As she counted down during the SG50 celebrations last year, Miss Gabriella Zhao remembers being so touched by the show of patriotism that she cried.
That love spurred her to start United Singapore – a campaign that aims to bring youths together and celebrate their identity as Singaporeans, through different fields like sports and the arts.
The 16-year-old started the campaign in February 2015 after listening to the many discussions about what it means to be Singaporean.
Miss Zhao, who was born in China, is a permanent resident awaiting the approval of her citizenship application. When she first moved here with her parents when she was 10, Miss Zhao says she felt like something was missing.
“Many foreign students like myself are third-culture students, meaning that our parents come from overseas,” the Singapore American School (SAS) student says.
“We’re all over the place, and a sense of belonging has been lost at a young age.”
But in her six years of living here, Miss Zhao has fallen in love with Singapore, which she now regards as her home.
She says: “It doesn’t matter what my background is, I consider Singapore home and I hope to contribute and add value to the society.”
With United Singapore, Miss Zhao hopes that youths here can put aside what makes them different and focus on their similarities through events and projects, regardless of where they come from.
“Diversity is not the dissection of unity. It is a characteristic and essence that makes up Singapore,” she says.
Last week, the campaign held its first event, Le Tour De Singapore. The cycling event saw around 100 participants visit different iconic venues such as Gardens by the Bay, the Esplanade and Marina Barrage.
Half the participants are Singapore-born, while the other half have parents who came from overseas.
At each stop, the participants were asked a series of questions regarding national identity and their responses were recorded on video.
The questions included “What are some common misconceptions of the stereotypes between local and international youths?” and “How do you define a home?”.
The responses from the students were recorded and will be made into a short film.
Miss Zhao smiles as she says: “I was amazed at the support we were getting, it made it very clear that people do believe in the vision of United Singapore.”
Not only did the number of participants exceed her expectations, she also received sponsors for food too.
Other than herself, United Singapore has five other delegates from SAS. Their next project is to produce a feature-length documentary film about national identity.
Miss Zhao’s father, who declined to be named, says that her campaign embodies the good values that she was raised with and that he is proud of her determination to bring the youths of Singapore together.
Her work has impressed her teachers at SAS too.
Mr Bart Millar, a robotics teachers from the school, says: “Gabriella is a remarkable young woman building a programme that makes real personal connections, in the real world, one person at a time.”
Miss Zhao says that Singapore will always be her home.
“PR or citizen, it doesn’t really matter, if I identify this place as my home. This is my home, and there’s no one else that can really stop me from feeling this way,” she says.
– Miss Gabriella Zhao
This article was first published on March 6, 2016.
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