BY JON CRONIN
Sakhi For South Asian Women began 27 years ago to help end the silent suffering of immigrant South Asian women who did not feel that they could function alone in their new country.
Sakhi, which is a Hindi word meaning “woman friend,” was founded in 1989 by five women from different fields Anannya Bhattacharjee, Mallika Dutt, Tula Goenka, Geetanjali Misra and Romita Shetty to create a safe place for women to learn their rights and educate themselves so they may also find economic freedom.
Shalini Somayaji, executive director of Sakhi, said that they mainly deal with immigrants from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. She added that about 45 percent of their clients live in Queens, with the rest mainly coming from the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island.
Somayaji said that in a culture that is mainly a patriarchal system, it is unfortunately viewed as “breaking families apart,” and is often faced with people who advised relatives who witnessed or have faced domestic violence “Don’t speak out. This is a family issue.”
She added that Sakhi is about “addressing gender equity and gender justice.” She said that although patriarchy is an issue they face, “We don’t want to give in to broad stereotypes, but we run into that.”
Another valuable seminar that Sakhi provides is training the bystander of domestic abuse, a program that helps people help others. In this program, held in community centers and sometimes local Gurdwaras, a friend may not speak out directly, but instead grab literature on the way out.
She added that another priority it has this year is to work more in schools and college campuses with the South Asian Youth Action. Somayaji said in the next year or two, she sees Sakhi extending its aid not only to immigrants, but first-generation South Asian women in need of aid.
Somayaji said that the nonprofit publicizes its hotline, but not its address. Once a potential client contacts them, they give out the address and the client comes in. The program does not shelter women, but does work with shelters, like Sanctuary For Families, throughout the city. The organization also helps with legal information on immigration, child custody, and child support and family law.
Many of their clients only socialize with people within their immigrant communities and have either not yet learned English or do not speak it fluently. Sakhi’s programs provide language skills, resume building, networking and financial literacy skills. The programs help these newcomers and survivors of abuse get ready to enter the workforce. Somayaji has staff developing relationships with large retailers and hotels, like the Hilton and Pret coffee shops to set up interviews for clients.
It also has a small scholarship fund that helps their clients pay for schooling as home health aides or nurse practitioners.
Somayaji noted that some, but not many, who come to them have even held high administrative positions in their native lands, but wants everyone to know that thee organizations accommodate all age ranges.
Sakhi often coordinates with the South Asians For Empowerment in Richmond Hill, a nonprofit that aids low income immigrant families and helps them integrate financially and culturally into their community. Sakhi currently has office hours there every other Wednesday.
Reach Editor Jon Cronin at 718-357-7400 x125, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JonathanSCronin