by Mohammad Levesque-Alam –
In early December, I addressed two groups of engaged college students in my capacity as Sakhi’s Communications Coordinator, discussing the origins and purpose of Sakhi’s work as well as opportunities for volunteerism.
On Dec. 8th, I spoke to about 25 students at Columbia’s School of Social Work through an invitation from the local South Asian Public Health Association. Students expressed keen interest in several aspects of our organization’s work, asking about cultural barriers to discussing domestic violence, the role of language and immigration, and the nature of Sakhi’s innovative Economic Empowerment Program.
In addressing these critical issues, I pointed to a number of Sakhi’s long-running projects, including the Swarna Chalasani Economic Empowerment Fund, the Court Interpreters Project, the Faith-Based Initiative, and focus on community outreach and organizing as a means of effecting change from within.
Students also wondered why some survivors continue to stay within abusive relationships. Here it was necessary to point out the complicated and isolating dynamic of abuse, especially for immigrant survivors, and the need for sustained, long-term services such as those provided by Sakhi to many survivors who use our services for years, including support groups, and financial and computer literacy workshops in order to build confidence and economic opportunity.
My new colleague, Sarah Crist, Sakhi’s Development Associate, was also onhand to help distribute materials, including packets of information about our volunteer and internship programs, pledge cards, and postcards to spread awareness and distribute to friends and colleagues.
During a separate Dec. 9th session at Hunter College, I was invited to speak to about 15 students by the professor of a class studying South Asian Activism in the U.S. After briefly introducing the nature and purpose of Sakhi’s work, I showed the students a 15-minute video, Creating Community Change,comprising survivors, social service providers, and government figures in order to give the class a more direct perspective on the reality of domestic violence.
Following the video, students eagerly asked about the specific options and opportunities Sakhi provided for survivors. They also wanted to know whether generational and age gaps played a role in impeding domestic violence awareness, which launched a discussion of how domestic violence runs across all categories and communities, as seen in the diversity of Sakhi’s own constituents.
Noting the community impact of domestic violence, we referred to the tragic Nov. 24th shootings in Clifton, N.J., where a man of South Asian descent killed three people, including his ex-wife, after driving cross-country to commit the horrific act.
The students also expressed some surprise when they learned that our Court Interpreters Project was prompted by significant lack of training and serious errors within the court system setup and its accessibility for immigrants. Several showed interest in our upcoming volunteer and internship opportunities, which are available for media, policy, and direct services work.