The Power of Volunteering

by Santushi Kuruppu, Volunteer Coordinator

“There is a virtual guarantee that you will make a difference through Sakhi as a committed volunteer, just as working through Sakhi will surely transform you into a person who is more deeply attuned to issues of justice and fairness.” – Nawreen Sattar, Sakhi volunteer

As Sakhi celebrates its milestone 20th anniversary, we must celebrate the role of the volunteer: volunteers have been pivotal in Sakhi’s 20-year history and their role in the organization’s success going forward will be even more significant. Sakhi was initially volunteer-based, and even now, without the energies and commitment of its volunteers Sakhi could not be successful in its scope, programming, and mission to end violence against women.

Jyotswaroop Bawa, former Sakhi intern and current Economic Empowerment Coordinator, reflects on her volunteer experience at Sakhi, “I am very proud to have volunteered for Sakhi. Sakhi is not only providing the much-needed direct services but is also working to change the consciousness of our community at large. I appreciate that Sakhi is working not only for the South Asian community but for New Yorkers and Americans at large.”

The role of a Sakhi volunteer is multi-faceted: working closely with staff, accompanying survivors when needed as well as being ambassadors of change and creating awareness within the community. The majority of Sakhi volunteers contribute their time to three key areas: community outreach, children’s activities, and building partnerships and resources on Sakhi’s behalf. Pooja Faldu, a former policy intern at Sakhi, has this to say about her tenure at Sakhi, “I feel that my individual work at Sakhi, through bringing awareness to the need for language access, has impacted the lives of DV survivors by making individuals in the courts aware of the obstacles faced by DV survivors who are facing their abusers in court. This awareness is hopefully preventing or lessening the occurrence of the mishaps with court interpreters that we encountered prior to the [court interpreter] survey.”

To capture the impact Sakhi has had on its volunteers and in turn the impact they have had in our community, a survey was distributed to 300 Sakhis asking a range of questions – their motivation to get involved to skills they gained during their tenure at Sakhi to how they impacted their community. Sakhi’s volunteer program is comprehensive and broad in scope and strives to equip its volunteers with tools needed to carry out its mission including understanding Sakhi’s approach to domestic violence, the role of an advocate, and how to work directly with survivors, engage community leaders, and create awareness within the community.

To assess the impact Sakhi has had on its volunteers the survey asked they describe their volunteer experience – of the 25 surveys that were completed and analyzed more than 80% of respondents said it was inspiring and rewarding while 68% said it was empowering. Nawreen Sattar, a Sakhi volunteer, indicates, “I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to be Sakhi’s agent for change. While the support we provide during accompaniments is critical and substantive, what has struck me more is the how over time, through repeated interactions, survivors begin to feel empowered and motivated to change their own lives. It has been immensely gratifying and meaningful to work for Sakhi. It is one of those rare experiences where you come in expecting to contribute and realize that the organization itself is a conduit for two-way change.”

When asked what skills were enhanced and developed as a result of their volunteer work at Sakhi, 75% said they gained experience in community outreach and 65% said they enhanced their ability to work in a team. In reflecting on this arena of skills development, volunteer Farheen Azhar noted, “Reaching out to people and engaging in dialogue is the most important step towards educating the community about domestic violence.”

To understand the impact volunteers have had on in the South Asian community, either in New York, in the U.S., or in the Diaspora as a whole, Alissa Crouse says, “I would not be able to say that my work has impacted a community…yet! I think I have impacted maybe a person or two, just by supporting and believing in the person and helping to achieve goals. And perhaps one pamphlet I have handed out may have helped someone. I hope to have a broader impact as I continue my work with Sakhi over the coming years. I can certainly say that the women I have met have impacted me. I am constantly struck by the strength and beauty and hope that each of these women radiate, despite their circumstances. I have such a great respect for all of the survivors I have met.”

To volunteer is noble and the catalyst to do so is personal. When asked what motivated or interested them to volunteer for Sakhi, 42% responded they wanted to educate people about domestic violence while 29% said they wanted to work directly with women who had experienced domestic violence. The dedication of Sakhi volunteers is apparent – over 80% of Sakhi’s volunteers joined the organization in their 20s and 42% volunteered their time without a break for six months while 25% volunteered without a break up to one year. A former Sakhi intern notes, “I feel that there is so much more that I can learn and contribute. I came to Sakhi wanting to conduct research rather than wanting to work directly with survivors or learning more about DV but I have gained a much broader insight into the work this organization does and I feel that there is so much more that I can do. There is much space for needed change and I feel like I can be part of that now rather than just be an observer of the work Sakhi does.”

As Sakhi looks forward to its next 20 years, volunteers will be even more pivotal. Sakhi’s mission is to end the violence against women and even though in its 20-year history Sakhi was part of so many milestone changes though direct services, community outreach, and institutional mobilization, there is yet much work to be done. With the dedication of its amazing volunteers, Sakhi will continue to work to end violence against women and build healthy communities. As one Sakhi volunteer notes, “Without the contributions of each individual, there wouldn’t be a successful movement.