Published: 19 July 2022
Mdm Shie Yong Lee, Commissioner of Prisons;
Mr Phillip Tan, Chairman of Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG);
Mr Kong Kok Kiang, Vice-President of Singapore Chefs’ Association (SCA);
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. I am very happy to be able to join you at the Grand Finale of the Yellow Ribbon Culinary Competition.
2. I would like to thank all the 40 participants for your effort and enthusiasm, our partners for supporting the participants in their culinary journey, in particular the chef mentors from the SCA, and the family members for cheering the participants on.
3. My congratulations too, to the winners of the competition. Well done!
4. The competition is an annual event organised by the Yellow Ribbon Project (YRP), in partnership with the SCA. The YRP is a national campaign that aims to:
(a) raise awareness of the need to give ex-offenders and their families a second chance,
(b) generate community acceptance of ex-offenders, and
(c) inspire community action to reintegrate ex-offenders into society.
5. The competition serves two objectives. First, it equips inmates with skills and enhances their employability in the Food and Beverage (F&B) industry. Second, it raises awareness on the work programmes in our prisons to support the reintegration of inmates into society.
Ability of Food to Connect People
6. Food has the ability to bring people, the family and the community together. I see it in my own family, and I hope that each of us can use food – the preparation, eating, getting together – to enhance our family relationships and strengthen our family bonds. For our friends undergoing your rehabilitation and reintegration journey, food is a very powerful platform which can enhance your journey. The dishes I tasted were very nice and well curated, and shows that we take pride in our local cuisine in Singapore.
7. A unique aspect of the Singapore food heritage is our hawker culture. Singaporeans from all walks of life gather at hawker centres to dine, chat and bond. Local hawker food reminds many of us of Singapore, our home, when we are away. For example, whenever I come back from an overseas trip, I will go to the hawker centre and order nasi goreng as it is something always I miss. Our hawker culture is indeed very close to our hearts.
8. Therefore, we themed this year’s competition as “A Taste of Home” and asked participants to redefine local hawker food that reminded them of Singapore. Participants took the concept a step further to cook food that also reminded them of their love for their family.
9. I was very touched when I heard many of you share that you learnt the recipes from your family members. The food here today represents something that connects you to your family, and brings back sweet memories.
10. One of the participants, whom I shall call “Harry”, whipped up a Hainanese steamed chicken dish called “Home”, which he learned from his late grandmother. It is a “must learn” dish in his family, and thus is of personal significance. Being the eldest grandson, Harry sees it as his responsibility to continue the legacy of the dish. It is also his way of remembering his grandmother. Tasting his dish, I felt that it was really delicious and the sauce was flavourful and had a good texture.
Importance of Employment and Community Support
11. People in Singapore love eating out. We have a vibrant F&B industry, which provides good career opportunities. YRSG offers interested inmates the Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) Higher Certificate in Food Services (Culinary Arts) under the Singapore WSQ. This will enable inmates to find F&B jobs after their release.
12. YRSG also engages industry partners to provide skills training and prepare ex-offenders for the workplace. For example, YRSG has been expanding the TAP & Grow programmes. Under TAP & Grow, YRSG partners employers, trade associations and training institutions to establish training academies in our prisons. Inmates can undergo industry-specific training and secure jobs in the relevant sectors after their release. There will also be opportunities for further skills upgrading post-release.
13. Why do we call it TAP & Grow? “TAP” stands for Train and Place. We upskill inmates and then place them in jobs. TAP also symbolises tapping on the potential of inmates and on the collaboration with our partners. “Grow”, on the other hand, refers to our effort to deepen the skills of inmates and develop a long-term career pathway for them.
14. YRSG launched TAP & Grow in the Precision Engineering sector in 2019, and expanded it to the Media sector in 2020, and then to the Logistics sector in 2021. About 650 inmates will benefit from TAP & Grow in these three sectors in 2022.
15. I have been very fortunate to be able to work closely with my colleagues in the Singapore Prison Service, YRSG and all our various partners and organisations. I sincerely thank all my colleagues and all our partners for working hard and believing in this effort.
16. I’m happy to share some of the successes that our inmates have achieved. Under the Media TAP & Grow, the training academy that we launched with Mediacorp offered two Diploma courses for the first batch of 28 inmates in November 2020. Inmates learned about social media marketing, content production and content management.
17. The first batch graduated in April and August 2021. As at March this year, 11 graduates had been released, of whom four secured media-related jobs, three obtained non-media-related jobs, and the rest were undergoing interview and placement. We wish them all the best. The second batch is expected to commence their studies in the third quarter of this year.
18. To cater to the aspirations of more inmates, YRSG will be launching TAP & Grow in the Food Services sector this year. I would like to thank our partners for making this initiative possible. We would not have been able to do it without your partnership.
19. Individual employers can also do their part to support second chances. I would like to share the story of one such employer – Mr Ivan Goh. Ivan is a part-time hawker who has served as a befriender and counsellor with our prisons for the past six years. His longer-term goal is to set up hawker stalls that can be run by ex-offenders, and to view them as partners rather than employees. Since 2020, he has hired two ex-offenders at his stall and trained them in cooking and running the business. Beyond culinary skills, he teaches them life skills like time and financial management. In the future, he plans to join YRSG as an employer partner and hire more ex-offenders as he expands his business. We wish Ivan all the best.
20. Support for ex-offenders comes from various sources. It comes from employer and training partners like Ivan and the SCA, among many others. It also comes from our family and friends, as the family members here with us today demonstrate. These are all strong motivators for ex-offenders.
21. I would like to emphasise one other source of community support, and that is ex-offenders themselves. They can serve as role models by proving that ex-offenders can achieve success.
22. I am happy to share the experience of Ms Atikah Jamil and Mr Aliff Abidin, a husband-and-wife team. Atikah and Aliff were released from the Drug Rehabilitation Centre in 2018 and 2017. After their release, they secured jobs in telemarketing and F&B with YRSG’s support. Subsequently, they decided to venture out on their own. They are now running two F&B businesses. One is a Mookata stall, as they love Thai food and observed there were limited Halal Mookata options in Singapore. The other is a corndog bazaar stall, as they share an interest in bazaars.
23. Atikah and Aliff spoke to the 40 participants of the culinary competition to encourage them in their rehabilitation journey. They also shared their experiences in the F&B sector, in particular how they overcame various challenges through the support of their family and friends. Many of our ex-offenders out there have been doing great work show that it can be done. I think the future looks good but we all must continue to work hard together.
24. On this note, I would like to end off with some words to the participants. First, look forward to trying more of your food today, and I hope that you will continue to hone and deepen your culinary skills, find opportunities, and have the right work ethic to continue on this journey. If you decide to pursue a career in F&B, I hope to be able to try your food at your stall or restaurant one day. When that happens, please reach out to me, and I will go down to have a taste!
25. Also, do remember the importance of your family. You mean a lot to them, and I hope you will reciprocate their love for you. I have seen many family members visiting inmates in the prison – I could feel their love for you, and could tell that they hope to see you back home. When you’re back, play your part and have a lot of patience, because reintegration takes time.
26. To the family members, I thank you for the support that you give to your loved ones. They need your support in their recovery journey. We need your support as well, because we are all on this journey to reduce the recidivism rate together.
27. To our partners, thank you once again for supporting second chances. We really appreciate it. When you offer ex-offenders a second chance, you create a ripple effect, inspiring others to also step forward and do the same.
28. Together, all of us can create a more inclusive society for ex-offenders. For me, it is an honour and a humbling experience to be able to be in the midst of all of you today.
29. Thank you, and I look forward to the food.