their part for society, showing their care and concern for the less fortunate. The recent PAYM 'Make A Wish Upon A Star' charity drive was a success, raising $200,000 despite the recession. The PAYM also raised more than $700,000 in the President's Challenge Kayaking Charity Expedition 2001. These reflect well on the commitment and effort of our youths to help those in need, as well as on the generosity of Singaporeans.

7. With easy travel, our youths today are eager to seek new experiences in foreign countries. So PAYM has had to widen the geographic scope of its activities. It has built links with youth organisations in Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, India, China, Hong Kong and even Scotland, opening a window to the world for PAYM members to experience diverse cultural, social and economic environments through exchange visits.

8. The PAYM also has programmes for our youths to participate in overseas community service projects. These complement the Youth Expedition Project of the National Youth Council, and the programmes organised by the Singapore International Foundation. One such PAYM initiative is Project INitiate, an overseas adventure and IT-related community service project led by Buona Vista CC Youth Executive Committee. In 1999, more than 200 youth volunteers launched Project INitiate-Nepal. They refurbished 100 used computers, and sent them to Nepal to help the country's computer literacy development. Project INitiate-Nepal has won recognition by the United Nations as an international community service project. The success in Nepal has generated interest from Laos, Cambodia, Maldives and the Seychelles islands for similar programmes.

9. As we celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the PAYM tonight, we therefore have good reasons to feel proud of the way the PAYM has evolved to reach where it is today. However, much remains to be done. While the PAYM can boast of being the largest youth organisation in Singapore with 75,000 members, this is only 10% of our youth population today. And of the Singa-poreans who attend courses at the Community Clubs, only 15% are 28 years old and below. Also the minorities are under-represented in the PAYM, making up only 13% of PAYM members.

10. This is the Internet Age. Youths are spending more time sitting in front of computers, surfing the Net and communicating through emails, ICQ and SMS. But the internet is not the only reality in your lives. You must also grow up sharing common formative experiences in the real world, and bond together as a people. You can only do this through face-to-face interaction. As a nation, we cannot afford to let ourselves drift off individually, to become disembodied, faceless entities in remote corners of cyberspace.

11. The PAYM must therefore continue to keep abreast with changing times, in order to get even more youths interested and involved in its programmes. The purpose is more than drawing the crowd by organising more entertaining, new social activities. By all means, come up with innovative, attractive and enjoyable events. But beneath the fun and games, we should remember that the PAYM's programmes have a deeper objective of reaching out to our youths and helping them develop to their fullest potential as responsible Singapore citizens.

12. Youths are the future of Singapore. You have to build tomorrow's Singa-pore, on the foundations of what the earlier generation has accomplished, through sheer gumption and perseverance. You need to dream your own dreams, define the hopes and aspirations of your generation, blaze your own trail forward, and work together to overcome hurdles and achieve your goals. And in time to come, you will pass on the torch to the future generations of Singaporean youths.

13. Sweeping changes are engulfing the world around us. We will need to remake Singa-pore, to develop new policies to meet new challenges, and to involve Singa-poreans in shaping our future. Nevertheless, certain fundamentals will remain immutable. We will always be a small country. We will always be buffeted by external developments, which will from time to time affect our multi-racial, multi-religious society. We will always have to rely on our own efforts to make a living for ourselves, to protect our homes and families, and to build ourselves a better and more secure future.

14. Therefore we must continue to engage our youths and help them understand the backdrop against which Singapore has to fight to survive, including how we made it to where we are today, the economic and social constraints we have to manage, and the bracing external environment which we live in. They should be exposed to the cultural and social diversity in and outside of Singapore, so that they acquire the instincts and knowledge they need to live in a multi-racial society that is located in a turbulent region within a globalised world.

15. Challenging times, therefore, lie ahead for the PAYM. But I believe you are alive to these challenges. I 'checked-out' the PAYM homepage recently. I was greeted by a photograph of a couple of zany PAYM members with their faces painted in bright colours and a flashing banner with the words 'fun, hip, energetic'. It was a simple, but vivid example of how the PAYM has changed with the times, and how far it has come in the last 30 years. I am confident you will press on toward your vision of being a 'Chapter in Every Youth', always reaching out, always relevant, to touch the lives of every Singaporean youth as they grow up in Singapore and prepare them for the road ahead.

16. Happy 30th Anniversary.