An Update from Our ED

Dear Friends of Sakhi,

Happy Thanksgiving! I first heard about Sakhi 15 years ago when I got my start in this movement at Raksha, a sister organization, and was impressed by Sakhi’s innovative programs. I had the honor of taking the helm as Executive Director of Sakhi in July, and I hope to continue that kind of responsiveness to the needs of our constituents and community.

Many of you reading this letter today are a part of the rich history of Sakhi, and I encourage you to reach out to me. I am open to learning from our allies and supporters, and together we can create change.

Since July, I have been creating, with my team, our blueprint of next steps and priorities.Today, I want to update you on two areas that I hold as particularly important: community outreach and mental health.

During the initial intake process, our advocates ask, “Before you reached out to Sakhi, who else did you talk to?” The answer varies — a friend, a neighbor, a sister. Regardless of who a survivor confides in, a common response she often receives is don’t make trouble, keep the family together. This directive further isolates the survivor, putting  her in the difficult position of having to choose between her safety and her community. Through dedicated community engagement, we are striving to shift this conversation to include questions that attempt to address the root causes of violence: “Why does he choose to do harm? Why does the community accept his behavior? Where is there son-preference in our community? What does gender equity look like?” Ultimately, we want to create a community of support for those experiencing violence.

We are building community here at Sakhi through our Chai and Chat weekly support group. Mental health is an issue that affects us all — including my own family. Each woman who comes to Sakhi will be provided with opportunities to build a life of self-sufficiency, but those opportunities must be supported by self-care and access to mental health services.

With this in mind, we’ve been bolstering our mental health work through the Women’s Health Initiative by offering weekly support groups and one-on-one counseling. We are working to grow our capacity, and I am excited by the possibilities these types of groups hold. There’s still stigma attached to seeking help for mental health, and initially, there was little buy-in from survivors for  the support group. Over the past few months, as women have started sharing the benefits of the group with one another, more women have been attending to check it out. Ultimately, they are building  community,  a network of support within these spaces because too often, their own community let them down.

Part of destigmatizing mental health issues includes sharing our stories. This is what two of my colleagues are doing today through a piece being published on our newly launched blog. We want to use this blog as an engaging online forum to raise awareness around social and gender justice, and provide cultural commentary on issues within the South Asian diaspora.  In “Mental Health, Self-Care, and South Asian Womanhood: A Conversation Between Advocates”, my colleagues discuss their experiences with depression, culture, and the difficulty and strength of seeking help. I hope this piece serves as a conversation starter within our community. Please read and share with your friends and followers, leave your comments on our blog, social media, newly updated website, and continue this critical conversation.

With heart,

Shalini Somayaji

Executive Director, Sakhi for South Asian Women