Women’s Health Initiative Launched

Meera and Megha Nayar

Women’s Health Initiative Launched in Memory of Longtime Sakhi Volunteer Renuka Nayar

Sakhi recently established a two-year Renuka Nayar Women’s Health Initiative Fellowship (WHI) to strengthen Sakhi’s resources and services in the physical and mental health space.

The goals are to deepen Sakhi’s continuum of holistic support through providing survivors of violence with mental and physical health services; promote survivors’ ability to complete training and education to achieve self-sufficiency; promote survivors’ healing and recovery; strengthen the survivor’s family and community; and engage in advocacy around promoting and protecting women’s health and human rights.

The initiative came about after Sakhi looked into why many women did not complete the training or workshops provided by the Economic Empowerment Program and discovered that mental health issues accounted for 90% of women failing to complete their programs.

The Nayar family of Mamoroneck, New York, funded the initiative in honor of their wife and mother Renuka Nayar, who passed away in August 2013.

“My mom was one of the first volunteers at Sakhi and was involved for over twenty years,” said Meera, a rising sophomore at Wellesley College. “We wanted to do something in her name because she was such a big part of Sakhi and she really loved volunteering here.”

Meera said her mother would have supported the mission behind the Women’s Health Initiative. “My mom was a really big advocate for South Asian women getting help in domestic abuse situations and being healthy, which includes mental health,” said Meera.

Meera and her younger sister Megha, a rising senior at Scarsdale High School, interned with Sakhi this past summer. Meera said her experience at an all-women’s college and writing a paper on domestic violence in South Asian communities also fueled her personal desire to get involved with Sakhi.

Spearheading the program is former Sakhi intern, Arpita Appannagari, a rising 2nd year Masters student at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Arpita said she wants to help turn Sakhi into a place that prioritizes women’s health, particularly mental, reproductive, and sexual health. “I want to transform Sakhi into a full service trauma center for survivors, ensuring that our survivors can begin to see themselves as women with agency of all aspects of their health.”

She said some of the first steps are to reduce the stigma in South Asian communities surrounding mental health. “In general, South Asians don’t speak about mental health,” she said. She believes the WHI is in line with Sakhi’s ultimate goal of empowering women in all areas of their life. “It’s sometime difficult to work for places that are issue or value oriented, but I’ve never felt that with Sakhi,” she said. “There hasn’t been a single day I’ve come here and felt like we’ve strayed from a very clear mission.”