NUSSU Rag and Flag Day: New format, same fervour

Rag Day performances have been pre-recorded and will be broadcast on 8 August

As with the past editions, the NUS Students' Union (NUSSU) was going to mark this year’s Rag and Flag Day with a huge carnival with floats, food and non-stop fun. But COVID-19 drastically changed the plans.

For the first time since it was launched in the late 1950s, the annual charity project will take place online with a digital Flag Day donation platform. And the highly-anticipated Rag Day component that usually features a float procession will be pre-recorded and broadcast on Instagram on 8 August.

Altogether, 10 items have been lined up for the broadcast, showcasing 180 performers.

Among them is Ryan Ling, a third-year NUS Medicine student who is singing a duet with his second-year course mate Isaac Tan.

They may no longer be singing in front of a crowd, but they are equally excited at the same time. Over the past few weeks, Ryan has been juggling singing practices with his packed schedule of clinical postings at various hospitals.

“We spent time practising online and sending each other recordings rather than in person and met (face-to-face) only on the day of filming for a final session,” said Ryan, a first-time Rag performer.

“I think Rag and Flag doesn’t need to be a carnival – it’s more about the spirit and intention of (helping others).”


NUS Medicine students Isaac (left) and Ryan (right) belting out a rendition of "Before You Go" by Lewis Capaldi

Rallying for more donations

Rag and Flag Day is a yearly event that involves the student body in charitable causes. On Flag Day, students sell various products or ask for donations on the streets, while others perform on floats made by different faculties and halls of residence on Rag Day.

This year’s theme is “Bring Me Along”, which signals the need to “engage and recognise” the underprivileged in society and support their contributions in nation-building, said Soh Shing Nin, the event’s Project Director (External).

“We want them to be proud of being in our community, and bring them along in celebrating what our nation has achieved thus far,” said the third-year NUS Department of Real Estate student.

Undergraduates will be volunteering and raising funds for 22 social service agencies this year, including AWWA, Fei Yue Community Services and HCA Hospice Care (HCA).

While this year’s event has changed format, it has not dampened the fervour.

Patricia Foo, a second-year Business Analytics student, who has been volunteering at HCA for the past year with Raffles Hall, shared that her fund raising plans to sell products like acai bowls and NUS shirts have gone awry due to the global pandemic.

Without a carnival, there won’t be stalls to sell products. And without international students who departed in the wake of COVID-19, shirt sales will dip as they are the main buyers. To make up the shortfall, her hall team designed shirts pitched at the hostel’s residents.

“Rag and Flag Day is essentially about receiving and giving. To me, it’s the act of paying it forward, so we can start small by showing gratitude to friends and families before extending (it) to society,” noted Patricia, who is also the Flag Day Project Director.

MINDS Lee Kong Chian Gardens School.jpg

Students from King Edward VII Hall have been volunteering with MINDS - Lee Kong Chian Gardens School, which is one of the beneficiaries for this year's Flag Day

Stringent health measures

Overhauling the programme has not been easy. While work started in December 2019, the organising committee was forced to put its plans on hold in March when the outbreak worsened.

The worst case scenario was to scrap the event. But the committee was desperately hoping against that, and came up with a novel idea of going digital instead. The new blueprint, detailing the online donation platform and live streaming of pre-recorded performances, was only finalised in late June.

“This will be our first time doing a live stream so we had to brainstorm ideas to attract crowds within two months,” said Shing Nin. “It was especially stressful for our Rag Project Director, but he managed with help from our staff advisors and NUSSU Executive Committee.”

Due to current health regulations, the number of participants, including organising members, has been cut to about 220 from the usual tally of more than a thousand.

With the university divided into zones, participants can practise only in groups of at most five in the same zone to prevent mixing with others. Regular temperature checks are also part of the drill.

“We have to abide by the rules such as zoning, so it was quite hard for us to take in a large number of performers,” Shing Nin explained.

Doing good despite the odds

Students and visitors will definitely miss the usual festivities that Rag and Flag Day is famous for, such as energetic cheer stunts, bustling food stalls and the float parade. But this year’s performance promises to be as enthralling.

Participants will showcase more individual talents – magic shows, DJs and singing will take centre stage. Local artistes Benjamin Kheng and Joanna Dong will also make an appearance to boost fundraising efforts.

Even in these uncertain times, the spirit of Rag and Flag Day remains very much alive. NUSSU hopes to raise $250,000 and has stepped up publicity efforts on social media to engage the public. Since 2000, Rag and Flag has raised about $8.5 million.

NUS organisations like the NUS Graduate Students’ Society have also pitched in to help spread the word.

“The current pandemic galvanises our spirit of wanting to do more for our SSAs," said Shing Nin. “We hope to help our SSAs alleviate their troubles and influence people to support them.”

Crooners Ryan and Isaac hope to do their part with their rendition of “Before You Go”, an emotional ballad that topped the charts by Scottish singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi.

“As people (who will join) healthcare faculties, we do what we can,” said Isaac. “When times are hard, people donate less and these organisations are finding it hard with the lack of funds. We just hope Rag and Flag can do its part to help them tide through these times.”

Do donate generously at the digital Flag Day platform.


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