Sakhi celebrates 20 years of transformations to build a stronger community

As they watched talented performers, heard luminary speakers, and mingled at the historic Prince George Ballroom, more than 280 supporters celebrated Sakhi for South Asian Women’s mission to end violence against women at the organization’s 7th gala benefit on Friday, Oct. 2 evening.


The evening, with the theme 20 Years One Vision: Ending Violence Against Women, depicted the profound individual and community transformations Sakhi has made possible over its history. “We started out as a grassroots organization to end domestic violence in our communities based on individual instances of women needing help. Twenty years later we’re still there in terms of assisting individuals, but now we have a deeper impact in our community,” reflected Tamseela Tayyabkhan, Sakhi’s Board Chair.


Through its 20 years of groundbreaking work, Sakhi’s reach with survivors of abuse and the community has increased dramatically. In the past 7 years, Sakhi’s call volume of new requests for assistance has more than tripled from 201 in 2001 to 731 in 2008 and the organization’s website currently gets more than 17,000 hits per month on average.


In 20 years, Sakhi has broken the silence on abuse in the South Asian community. Benefit Co-Chair and author of Speaking the Unspeakable Margaret Abraham noted, “Sakhi has taken big steps to make a difference. If we talked about abuse 20 years ago, it was seen as an issue that was taboo. Now we can talk about it, survivors have a place to go and address these issues, and we have institutions that actually know of the work. One of the greatest joys is that we have not only transformed our communities, but we are also able to celebrate the work that we do.”


The evening featured comments by talented filmmaker Mira Nair, who has been a long-time Sakhi supporter. Advancing a spirit of carpe diem, Nair emphasized the ability community members have in making a difference, declaring, “Life is short. Seize the moment, because really all we have is now. Sakhi is an activist organization: get involved, and if you can’t seize the moment in your life in an activist way, then send a check. Honestly, there is no two living, no two lives. It is a waste of happiness to think that we need our own before we extend ourselves to others, because in the extension to others, there is happiness.”


Nair’s words were received with great applause by an appreciative audience. Community supporter David Rheingold commented, “I had a spectacular time: the food, the speeches, the pacing were perfect. Mira Nair gave the best keynote speech I have heard at a Sakhi dinner; I would describe her words as electrifying.”


Sakhi’s work and impact over its 20 years were highlighted through short films as well as in a celebration of outgoing Executive Director Purvi Shah’s leadership. After 7.5 years at Sakhi’s helm – and 6 prior years as a volunteer – Shah will be transitioning from her role at the close of October.


In speaking to the power of Sakhi’s innovative vision, Shah ruminated, “It still strikes me to this day how the founders of Sakhi had the vision not only to see the world as it is and to see that it is unacceptable, but to see that we can do something about it. Here at Sakhi we transform lives, we transform our communities, and we transform institutions. We’re all so used to thinking about outcomes in a few months or a year or some small basis of time, but when you’ve been involved in something for more than a decade, you can really see change in front of your eyes. Today we get to celebrate how far we’ve come. But tomorrow, the work starts anew so we can make sure that generations from now that there is a world without abuse. Together we can create change – for 20 years, we already have.”


Mistress of Ceremonies Bhavna Toor opened the evening by introducing the dynamic Sa Dance Company who performed an innovative take on Madonna’s “Vogue.” Before the evening climaxed with music by DJ Rekha, actress Reshma Shetty led a pledge drive. She commented, “What I’m realizing being a first generation South Asian is we don’t talk about this. Even now we don’t talk about violence against women. We are fighting against silence, against fear.” She added, “Sakhi is using its resources well. It is great to celebrate something like this, because it’s such a serious topic. You have to find a cause bigger than yourself.”


Through corporate sponsorship and individual major gifts, ticket and auction sales, as well as donations, Sakhi raised more than $200,000. These funds make possible Sakhi’s vital programs to support survivors of abuse, engage communities through innovative outreach and media work, and enhance language access in the courts through policy advocacy. In the first half of 2009, Sakhi has already responded to 403 new requests for support and conducted 39 outreach presentations. At this rate, Sakhi will shatter its previous record of new requests for assistance, demonstrating how critical a community resource Sakhi is – especially in our current difficult climate.


“Sakhi has such a powerful story to tell. It also has many articulate spokespersons,” indicated long-time community supporter Kislaya Prasad. “I feel privileged to be able to support Sakhi.”