by Aneeta Rai, Community Outreach Intern
Sakhi for South Asian Women began its summer with a new batch of volunteers eager to do their part in the fight against domestic violence in our community. A total of 27 volunteers joined Sakhi in our annual volunteer training from June 11th to the 23rd. The training consisted of five sessions, each session enlightening the volunteers on how their activism can help Sakhi, survivors, and the South Asian community move forward toward a world without domestic violence.
Sakhi volunteers contribute in many ways, such as supporting Sakhi’s program activities for survivors and going out into their communities and spreading the word on Sakhi’s wide range of services. “I learned to internalize Sakhi’s philosophy of judgment-free advocacy and support, which enables women to empower themselves,” said one volunteer. Volunteers are also utilized by educating their communities about the consequences of domestic violence on survivors and their children.
According to a survey conducted at the end of the training sessions, our volunteers graduated from their training feeling confident that they now had the knowledge necessary to name domestic violence and create change in their communities. “Emotional abuse is so normalized by the South Asian community that it didn’t even occur to me that couples are not supposed to behave that way,” said one volunteer.
Domestic violence is an issue in all communities, cutting across race, class and socioeconomic status; however, volunteers learn that there are culturally specific barriers that infringe upon ending abuse in the South Asian community. It is often considered taboo to discuss relationship issues with others, and women at times feel pressured to sacrifice their safety and happiness to uphold the family and cultural values. One volunteer noted, “There are many cultural barriers one has to overcome and it takes the entire community to help facilitate these changes, which can take years in the making.” It seems like a daunting task, but, with the team of Sakhi volunteers growing ever year, Sakhi’s impact in the community can spread further. “It is not just about fixing one relationship or person, but about fixing ideas that are often deeply rooted in society as a whole,” added one volunteer.
After each training, the volunteers’ definition of domestic violence evolved, allowing them to more effectively offer their support to survivors. “Domestic violence does not discriminate,” said Fatma Zahra, from Sakhi’s Direct Services department. Sakhi used innovative techniques and exercises to portray Sakhi’s message to volunteers, many of whom were not fully aware of this fact. “Sakhi pushed me to think differently to explore a survivor’s place in an abusive relationship, to understand an abusive relationship in a manner that I otherwise would not have thought of,” said one volunteer.
According to our closing training survey, volunteers found the training fun, informative, and inspiring. “I learned a lot about the concept of empowerment and how important my role is in the outcome of this world,” said one volunteer. Others stated that Sakhi helped them see their integral role to Sakhi’s progress, and that this experience allowed them to connect with their fellow volunteers.
The training ended on a note of reflection. Jyotswaroop Bawa, Sakhi’s Economic Empowerment Coordinator, asked volunteers, “So, what’s on your list?” The question referred to Sakhi’s public service announcement that encourages friends and family of survivors to help bring an end to domestic abuse, with the understanding that together we can create a safer, stronger world.