A virtual ‘drop-in’ centre created by VOX @ Children’s Society so youth could stay connected through 2020’s Circuit Breaker has become a permanent fixture to engage youth who are more comfortable interacting online.

Dubbed Hikikomori youth after a similar phenomenon in Japan, these young people are digital natives who are less responsive to physical forms of outreach or engagement.

2Gather, formalised and officially launched on 9 September 2021, caters to youth aged 13 to 18, and is hosted on the video chat platform Gather. It is open from 3pm to 6pm on weekdays except for Wednesday. Social workers interact with youth through online conversations and games.

The E-Launch Party was attended by online influencers Jianhao Tan, Tosh Rock, Joakim Gomez, and Rayyan Afiq. They talked about their career choices, shared tips on dealing with social media, and interacted with participants and answered questions.

“There are many introverted youths who prefer to stay at home but need someone they can talk to about their feelings, or raise issues with. This online drop-in space reinforces other online initiatives to meet their needs,” says Ms Fiona Lim, Youth Worker at VOX @ Children’s Society.

The aim is to engage these youths and help them become comfortable with both online and face-to-face interaction at any of the Society’s four youth drop-in centres, she adds.

The virtual space was designed by youth Vox members and modelled after the physical drop-in centre. It includes a counselling room, staff office, and even a dance studio. Participants can see and hear each other when their avatars are in the same vicinity.

“It has been a great learning opportunity for all involved,” says Mr Chee Thow Wei Liat, Deputy Director of VOX @ Children’s Society.

2Gather is open from 3pm to 6pm on weekdays except for Wednesdays.