An interview with Sakhi’s Community Engagement Advocate, Linda Cheriyan.
How do you envision your role in Sakhi’s Community Engagement Program, and what are your goals and/or intentions for the future of this program? (Feel free to also share about what drew you to Sakhi and this work!)
Linda: When I heard about Sakhi, I knew I needed to be part of this community. Growing up, I didn’t just get to read about gender based violence— it affected my loved ones. I knew early on in my life that I wanted to fight for those specifically in my community. I wanted everyone to care just as much as I did. With the Community Engagement Program, I have the power to do just that, to change the conversation in our community. I envision that through this role, I will be actively encouraging the community to break the silence of speaking out against violence. I see Sakhi also taking part in more mainstream advocacy as well building long-term partnerships and joining different movements in their struggle.
Can you please share a particular moment that has stood out to you thus far?
Linda: The environment and community that exists within Sakhi has really stood out to me. Sakhi is not only a safe place for survivors but also for the people who work here as well. The warmth that everyone brings forth everyday has made it so much easier to truly feel a part of Sakhi. It is incredible to be among so many people who share similar passion in the work they are doing daily.
What does it mean to you for an organization to be survivor-centered and survivor-led? How do you think the Community Engagement program can cultivate the leadership and expertise of survivors to further combat gender-based violence?
Linda: Often, survivors of gender-based violence are shamed away from coming forward because of the stigma that exists around this form of harm. So for this organization to be both survivor-centered and survivor-led means we are closer to breaking the barriers and taboos within our culture. It means giving power to survivors to tell their stories. It is only the survivors that can truly speak to their experiences.
My hope is that the Community Engagement Program will play a critical role not only through community events but also by putting survivors at the forefront as community organizers to share their stories. Abusers often thrive from the silence of the survivors of their abuse, but with the Community Engagement Program, we are actively making our presence in the community known and are engaging in hard-to-have conversations. Letting survivors know that they have support in the community will allow more folks to come forward.
What does gender-justice mean to you?
Linda: Gender justice is ensuring that everyone is equipped with opportunities to thrive in a world without the limitations of gender stereotyping. Gender justice is where families are celebrating the births of their baby girls instead of cursing the mother’s wombs.
Gender justice is having equal access to education and healthcare. It is beyond just having a seat at the table but intentionally being included in any and all progressive changes.
What are some unique benefits and challenges you have seen or observed when it comes to community engagement specifically in the South Asian diaspora?
Linda: I have noticed that at community events, the youth come forward to ask questions about how they can be involved in advocating for survivors in the South Asian community. It gives me hope to know that they are interested in ending the silence and addressing the needs of the community. Additionally, I am noticing older generations are coming forward and asking for information. However, I have noticed some hesitation from individuals when picking up flyers in public spaces, and this is a challenge that I hope our program can work around.
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