In January, we launched our first ever Youth Empowerment Program to provide a safe space for young South Asian women to talk about dating, healthy relationships, sexuality and violence in their lives.
The work is led by Janai Smith, Sakhi’s Youth Advocate. The work is currently focused in the Queens community. Janai gathers interest among South Asian youth by conducting outreach activities in public schools and signing up interested young people to participate in workshops on sexuality, healthy relationships, HIV/AIDS, sexual harassment, and gender based violence.
The workshops and group meetings are conversational and interactive so that the youth can share their experiences and concerns with safety and comfort. As Sakhi is new to this work, we look to our sister organization SAYA! (South Asian Youth Action) as well as other partner organizations for resources, guidance and support. We conduct regular workshops with Desi Girls, a young women’s group at SAYA! Sakhi has also collaborated with Young Women of Color HIV/AIDS Coalition (YWCHAC), an organization dedicated to addressing the increasing HIV rates among women of color from 13-24, and Project Reach, an organization dedicated to empowering disenfranchised youth communities in NYC and enabling them to participate in the larger movement for social justice.
While the Youth Program is still growing, we have begun to see real impact. Since the beginning of the year, Janai has worked with a total of 30 young people. The youth we work with have offered us valuable feedback.
One woman expressed that at the Project Reach workshop, she felt surprised as she identified the biases she carried about race, gender and sexuality. Another young woman shared that through our workshops she was able to point out unhealthy habits in her current relationship. In regard to the space created for dialogue and conversation about healthy relationships, sexuality and violence, another young woman said, “I really enjoy the topics that we talk about, as well as the feeling of a safe environment in which you can express yourself.”