President Halimah inspires at leadership session for young girls

Becoming president has meant giving up little pleasures, such as having her favourite bowl of ice kacang just the way she likes it from a familiar vendor at a hawker centre.

That was President Halimah Yacob's response to a young student leader from St Anthony's Canossian Primary School, who asked Singapore's first female president how her life has changed since she took the oath of office last September.

"That's one of the changes I've had to deal with, but these are small sacrifices. With responsibility come certain constraints that I have to live with," she added.

This question was one of more than a dozen she fielded at a question-and-answer session at the school in Bedok North yesterday afternoon.

Held as part of the official opening of the inaugural Canossian Girls' Leadership Symposium, the session lasted about 45 minutes, with many students vying for their questions to be answered by the President.

The three-day symposium, which started yesterday, brings together about 300 student leaders from the Canossian group of schools in Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and India, and 14 other schools within the E4 and E5 school zone clusters, to learn how girls can make a difference as young leaders.

The students, aged between 10 and 16 years old, will be attending workshops and lectures by speakers such as Sister Angela Ng, a former principal of the primary school, on topics like problem-solving and how to be effective leaders.

At the session with the President, the students asked her questions ranging from her early life as a student to her vision for Singapore's next 50 years.

"I certainly hope I won't be the first and only female president," said Madam Halimah with a laugh.

In her opening address, she highlighted a sense of service as one of the key qualities essential for leaders.

"Leadership is not about position or wealth, but about helping others for the betterment of society," she said.

She encouraged the girls to use soft skills, such as empathy, to reach out to others.

Canossa Convent Primary School pupil Hannah Tan, 11, said: "I think anybody can be a leader, even if you're young. You just need to start small."