Singapore’s unique peer and professional counselling for transgender

By September 18, 2020 Newsroom, Regional

Contributor:
June Chua, 2019 APCOM HERO Awards recipient for Health & Wellbeing Hero


Founded in 2014 by June Chua and her late sister, Alicia, The Alicia Project SG Ltd is the first and only holistic approach to social services for the transgender community in Singapore. Seeing the gaps in social service sectors in addressing the needs of Singapore’s transgender community, The Alicia Project filled the gap through various programs and services. The Alicia Project oversees The T Project—a shelter providing a safe haven for the homeless in the community—; and the Alicia Community Centre, a trans-focused drop in centre that provides resources and research for the transgender community and public. At the Alicia Project, we believe that everyone should lead their fairytale lives, however they are the ones to define it.

Mission

Supporting Singapore’s trans community to lead their fairy tale lives, by providing a safe space and social support.

Vision

To empower the community and make it sustainable by such, that there is no more need for The T Project by the next generation.

What services were you providing before COVID-19 outbreak?

  • Professional and peer (face to face) counselling
  • Food ration delivery to needy transgender community
  • Community outreach
  • Corporate engagement
  • Trans-sensitivity training workshops
  • Peer support group

With the effect of COVID-19 outbreak, how did you pivot your work to serve the community? Can you detail the evolving service delivery during the lockdowns?

1. Professional and Peer (face to face) counselling

  • Moved to an online platform (Zoom/Google Hangout) if clients are willing. Many clients prefer F2F counselling as their home environment may not be a safe place for them. (For example, transphobic parents listening outside their room or they may not yet be out to their parents/roommate)
  • Another challenge is our peer counsellors who are only volunteers and not paid staff, so they needed to adapt to the new challenges they face at work and juggle their caseload at The T Project, as we have a slight increase of new client sign-ups.
  • All new clients signed up during lockdowns. They will be informed and put on the waiting list.

2. Food ration delivery to needy transgender community

  • Instead of self-collection of food ration at the shelter and doing delivery to the needy (such as elderly and retired sex worker transgender) by June and the volunteers, we turned to the generosity of our funders and our national volunteer database (SG Assist) to do deliveries to the needy transgender on behalf of The T Project.
  • We have made over 100 plus food ration deliveries from April to now.
  • We resumed self-collection and deliveries by The T Project team in August.

3. Community outreach

  • Temporarily suspended
  • As we are doing outreach to the transgender sex worker’s community—and they are unable to work during lockdown—, we applied financial aid on behalf of them which were 16 sex workers. This was through A Good Space, Mind The Gap fund and in order to provide financial aid of $200-$500 monthly, for a period of 6 months.

4. Corporate engagement-engagement through online platforms.

5. Trans-sensitivity training workshops-engagement through online platforms.

6. Peer support group-moved to an online platform.

What were the issues that your clients/beneficiaries experienced during this time?

  1. Staying at home 24/7 with transphobic parents which sometimes leads to verbal and physical abuse.
  2. Isolation from their support networks and friends
  3. Transgender employee assigned to stay at a hostel with communal living and a common toilet is unsafe for them during the lockdown.
  4. As everything moved online, some of the transgender individuals may not have the IT navigational skills to apply for grants, attend workshops online as some of them (such as the elderly, lowly-educated and low income social groups) may not even have a laptop, computer or a smart phone.
Creating more bed space at the shelter to welcome more residents during this pandemic

How have you, your staff, and volunteers been able to stay safe from COVID-19, and what did you/staff/volunteer do to cope with the mental stress?

As an introvert (transgender), the lockdown is personally like an extended holiday for me. At The T Project, we only have a small core group of volunteers of 3 to 5 transgender persons, with whom we keep in touch through Whatsapp and email as we are all personal friends. We have known each other from even before they volunteered for The T Project.

As The T Project has only 1 paid staff, we do not have the time and money to manage a big group of volunteers, much less have a volunteer coordinator or a volunteer management program.

As you come out of the lockdowns, what services will you continue to do, and what would you cease, and what would you add?

As Singapore’s one and only shelter—providing peer and professional counselling for the transgender community living in Singapore—we will do our very best to continue to do what we are doing after the lockdown, as the services for the transgender community are already limited.

How has COVID-19 outbreak changed the way that your organisation will be working in the future?

More proactive engagement with the non-LGBT social service providers and organisations as they provide the biggest support to The T Project and the needy transgender community during these difficult times. Surprisingly!

Facemask, hand sanitizers to distribute to the transgender community

What are the worries from your community about the ‘new normal’?

  • Not being able to resume work as a sex worker or facing more restrictions regarding sex work due to the pandemic.
  • Finding employment will be even more difficult as no one is hiring.
  • It is a big challenge for those with limited IT skills as everything moved online. My personal motto is to press as few keys on a laptop as possible. Kiddin!

Are there any positive lessons learnt from the effects of COVID-19?

With regards to the transgender community, some of us are comfortable to meet F2F, yet there is a group of trans people who choose to remain anonymous and are more comfortable to engage online.

So, we are exploring supportive options to these groups of people even after lockdowns have eased down.

As the head of an organisation, what resources or support system helped you to get through this harsh time? What further support would you need?

I am also more proud of my career as a sex worker than I am now as a founder of an NGO.

Due to my tenacity, prudence, coping mechanism and discipline, I learnt from my days as a sex worker which have equipped me with knowledge in dealing with any curve ball that life hands out.

Life is beautiful and worthwhile as long as you love yourself to the fullest.

Maybe I would attend an IT skill workshop in the future.