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Aug 8, 2023

EUVP Visit Story – Anthea Ong

pictureAs a former Nominated Member of Parliament of Singapore, a social entrepreneur, impact investor and an active advocate for social change, I was interested in learning about mental health and suicide, diversity and inclusion and civil society and social entrepreneurship in EU.

In addition, in my role as a member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and increasingly regional involvement, I was particularly keen to explore collaboration opportunities between ASEAN and EU. Specifically, I had offered to help drive the idea of a Mental Health working group for MPs across ASEAN at the last APHR members’ forum so I was keen to learn how I might learn from EU initiatives in this regard.

It was an intense and enlightening experience for me, with a total of 15 meetings between Brussels and Strasbourg (I lost the final count as the programme kept adding!). I think it speaks volumes that, despite nursing a terrible cold from day one when I arrived in Brussels, I was so energised and engaged in every meeting because of the relevance of the issues discussed, the resonance I felt with each interlocutor (some more than others) in their passion and determination for change and the respect that each interlocutor accorded to me.

In meeting with MEPs and/or advisors to relevant committees, I particularly enjoyed the meetings with MEP Estrella Dura Ferrandis of Spain and MEP Tomas Zdechovsky of Czech Republic, both members of the MEP cross-party Alliance for Mental Health that also involves key stakeholders and civil society, something I sincerely hope I can encourage the sitting MPs in Singapore and ASEAN to do. Moreover, I was especially excited to hear from Estrella that there will be a plenary session in June in Parliament to debate on their proposal ‘Towards a Mental Health Strategy in EU’ - she shared their paper with me and I’m looking to sharing with APHR members at our next meeting to plant the first seed towards something similar for the region.

A meeting that almost didn’t happen ended up being the most memorable for me on this trip with Dr Adam Kosa of Hungary, the first deaf European politician to use Deaf Sign Language at EU Parliament. I met Adam during the virtual tour in 2021 and to finally meet up in person even for 30 mins was very special - it’s a little like ‘old friends’ meeting up again. I was so touched that he remembered so fondly of Hush TeaBar, a social enterprise and movement that I started back 2014, struggled much during the pandemic but we are still going, which Adam was very happy to know. He promised to support Hush when we are ready to galvanise the Deaf community in Singapore to raise awareness and funds for the Deaf children in Ukraine, including those made deaf by the war as he was the President of the Deaf Association in Hungary.

I am deeply grateful for this very enriching experience at so many levels. The programme gave me the opportunity to deepen my understanding of the European Union and the networks I have established during my tour will be very useful for the advocacy and social entrepreneurship efforts that I undertake in Singapore and the region. More importantly, the tour has given me numerous ideas for collaboration between the EU and Singapore, and ASEAN which I will follow up with.

We started our programme with an enjoyable (for me anyway) introduction to the EU and its system of carefully-designed institutions based on democratic principles of diversity and inclusion. When I finished the visit, I was enlightened by the realisation that the success of the EU thus far is underpinned by these institutions. As Jean Monnet said, “Nothing is possible without men (and women); nothing is lasting without institutions”. Understanding the EU and its institutions is therefore an invitation to the world to ask “how can we institutionalise peace?" so that peace lasts.