by Anindita Dasgupta, Sakhi Media Intern ::
Groups of three sat in folding chairs. Heads bent over budget sheets, they discussed household expenses for the month.
“If we forgo health insurance, we can put more money towards food.”
“Ok, but what about clothing? These kids are 10 and 12 years old – they’re growing and growing fast.”
For a hypothetical monthly budget of $1,500 in a household of a mother and two children (10 and 12 years old), one group budgeted $750 for food, $600 for rent, $75 for utilities, $35 for credit card payments, and $35 for clothing, leaving $5 to spare.
These 14 folks carving out life on a trim budget are Sakhi’s newest volunteers.
In order to join the ranks of 40 other Sakhi volunteers, these new Sakhis completed six training sessions run by Sakhi staff. Many Sakhi interns attended the training sessions as well, increasing their knowledge about domestic violence. The budget exercise was designed to show volunteers the types of challenges survivors deal with on a regular basis.
“The financial planning activity was really good,” said Rory Katz, Sakhi’s summer Volunteer Coordination Intern. “It was an activity that really made you deal with problems the survivors were dealing with.” She explained that as a Volunteer Coordination Intern, she doesn’t come into direct contact with survivors every day, and that these activities gave her a better sense of what the survivors were going through. “I could more accurately understand their positions,” she said. “Now, I speak with an awareness of the complexity of challenging domestic violence.”
“Sakhi believes that violence against women will not end until community members take action,” said Shivana Jorawar, who led the trainings as Sakhi’s Volunteer Coordinator. She explained that as community members, volunteers may be in the position to reach people Sakhi staff cannot. “We can’t be everywhere but, with volunteer support, we can certainly try!”
The training sessions covered a variety of topics that forced the volunteers to work through their thinking from a theoretical level to learning how to apply their skills. In the first few sessions, facilitators led volunteers in discussions around understanding various components that allow domestic violence to exist and how to recognize different forms of domestic violence. “Through activities around patriarchy, classism, racism and homophobia, we want volunteers to recognize that domestic violence is not an isolated issue—it is just one manifestation of oppression,” Shivana said.
Volunteers learned to apply some of the theoretical information through exploring appropriate terminology used when talking about domestic violence. “We discuss with volunteers why we call the women we serve ‘survivors’ and explore the possibility that women in domestic violence situations are not weak, but incredibly strong,” Shivana said. To illustrate the difference between describing someone as a “survivor” rather than a “victim,” facilitators had volunteers brainstorm characteristics they associated with each term. The two lists were joined with a sheet between them, with an arrow drawn pointing from “victim” to “survivor.” “How do we get from here to there?” Shivana asked the group. The volunteers then offered ideas on how they could contribute to empowering women by relating to them as survivors rather than victims.
Vasudha Gupta, one of our new volunteers, felt that this activity was particularly helpful since it solidified the concept of empowerment.
Understanding the issue
To track volunteers’ progress, Sakhi staff quizzed volunteers at the beginning and end of the training session series. “Some of the questions were tricky while some were straightforward,” said Rory. However, even the seemingly simple questions served a purpose, she said. For example, seeing a statement like “Domestic violence is a women’s issue” on paper as part of a true/false series serves as a reminder. “Even if we already knew the answer to a question it was still useful to see it clearly on paper,” she said.
Some of the more tricky questions included questions surrounding potential causes of domestic violence, such as “Alcohol and drug use are not causes of domestic violence” as a true/false question or that “Anger management is a good option for men who abuse.” These true/false statements led to group discussions about various components of domestic violence. By the end of the discussion, volunteers came to understand that alcohol or drug use are not root causes of abuse and that a person’s problem with anger management does not excuse/explain their decision to abuse.
For Vasudha, these questions created a sense of urgency to talk about domestic violence. “They raised the desire of wanting to talk about these issues more openly,” she said. Though, there is a limit to talking, she added. “It’s not enough just to talk about helping survivors.”
Sakhi depends on volunteers to interface with the community. “We aim to prepare volunteers for more than the day-to-day volunteer opportunities here at Sakhi,” Shivana said. “We try to give them the knowledge and leadership abilities they need to act as educated resources for the community.”