Working in a remote setting has been a battle between recharging our energies and settling into new boundaries. As a team, we are exploring what it has meant to shift work that we never could have imagined as anything but in-person, to a virtual setting. We have found both new challenges and possibilities in the process. In reflecting on the past year of virtual adjustments, we sat down with our colleagues to dive into their year, and discuss what made 2021 a memorable year for them.
Shubhekchya (she/her) joined Sakhi as an Anti-Violence Advocate in November 2020. She graduated from University of Florida with a Masters in Public Health, with a focus on Social and Behavioral Sciences. She has gained experience in working with survivors as a High Risk and Fatality Review Team Coordinator in six counties of Central Florida. She specializes in crisis intervention, risk management, child welfare investigation, Intimate Partner Homicide case analysis and multi-agency committee assembly with 6 years of experience in social services. As a trilingual who is fluent in English, Nepali and Hindi, she dedicates her work towards advocating for survivors in the South Asian communities. In her free time, she enjoys practicing yoga, reading, house music and exploring vegan spots. She can be reached at .
- When you think back on 2021, what comes to mind?
Reflecting back on 2021, I think I was able to grow a lot, through challenging cases, one of which even stretched internationally.
We had to reach family court internationally, which became successful in serving an abusive partner in another country. That was the first time I had worked on a case like that, where we successfully worked with a lawyer who advocated on behalf of the client, and reached an abusive partner through the consulate in another country.
This survivor came to us when she had just had her fourth baby. She had been experiencing abuse from in-laws and her husband for several years. She was isolated, not employed, and was very dependent on her husband. One day, he falsely told her that he was going to the park with his mom, and then he got on a plane to Pakistan with his mom and children.
She had had an early labor, complications, and was not doing well physically. She was not motivated and lacked hope. When we started talking to her, she was experiencing such a tragic loss. We had to meet her at ground zero where she was at. And then we slowly started building together.
She was receiving death threats from in-laws, yet she had no idea when they were coming or where they were. She did not have an order of protection from them. Relocating her and her infant was thus a huge component of building safety for her; it was her survival need.
She started building her support system. She was afraid of being isolated in a shelter where no one could understand her language. We placed her in a shelter that was linguistically and culturally competent. We also had Economic Empowerment Housing advocates working with her. The shelter was also working with her. It was teamwork.
At the beginning was survival mode, and then it became: how do we bring these children back? Keeping the survivors’ mental well-being and spirits alive was crucial. Ultimately, it’s a surivors’ decision what they want to do with their life, and whether they want to build their case.
It took us months to find the address of the husband. We had to do a well-being check on the three kids that were with the husband. Finally, the survivor received full custody of her children, with limited visitation from her husband.
This survivor and I have started talking about her future––her long-term goals. The future was not even in the back of her mind when we first met. At first, being alone was overwhelming. Now she is thinking about what apartment she wants to live in, as she awaits a housing voucher. She is thinking about what pre-K to send her infant to. Learning English and how to commute around New York. Building a vision for herself and power over her future.
Serving the ex-partner outside of jurisdiction overseas and reuniting that survivor with her children was the most meaningful accomplishment of mine this year.
These things could be possible for every survivor. It leads me to ask: what does advocacy mean, for us and for the survivors with whom we are working? I see this as a big success and a motivation.
It’s been a good motivation for us advocates, to achieve the seemingly impossible. The reason this person was served was to return the children who were abducted to their mother, a survivor, in the States. This person felt entitled to just take her children away. It was definitely a power play against the survivor. It was a good way to see advocacy; how we can empower the survivors with whom we work. These small or big accomplishments, through advocacy, I think show that we have not just a long way to go, but also a hopeful way to go.
It is a challenge still, to work with professionals externally who do not have trauma-informed background. There is a lot of work to be done in different fields of law enforcement, justice system, law firms etc. for us to work cohesively against gender-based violence.
- How has Covid-19 shifted your perspectives around your work?
I think the pandemic has only broadened my perspective, working in the pandemic, and working domestically and internationally. Something that seemed so far-fetched as resolving the international case has expanded the possibilities that I see in front of us. And having a strong relationship with our partner agencies has been a very strong point in advocating for our clients. The lawyer was also very motivated in working through these immigration, international issues. She was doing so much pro-bono work and expressed that it was so fulfilling.
Because I started at the end of 2020, this was my first job working remotely. I was a little wary of how this would work out, but our productivity hasn’t declined, and our clients really value having remote access to us. Not having to commute over a small concern has been a huge game changer. I think remote-working has actually favored clients who don’t have to deal with transportation. It cancels out the fear factor of being discovered, and it’s easier for many to schedule an appointment to speak with their advocate. I think we are more accessible at this point, to survivors. Sometimes it takes thirty minutes to an hour for clients to reach us. And our office is not completely closed; if there is an urgent need to be at the office it is arranged, but on a daily basis, we are maintaining the connection with advocates and with resources.
As our support groups are now online, survivors have had to learn how to use links, emails, video conferencing, and more. It has been a great opportunity to build digital skills. Now that folks have to join support groups, virtual courtrooms, and more, they’ve been pushed to learn these skills in tiny steps. They’re becoming more self-reliant in terms of how they use these digital systems. Before, we wouldn’t have dedicated as much time to learning these tools, because online work was always there but it wasn’t necessary. But now, court, therapy, and legal counsel are all online. I think it is a great learning opportunity.
- How have you seen COVID-19 affect yourself? And survivors with whom you work?
I have never had to face anything like the pandemic. 2021 made me realize that no, we adjusted, we bounced back, and actually, our work may even be improving.
Before the pandemic, this was an in-person service, so definitely, we had to adjust and be flexible with what was available to us. Our work dynamic has looked different. Instead of being in the office, in person, where we can see the body language, breathe with survivors if we have to, in crisis mode––these things are not available in the same ways. So now, we are doing this over the phone or video, and that has been something we have had to adjust to. I wouldn’t say service-wise, that it has affected our impact.
Personally, not being able to be in the community, which is something that I’m very interested in as an aspect of advocacy, has been difficult. It is important to me that we are able to educate not just survivors, but anyone who identifies as a survivor of trauma––that we are able to reach that population, and share how abuse and trauma happen in every city. I really enjoy working in the community to lower safety risks and work on building a violence-free community. That has been something that I have always wanted to, and I think that Covid made me realize, ‘you have to hold up, so how do we still keep going up on that need/want–we can’t let covid stop us from doing our community work,” – collaborating with community members and partners has helped. Adhikhar, which also works with the Nepali community, has been a great partner. Connecting with them, we’ve also met new survivors with whom we are now working at Sakhi.
Adjusting the dynamic of workflow, especially in terms of case management but also the community work, has changed.
- Are there any particular moments––with survivors, colleagues, or yourself––that stand out to you?
One of my most memorable moments was an invitation I received to attend a college graduation ceremony from a client, who I had once assisted in sending first responders to her in a crisis DV situation last year. At the time, I had to wait on the phone with them as a first responder came to her residence. She is now inviting us to her new home, for her graduation celebration next March. Sometimes it takes tangible evidence as such to see months of progress in a survivor’s healing journey. Watching that progression, not just from an advocate’s point of view, but also knowing the Nepali perspective––how hard it is to leave a marriage with two children in a foreign country, where she doesn’t speak the language. How hard that must have been for her. And yet her dreams have just become bigger and bigger, and I’ve been able to watch her grow that dream. After she completes graduation, she wants to attend medical school.
- Can you share a bit about your efforts in reaching Nepali survivors during this past year?
So when I started with Sakhi, nowhere in my mind was I wanting to work with only Nepali survivors. Gradually, as I started working with Nepali-speaking survivors, I realized that there was not a ton of exposure in the Nepali community. Being able to speak Urdu, Hindi, and Nepali, I realized that I could use my fluency in the community to build where we have yet to reach. I took this idea to Shyda, my team member and manager, and together, we built a vision around the kind of work that we can do together. And then we brought folks in the community together, and named this group “sakhi jamghat” which means, in Nepali, “get together.” We gathered in their community, taking care not to make them come to us, and we discussed the stakeholders of this movement––who sees themselves as survivors?
My focus is to get into the community and share that there is a Nepali advocate at sakhi. Let’s shed that barrier of not having an advocate who can see you and your culture. Let’s let the community know of our existence, and then share what we can do–work in the community as a team.
In the future, I look forward to partnering with Adhikaar, which has deep roots in the community, to co-facilitate support groups. Now, it might look like e-meetups, but in 2022, let’s see how Covid plays out next year, because we would like to get these groups running.
We seek to establish a safe space to address the Nepali community’s needs and create space for them to share and build their own visions for their own lives. From there we can discover what advocacy in those communities might look like. Right now, that community is unaware of our work. There is more work to be done, there are more survivors than we think, and I would love to have that platform available to the community.
The in-person meeting exceeded our expectations. We discussed, in a free-flowing fashion, so much. It was a mix of emotions: full of gratitude, hope, and frustrations around where folks were at, and how the system was broken. Especially around addressing immigrant needs and advocacy. So many folks come on their sponsors (partners), and there is so much abuse and threat around cutting [visa] sponsorship. A lack of education and opportunity also hinder long-term vision and independence. A lot of immigrants are not aware of the VAWA petition and their human rights. And we would really like to bring in that education to bring in possibilities for survivors to take control of their lives. Our job is not to tell them whether to leave an abusive situation, but rather to inform them of their rights––offer education around their rights and possibilities, and support them in their decision-making process and beyond.
The language barrier is a big one as well, as folks are also apprehensive toward stepping out of the community of folks who speak their language. And in our Nepali community, we also have a lot of stigma and taboo around domestic violence as well. People are not talking about it, not sharing or discussing what abuse looks like, and not sharing one’s rights. We are trying to build a framework of intersectionality that works in the community. This is not just a matter of addressing domestic violence,, we’re building a framework that is rooted in intersectionality. There’s sexual orientation, language, mental health, nationality––we want to bring all those factors together as we build power together
- Where and how have you experienced growth in this past year, either of yourself, or the world around you?
This year has offered a lengthy and good time to have self-reflection for myself. Knowing who I am as a person, as I keep on going in social services, I don’t see myself leaving this field. Meeting and working with clients, it’s a daily reminder of why we do this. And there is such a strong sense of purpose here at Sakhi. Across my team, we have the same sense of purpose in life. Sakhi gives us this platform in focusing on this issue that we all are so passionate about. I really appreciate our organization for letting me formulate a plan, work through it with team members, and implement this vision with the support of my team––so that I can support clients and the community. I appreciate this so much.
Working with this community, from my perspective, I grew up in a whole different country, different languages, and there’s the part of me that knows what it means to learn different laws, rules.
It doesn’t stop there. When there’s a problem, there’s a solution.
Reaching there, finding folks and a support system to get there, that’s the main goal. Not just in domestic violence, but in any life situation where there’s hardship––do we stay there, or do we move forward? And how can we do that together? I want folks to know that they have power within themselves to work for themselves.