With an organisation like AWARE in Singapore, women are given the resources and tools they need to turn their lives around during, and after, challenging or traumatic experiences like discrimination and sexual violence, among others. AWARE and its volunteers, like Katrina, show us that there are options, and that you don't have to face it alone.
AWARE Singapore and its volunteers work towards gender equality and women’s rights, and in the process may sometimes find themselves in tough situations. But Katrina Dick, a social worker by profession who’s been volunteering with AWARE since 2014, isn’t swayed by it. In fact, she gets strength from it.
“There have been many Helpline calls that have really stayed with me,” recalls Katrina, who has taken on the roles of volunteer Helpliner or Befriender, public educator and research assistant at AWARE (which stands for Association of Women for Action and Research). Helpliners are trained to answer calls through the AWARE Helpline, provide support and offer referrals, among others.
“Talking with some of the younger callers who may be in distress is always difficult,” she adds. “But I’ve been especially moved by women calling who often have been living with abusive partners for many, many years, and then decide later in life that they want to make changes – even if they are up against family and friends who may find it difficult to believe or understand them.”
These experiences just remind Katrina even more of why she wanted to join AWARE in the first place
“I have been living in Singapore for over 11 years and was initially volunteering with another organisation that often partnered with AWARE, so I got to know some of the people and the work that AWARE does,” she relates. Established in 1985, the non-profit engages in research, education, advocacy and various other support services, tackling issues such as abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, workplace harassment, divorce, single parenthood and reproductive health, just to name a few.
“Previously my volunteer work involved more behind-the-scenes, but I really missed some of the more direct services that I could do at AWARE,” she observes. “I thought I could use my social work background to contribute in some way and be involved in the community. I get so much back, I love that I learn so much about gender issues in Singapore, and I really enjoy the work. None of that has changed too much since I started with AWARE.”
That’s even if – when – she continually faces what other people deem as heavy subject matter. “Yes, they can be ‘heavy’ issues. But they are also all around us, affect all of us and can’t be ignored,” she maintains.
“I am a woman; gender equality, violence against women and all its forms, access to legal rights and protections are all things that affect me. I am also a mother; educating people, particularly young people, about these issues also directly affects me. As difficult as some of the issues are, I personally can’t ignore them. It’s when I try to that I become uncentred.”
Good thing she can rely on her fellow volunteers and the staff at AWARE (plus “a quiet cup of tea”) to help her let go. It also helps that each day brings something different.
“If I’m doing a Helpline shift, we have a private little space where we take calls. I’m usually popping my head in and out with the other volunteers if there is someone else on, and also with staff – asking questions or just saying hello,” she says.
“If I’m working with the training team, that’s very different, and usually involves going to a school and conducting a two-hour workshop with a group of students or sometimes teachers on gender issues, sex and sexuality education, issues around sexual harassment or assault, and consent. It really varies,” she continues.
“The education workshops often involve some meetings beforehand with the team to help develop the material and to make sure we have a good understanding of it. We always do a debrief after the workshops as well. I love doing the school workshops and getting out there in the community to see what’s going on for kids.”
Katrina likes how AWARE's activities reach more people, and help spread their mission and message
“Gender equality affects every single one of us, not just women, or only women in distress. It is about making society more equal and accessible for everyone, and about giving everyone the freedom to be true to themselves,” she stresses.
“To put it simply, without advocacy we won't get there. People are sometimes a bit freaked out by the idea of gender equality, or have some mixed-up ideas of what it is about. Advocacy is about clearing up misunderstandings, getting accurate information out there, and educating people about why gender equality is important and how to get there. With equality comes the chance for more of us to thrive and contribute to the world we all live in. That's got to be a good thing, right?”
The answer is yes, especially when she sees the difference AWARE makes. “Huge, positive things are happening right now, actually – the changes being made to the penal code in relation to marital rape and better protections for people being harassed or abused, particularly in relation to recognising voyeurism, are a fantastic step in the right direction in terms of the laws of the land,” she states.
“There have also been changes to some of the rules regarding access to housing and single parents – an issue AWARE raised with a piece of research I was lucky enough to be involved with a couple of years ago,” she then points out.
“On a more individual level, I see and speak to women on the Helpline and with the Befriender service who say they just ‘feel so much better’ having someone there beside them who is not judging them. Problems are not always solved, answers are not always found (although that often happens too!), but the one of the biggest impacts I see is women feeling that they are not alone in tackling whatever it is they are facing.”
Yes, there are tough situations, but there are great moments too
“Working at the fundraising balls is always lots of fun,” Katrina recounts. “It’s great to be able to take some very serious issues like gender inequality but still be able to have fun doing the work.”
And it’s important to not forget that, as well as this, at the end of the day: “I think the most important thing a person needs is an open mind, a belief that gender equality in all its forms is important and necessary, and respect for all.” It’s made Katrina the well-rounded volunteer she is today.
Wanna be AWARE?
Thinking of volunteering, or would like to know more about AWARE? These are just some of the things the non-profit provides and is involved in:
• The Sexual Assault Care Centre offers services such as counselling, legal guidance, the Helpline, Befrienders and a drop-in centre for victims and survivors.
• Research and campaigns: Stay updated on AWARE's advocacy with the latest articles, policies, laws, stories and activities under categories like Family And Divorce, Employment And Labour Rights, and Migration And Trafficking, among others.
• AWARE conducts workshops for schools,community programmes and corporate training too. Examples of workshops for the latter include "Manager's Guide To Workplace Harassment" and "Diversity And Inclusion".
Numbers to remember:
1800 777 5555
Sexual Assault Care Centre
65 6779 0282