Abode of Peace
Some 110 people attended this year’s SIGA, the 31st SIGA, in Brunei Darussalam (Abode of Peace) from 26-29 April 2019. The four-day meeting was organised by SIGA Brunei Darussalam with the theme “Reunite and reignite”, meaning in a sense, to reunite old friends and reignite the flame of friendship with new participants. In a broader sense, it means reuniting previous accomplishments and reigniting new endeavours in various fields of common interest.
SSEAYP is the Ship for Southeast Asia Youth programme mooted by Japan. Its programme first started in 1974 with just five ASEAN nations, namely, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. SIGA is the abbreviation for SSEAYP International General Assembly, an annual meeting held, taking turns, in the current 10 ASEAN countries.
SIGA is an annual event of the SSEAYP stakeholders, comprising government representatives, alumni members, administrative officials and associates from different programmes as well as homestay host families.
“Assalamu-alaikum,” was the first phrase we heard when representatives of SIGA Brunei greeted us at the Brunei International Airport when we emerged from its Arrival Hall.
(For the unfamiliar readers of the other faiths) “Assalamu-alaikum,” is the Islamic greeting which means “Peace be upon you” and the reply is “Wa-alaikum salam” (and peace be upon you, too).
Assalamu-alaikum Wa-Rahmatullahi Wa-Barakhatu is the often-heard Islamic greeting phrase by all the Muslim personnel when they went up the stage to present their speeches or make presentations whether in-house or at visiting places. It means “May the Peace and Blessings of God Be Upon You”, a greeting that can be made at any time of the day or night and at formal gatherings or by individuals when they meet and depart.
This meaningful greeting phrase has become well-known the world over when New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Britain’s royalty Prince William used the phrase in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosques killings.
The annual SIGA is significant and essential as it provides a platform for international relations and sharing of knowledge on culture, economy, industry and country lifestyles of the country where the meeting is held.
Speeches from the Guest-of-Honour and officials, country reports from each ASEAN member country and Japan, and a forum on entrepreneurship and business initiatives dominated the first-day programme of the assembly.
Outings for social contributions and village industry involvements were conducted on the second and third day of the SIGA programme.
Social contribution activities
Some 90 participants of SIGA, including me, were at the Pusat Bahagia (Happiness Centre) to offer our contributions to the “special” people of the Centre in such areas art, cooking and sports, under the “Social Contribution Activities” of the SIGA schedule. The aim is to befriend these “special” people, be involved in their routine activities and, at the same time, keeping in mind that they are “special, so we need to be loving and gentle with them.
I was with a dozen SIGA participants who had pre-opted to be with the “special” people who were doing picture painting at the time of the visit.
Entering the art painting room, I went close to the five youths (four males and one female) who were engrossed in their painting, I was enthralled by the dexterity of their artistic ability. They copied intricate images of designs and people on their drawing paper with skilful strokes of their brushes.
The visitors were also given the opportunity to practise their artistic skills to encourage the Centre’s budding artists.
Mr Nasrullah Mohammed, Manager of the Centre, said these “special” people of the centre can be “between seven and 70”. He said: “There is no age limit. The Centre is open to any people who are autistic and of low IQ. Here, they not only learn art but also Islamic knowledge and participate in other activities like cooking, gardening, sports and music. They can join at any age and leave any time when their parents or guardians want to take them back or if they have secured a job elsewhere.”
The completed works of the Pusat Bahagia “artists” are often displayed for sale.
While these SIGA visitors were in the art painting room, the other SIGA participants, having made their choice of interest a day earlier, went with their respective groups to the other activity rooms of the Centre, and involved themselves in activities such as sewing, cooking and facial paintings.
Tutong District Village Industry
On the third day, the participants visited the Tutong District where each village produced one product. The SIGA participants had the opportunity to watch and have hands-on experiences with the villagers in doing their respective products. I, together with a dozen others, opted to be with the Pusat Kegiatan Warga Emas (Senior Citizens Activity Centre) and separated in the village in different groups.
The senior citizens not only showed us how to weave bamboo baskets of different sizes with varied patterns but also taught us some cooking. After that, we had a delicious lunch prepared by them.
The other groups went for other “industries” like virgin-coconut oil production and kropok (crackers) making.
Among the SIGA participants this year 26 were from Singapore, comprising SSEAYP homestay host families, ex-SSEAYP Participating Youths and SSEAYP International Singapore (SIS) officials.
SIGA is a nice name to hear and an interesting knowledge-sharing assembly. However, there would have been no SIGA if there was no SSEAYP.
SSEAYP, or the Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Programme, has a threefold objectives. It aims:
to promote friendship and mutual understanding among the youths of Japan and the 10 countries in Southeast Asia,
to broaden the youths’ perspectives not only of ASEAN and Japan but of the world, and
to strengthen the participants’ spirit of international cooperation and practical leadership skills for international collaboration.
The participants of SSEAYP develop leadership abilities by interacting with youths from ASEAN and Japan, organising activities, visiting educational institutions, and, the most popular of all, staying with the country’s families in a 3-day stint.
This year’s SSEAYP, which will be held for 51 days from 24 October to 13 December, is the 46th. Singapore families are waiting with excitement to receive them for the homestay from 16 to 18 November when the famed Nippon Maru embarks in Singapore waters for five days.
Farewell to Brunei Darussalam
The Singapore SIGA contingent had a wonderful time in Brunei Darussalam, learning many aspects of the Brunei culture, entrepreneurship and people.
We love Brunei people and their food and, most of all, the Brunei peoples’ friendship. We love Brunei Darussalam, the Abode of Peace.
Sabah Dinner Reception
We left Brunei DarussaIam with a sad heart but we were heading for Sabah for a couple of days’ holiday before returning home.
At the Sabah International Airport, Kota Kinabalu, our SIGA contingent was welcomed by the members of SSEAYP International Malaysia. That evening we had a special dinner reception hosted by its alumni, Kabesa Sabah/Labuan.
The next SIGA will be held in Pattaya Thailand (the Land of Smiles) in March 2020, and it is slated to organise interesting and educative programmes.
Ramadan Kareem, Ramadan Mubarak
Now that Ramadan, the fasting month, begins tomorrow (Monday, 6 May 2019), I take this opportunity to wish all Muslims connected with SSEAYP and SIGA as well as all Muslims around the world “Ramadan Kareem” (Have a charitable Ramadan) and “Ramadan Mubarak” (Adore the Blessed Ramadan).
5 May 2019