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Volunteer Spotlight: Vietnamese Case Worker – Small Mai

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Project X has been around for 10 years, and our effectiveness has been based on various factors. Most of what we have achieved as an organization would not have been possible if it were not for our team of dedicated, and talented volunteers. They have devoted their time and energy to assist us, and their skills, and expertise in their various fields have been invaluable. To give gratitude to these great activists, we would like to provide them with the spotlight, and recognition they deserve.

 

This month, we will be shining the light on Mai. Over the past year, she has been our main Vietnamese Case Worker when we provide Vietnamese sex workers with legal aid. She reflects on her experiences, and thoughts regarding the Vietnamese sex worker community in Singapore.

 

Please introduce yourself!

My name is Mai, but here at Project X, I am known as Small Mai. Having been in Singapore for 9 years, I got to experience Singapore both as an international student from Vietnam, and now as a full-time employee in the healthcare industry.

 

What have you done as a volunteer at Project X?

I have been an outreach volunteer at Project X since October 2017. My roles include outreaching to the Vietnamese sex workers at two locations, carrying out STI tests, as well as designing, and distributing educational materials on STI prevention. Being a listening ear to these ladies is part and parcel of the job and thus I assist as an interpreter for case works involving abuse, and exploitation towards Vietnamese workers.

 

What have you learned after volunteering at Project X?

After a year at Project X, I am still at awe at the stories the ladies have got to tell. There are various reasons why Vietnamese sex workers have one of the highest rates of HIV positive cases. However, it is not due to them being careless or socially irresponsible.

 

For them, the barriers to safe sex involve the limited command in the English language and inaccessibility to helpful information on STI and HIV prevention presented in a way they can understand. Thus, they lack the negotiating power for condom usage during sex and are largely misunderstood. This, in turn, causes them to be more susceptible to abuse by various perpetrators.

 

The ambiguous local laws regarding sex work also contribute to their hesitation to seek help on safer sex practices at healthcare institutions. Moreover when they face abuse, the fear of being charged with soliciting and being banned from returning to Singapore, deters them to seek legal aid from law enforcers. Most of the time, these ladies are working to support their families, to get out of debts, or because it is a personal choice. Therefore, their physical and emotional safety is a second thought to them.

 

What do you hope to see in the future in regards to the Vietnamese sex worker community in Singapore?

When sex workers are less prosecuted and discriminated against, they will have more access to the protection of their physical, psychological, and sexual health. This protects the population at large as well.

 

For the Vietnamese sex worker community specifically, I would want to see more Vietnamese speaking people come on board with us so we can have outreach programmes better designed for the workers. I hope that in the future, sex workers in Singapore would not have to hesitate to demand their rights to health and safety just because they are misunderstood- a barrier that is surely removable as society progresses into a more open-minded one.

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Vanessa Ho

Executive Director | [email protected]

Executive Director
[email protected]

Vanessa has been full-time with Project X since 2011, and as a result, has had many opportunities to meet and connect with sex workers in Singapore and around the world. Under her leadership, the organisation has grown from a small group of volunteers to one where there are three paid staff and a team of over 60 volunteers. Correspondingly, she has increased the annual operating budget of the organization five times, and is now recognized as the leading organization that empowers and assists women in the sex industry.

Vanessa has written and spoken extensively about sex work, human trafficking, rape culture, and LGBTQ rights in Singapore. She believes that if people can speak about sex, gender and sexuality in open and in non-judgmental ways, society will become a safer place for everyone.

Vanessa holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of Warwick, and a Masters Degree in Gender, Society and Representation from University College London.