Coming Together For Ubin

Pulau Ubin’s annual open house not only celebrates the rustic island, but also helps to grow rapport between the many groups that love Ubin so they can work well together.
The Pulau Ubin Fun Map ready for participants to colour in together at the 2016 Pesta Ubin.

Every year, usually around June, the laid-back Pulau Ubin perks up with a slew of events that make up Pesta Ubin (which means Ubin festival in Malay). From nature walks to kayaking, stargazing to art exhibitions, these activities are the hard work of hundreds of volunteers from more than 40 interest groups. They come together to showcase what they love about Ubin – its nature, kampong life and heritage. In 2016, Pesta Ubin spanned five weeks, attracting more than 6,000 visitors.

Building trust

But other than celebrating the rustic island, Pesta Ubin has another purpose: to bring different interest groups together to foster trust and understanding between them and with the National Parks Board (NParks), the public agency in charge of Pulau Ubin.

Ms Ria Tan, a nature advocate who runs the WildSingapore blog, has coordinated the annual affair since 2014 (see sidebox “From one day to a full fiesta”). She plans the event schedule, liaising between the organising interest groups and NParks.

“Pesta Ubin is for agencies and organising groups to interact in a happy setting, for everyone to get to know the key people, their issues, preferences, and the way they work,” she says. “Once they have this good relationship of trust and friendship, if it comes to a difficult situation … they already have this relationship where they can pick up the phone and communicate.”

Top: The Balik Chek Jawa event highlights Ubin’s flora and fauna.  
Left: Participants get ready to take their mountain bikes for a spin on the kampong trails.
Right: Visitors explore the island’s quarries on kayaks.

For instance, if any government agency needs to implement a difficult or potentially unpopular regulation, the trust already built up would put them in good stead for dialogue and cooperation.

Ms Tan says the groups working together on Pesta Ubin have benefited from the relationships developed through the event (see sidebox “Strengthening ties”): “They exchange phone numbers, drink kopi… do fun things together.”

Bonding over common interest

Such building of rapport has also sparked new collaborations between individuals from different groups.

The Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative, for example, was formed by a group of fishermen, fish farmers and marine conservationists who realised they shared an interest in mangroves during the 2014 Pesta Ubin.

Ms Tan, who is also part of R.U.M., says: “This probably would not have happened if we didn’t meet at that open house.”

Two years on, the group is still working together to restore Ubin’s mangroves, roping in mangrove experts from the National University of Singapore and NParks.

Top: Wayang, or theatrical dance shows, are a highlight of the annual Tua Pek Kong festival.
Left: Participants colouring the Pulau Ubin Fun Map during the festival.
Right: Visitors dress up as kampong villagers for a nostalgic photo.
This year, Pesta Ubin will span 10 weeks – from five in 2016, two days in 2015 and one day in 2014. Responding to feedback, the organisers have spread out the activities to reduce crowds at Ubin’s facilities and transport, and to allow more activities to be offered.
They exchange phone numbers, drink kopi… do fun things together.

The organisers work together to improve the events from year to year. Take the Pesta Ubin Run in 2016, which was co-organised by running group Coffee Tea Runners and the Tanjong Pagar-Tiong Bahru Community Sports Club. Plastic bottles of water were distributed to the 300 participants for the 2016 run.

During a meeting with the organisers and NParks to  discuss how they could improve the 2017 run, Ms Tan and the NParks team suggested alternatives to giving out disposable bottles to make the event more environmentally friendly. As a result, the organisers decided to ask participants to bring their own bottles and fill them at water dispensers placed at the trails, courtesy of NParks.

The logistical details were “sorted out very quickly during the meeting. I expect it would have taken a lot longer if we tried it via email,” says Ms Tan.

Working hand in hand

For Pesta Ubin 2017, NParks will be supporting by providing locations for several events, boat and van transport, as well as publicity materials such as banners and pamphlets.

They work closely with Ms Tan, who compiles and forwards requests for support from the organising groups to NParks.

“Ria’s rapport with many NGOs has helped to bring many likeminded people together. Her active usage of social media has also helped to publicise Pesta Ubin events effectively,” says Ms Choi Yook Sau, NParks’ Deputy Director of Conservation on Ubin. Besides communicating over regular emails, Ms Tan meets NParks at least once a month.

Having to deal with the conflicting interests of 40 organising groups – such as clashes in planned event dates or locations – might sound tough for one person to handle. But what drives Ms Tan is her passion to help the Ubin community to share their love for the island with the public.

“Pesta Ubin is special as it encompasses a wide variety of issues, not just nature or the environment, heritage or sports… It brings together everybody who likes Ubin,” she says. “Everyone just steps up to share an aspect of Ubin they love – this all comes from the heart.”

    Apr 4, 2017
    Tay Qiao Wei
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