By giving silenced struggles a voice, UNSAID raises social awareness about people on the margins. Its Head of Outreach, Alisa Maya, sheds light on running one of Singapore’s largest independent student-led social enterprises.
In conservative Singapore, it takes a lot of effort and courage to speak up for the socially marginalised. But a group of local and overseas university students is determined to change that.
Deciding they had had enough of keeping quiet on topics deemed “taboo” or “sensitive” by society, this group of students got together to form UNSAID, a social enterprise to raise awareness on those issues through art.
“It would be easier for people to know that they are not alone,” said UNSAID’s Head of Outreach Alisa Maya, an English Literature Honours year student at the National University of Singapore.
Maya is passionate about writing and knows the impact that words can bring. The 22-year-old was a writer for Wallflowers magazine and the Creative Desk Editor at The Ridge Magazine.
She and her team are producing a play, Every Singaporean Daughter, next month. Described as “a contemporary play about real women”, it deals with women’s issues and was inspired by crowd-sourced stories.
“To me, it’s quite shocking.” Maya said, when asked about how she felt, reading the personal stories from the public. “Even if you submit [a story] anonymously, it’s still not easy to gather the courage.”
UNSAID stories through art
The idea for UNSAID came about when Maya and the rest of the team, headed by co-founders Chris Hnin and Woong Soak Teng, first got together to work on Every Singaporean Daughter. “That [the play] was the original intention, but then we realised that there are so many other areas we can explore, so we expanded to become a social enterprise,” she said.
Attracted by UNSAID’s cause, more youths also joined the group. Its theme for 2016 is women and the struggles they face, such as “body image issues, eating disorders, growing up in dysfunctional and broken families”, said Maya.
Art is UNSAID’s chosen platform for exploring taboo issues. In Singapore, academic education has always been valued over artistic or social education. But given support, artistic talent can be a powerful force too, when “channel[led] into something that could create an impact”, Maya said.
As such, UNSAID’s Facebook page – which has attracted 1,100 “likes” since it began in mid-October 2015 – is set up as a platform for artistic expression and social education, mainly through two series.
The #happybeing series features women from diverse backgrounds and professions, each with an “unsaid” story to tell, be it pursuing an unconventional career path or moving away from a bulimic past. Each post has been viewed 1,000 to 3,000 times on average.
The Menses Series, on the other hand, has amassed an average of 10,000 views per video. It shows five men who are challenged to take on tasks common in a woman’s everyday life, such as waxing and using sanitary pads.
The videos involved volunteers and were created by UNSAID’s members. “The execution of our products is professional… because that’s the best way to gain credibility and to get people to believe that UNSAID is serious about its work,” Maya said.
Youthful talent for a social cause
“There are not enough opportunities for young people to use their talents in a meaningful way,” Maya remarked. “We hope to create an impact… through getting people to open up by doing something… like dance or drama and to explore these feelings and issues.”
UNSAID therefore provides an avenue where youths can collaborate and use their artistic skills and creations to deliver strong messages for social education.
Funded by a government grant from the National Youth Council, the organisation also supports Babes, a charity that reaches out to pregnant teenagers in need of help, by producing their corporate video, facilitating events and donating a part of the proceeds from Every Singaporean Daughter.
UNSAID hopes to attract 1,200 theatregoers through the four shows of the play. With a full cast and crew of youths (mostly under 25), Every Singaporean Daughter will run on 15–17 July at the KC Arts Centre, Home of SRT and tickets are being sold on Peatix. Hopefully, this will help lend a voice to the “real women” behind the play, so their “unsaid” stories can be heard and understood by more in our society.
Draft by Rennes Lee Ting
Edited by Bernice Tang