Brintha Jeyalingam is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Work at Columbia University and will be graduating in May 2008. Her field placement at Sakhi started in September 2007. What follows are her reflections on her day-to-day work supporting survivors.
A Sigh of Success
As an intern in the Economic Empowerment Program, I’ve seen the determination of survivors who are finding their own starting point of pursuing a career, an educational opportunity, or a work experience. One of the things I learned from Sakhi survivors is that success or achievement is not only found at the moment of a job offer or at the completion of a degree, but it’s found many times during the empowerment and self-sufficiency journey.
In my work with about 20 to 25 survivors this last six months, I had the opportunity to facilitate a basic computer literacy course as well as work one-on-one with survivors in creating resumes, cover letters, exploring job opportunities and creating job-search strategies. I have worked with survivors who are applying for college, grants and scholarships. Many survivors have professional degrees from their country of origin and I have helped them in the process of verifying their degrees in the U.S. so that they can continue their professional track in this country.
Survivors have shown me how these smaller successes give them confidence to move forward, which was apparent when they increased their typing speed during computer class, or talked to me about their previous work experiences that seemed to remind them how much they’ve done, or when they told me about their first day of job training. Feeling the sense of survivors’ achievements was a refreshing reminder to me that every small step is equally important. Without recognition of their gradual progress, it becomes difficult for survivors to realize there are moving forward in what can be a long road to self-sufficiency.
One survivor in particular began her job search and started off by creating her resume with me. During the time we spent on her resume, I noticed her confidence build as she constructed each work experience into a professional document. She quickly engaged with me in identifying her skills and assessing what type of employment she wished to pursue. During her interview process, I stayed in touch with her, giving her various interview tips, but especially providing encouragement each time she was able to make it to an interview. She was finally hired for a full-time position of her choice.
When she called to share the news, we both talked about the various points during the process at which she felt both encouraged and disheartened. She shared that each step of the way, she thought about how far she had come despite adverse circumstances. When I reminded her that it was her own determination that led her to this point, she sighed.
It could have been a sigh of relief, but I took it as a sigh of success. I reflected on what gave this survivor the ability to pursue her goal – more than the resume or the interview tips, I believe it was the fact that she recognized she had the strength to accomplish what she wanted to. The Economic Empowerment Program gave her that space to recognize her determination and this is the point where our survivors’ successes, big and small, are created.