Celebrating 5 Years! Take five!

Another set of reflections about the 5 year anniversary of SAALT opening its first staffer office. Now we’re hearing from Imrana Khera, SAALT’s Program Manager from 2004-2005.

“SAALT represents the very diverse South Asian community living in the United States, a challenging job for any organization.  SAALT pushes our community forward by advocating for change within a social justice framework.  SAALT’s strength is its respectful and effective collaboration with organizations that are working with South Asian community at a local level across the country.

My expectation is that SAALT will continue to grow over the next five years and continue to effect change on behalf of our community – through education, policy, and research — like the award-winning Raising Our Voices DVD,  through SAALT townhalls/community forums, and reports like Washington DeSi: South Asians in the Nation’s Capital (July 2009) .”

Hear about the 2009 National South Asian Summit from the Attendees Themselves!

During the Summit, SAALT staff and interns used our handy Flip cameras to hear from attendees about their experiences. We’re are currently in the process of posting these clips on our YouTube channel. Hear what Summit participants learned, what they hope to bring back to their communities and more!

Taha Gaya:

Taz Ahmed:

Check out all the Summit Snapshots here: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=DFD50F179385221B

SAALT ChangeMaker Award Recipient Shares What Inspires Her

SAALT ChangeMaker Award Recipient Sonia Sarkar

SAALT ChangeMaker Award Recipient Sonia Sarkar

Sonia Sarkar, one of the recipients of the inaugural SAALT ChangeMaker Awards joined Project HEALTH during her (ongoing) undergraduate career at Johns Hopkins University. She shares what inspires her to be a change maker:

When I first joined Project HEALTH as a sophomore in college, I had no idea what being a ‘change agent’ entailed. More than anything, I was curious- having just moved to Baltimore, I wanted to know more about the community in which I lived but hardly ever explored. I still remember the strangeness of riding into East Baltimore in an air-conditioned luxury coach with ‘Johns Hopkins’ imprinted on the side in huge block letters. Why, I wondered, were there so many boarded up houses? So few grocery stores but an abundance of liquor stores? No recreation centers or free community health clinics? In a city that was host to one of the best health care institutions in the world, families were still suffering from the poor health outcomes that are linked inextricably with poverty. As part of a corps of volunteers who were dedicated to breaking this link, I hoped to uncover some answers.

I remember one of my very first encounters at the Family Resource Desk, where Project HEALTH volunteers work with families on a variety of issues related to health: employment, housing, food security, utilities assistance, adult education. Having just been through an intensive 13-hour training, I felt confident that I could offer at least something. A young mother came by the desk, with her three young children in tow. She looked exhausted, and explained that she had just spent a night in the ER with her youngest child, who had tested with extremely high blood lead levels. There was never enough food at the end of the month to feed her whole family, and she had been unemployed for some time. As I sorted through in my head the ways in which I might be able to help, I landed on the idea that applying for food stamps might be a good idea. I printed the application and handed it over to my client with great optimism. She looked at me wearily and asked me if I had ever actually filled out a public benefits application. When I shook my head no, she suggested I try it and then call her the next day. Four frustrating hours later, I was back on the phone with her- completely humbled by my attempt to muddle through the 12-page form. Despite my fancy education, despite my grounding in public health theory, I was the one who needed to learn.

Looking back at the experience I’ve had over these past three years, it continues to be the families and the students I work with who are a constant inspiration. Changemakers, social entrepreneurs, community advocates- they are the core of Project HEALTH’s work. As a society, we have come to accept as fact that a family in Mumbai or Dhaka needs access to basic food, shelter, and electricity if they are to live healthily. Yet when it comes to looking at our own inner cities- the very neighborhoods where we go to work and study- these basic tenets are easily forgotten. SAALT’s motto- “Strengthening South Asian Communities in the United States” is a piece of a much larger puzzle: regardless of location or heritage, strong communities are essential everywhere. The same values I grew up with in my strong Indian community- an emphasis on family, generational knowledge and support, vibrant storytelling- are present within the Baltimore communities I work with. It is an honor to receive the SAALT Changemaker Award, and I have been incredibly lucky to work with students and families who are breaking barriers everyday. They are a true inspiration to all of us who strive for change.

SAALT ChangeMaker Award Recipient, Asm Rahman, Profiled in Detroit Free Press

SAALT ChangeMaker Award recipient, Asm Rahman

SAALT ChangeMaker Award recipient, Asm Rahman

Asm Rahman, one of the recipients of the inaugural SAALT ChangeMaker Awards, is profiled in the Detroit Free Press. Elected the President of the Hamtramck NAACP, Rahman is a lifelong supporter of civil rights and education. Check out the article here <http://www.freep.com/article/20090427/NEWS02/904270359/>. I had a chance to talk with Mr. Rahman about what motivated him to take a leadership role in the NAACP as well as what he envisions for the South Asian community nationally and in the Detroit area.

Q: How did you get involved with the NAACP?

A: After 9/11, I realized that many people in my community were unaware of their civil rights. They did not know why they should become citizens or that many were confronting post-9/11 racism. While Detroit was not affected like some areas with open harassment, they did go after many people, especially Middle Easterners, in a way that seemed related to race. When I first came to this country, I had learned about Martin Luther King, Jr and Frederick Douglas and such during February, Black History Month, at Hamtramck High School. I realized that after 9/11, we, as a community, need to learn about and join this movement for civil rights. For our community, we need to see that freedom did not come cheap and we have to respect the African American community’s contribution to our freedom.

Q: What do you hope for your community, in Detroit and around the country?

A: I hope that the community can come together and get involved about the issues that we face. That’s why we formed BAPAC (Bangladeshi American Public Affairs Council). We saw that there were smaller organizations providing social services, but in terms of political engagement or civil rights, we were behind. Voting and politics are different in South Asia and it is important to educate our community about how the system works here. We run workshops like how to vote where we use a sample ballot to help Limited English Proficient or older voters navigate the process. The excitement that we saw during the Presidential elections must be maintained. This election was the first time I saw the Bangladeshi community getting involved in national politics. There was this sense that even if our votes did not count before, this time it will matter. My mother was watching the election like her son was running.

Q: What do you think the community needs in order to become engaged?

A: Firstly, I would say we need education and I do not mean just academics. We need to become familiar with the power structure. Knowing that can help us be prepared for emergencies, when people really need help. For instance, in terms of education, many immigrant parents do not know how they should get involved. By knowing what is already in place, community members can make a bigger impact on the issues that matter to them. Second, I would say it is leadership. This community needs leaders who really know what the problems are and how to address them. Ultimately, our numbers do not matter unless the numbers are doing something.

Deepa Iyer, Executive Director on Apr 28 Applied Research Conference Call “Race in Review: The First 100 Days”

Check out Deepa Iyer, SAALT’s Executive Director on Tuesday’s ARC call “Race in Review: The First 100 Days”. The call is at 4pm EST/3pm CST/1 pm PST. Learn more (and RSVP!) here <http://www.arc.org/content/view/594/1/>

Advocacy Day in Trenton, NJ–South Asian Style!

Poonam Patel, an intern at SAALT was in attendance for South Asian Advocacy Day in Trenton, NJ on March 16th. She shares her experience below. If you want to read more about the South Asian Advocacy Day, check out this great blog post by Sonny Singh at the Sikh Coalition blog!

On Monday, March 16th, I had the opportunity to attend the first South Asian Advocacy Day in Trenton, New Jersey–an inspiring experience, to say the least. Growing up in a traditional Indian family with the stigma that speaking to elected officials at any level is fruitless, it was reassuring to see legislators not only responsive to the issues discussed but also willing to take action—research new means of solving fundamental problems whether that involved supporting existing legislation or introducing new ideas.

One of the advocates talked about a project their organization had developed—grading public schools in a report card format based on their cultural competency. The legislator that was presented with this idea not only agreed that it was a very effective way of creating awareness, but also asked for specific details so that the program could potentially be implemented in her district. While I was listening to this exchange take place, it became clear that innovative projects developed by experts in their own fields combined with the government resources can truly have an affect on the community at large.

Furthermore, to see so many community members, advocates, and students collectively discuss the issues most relevant to the South Asian community shed light to the fact that they cross boundaries of all sorts–gender, age, and national origin to name a few.  Even though the South Asian community is so diverse in a number of ways, there are several issues we can all relate to such as developing comprehensive immigration reform or creating cultural competent resources for community members. This is what was at the heart of Trenton Advocacy Day. It wasn’t about each individual advocating something unique, but a strong, collective voice that caught the ears of state legislators.

DC Muslim Film Festival – “Art Under Fire”

On Wednesday, I had the chance to check out Sounds of Silence, one of the films being shown as part of the DC Muslim Film Festival that is SAALT is co-sponsoring. The film festival is being coordinated by the American Islamic Congress and Project Nur to showcase different aspects of the Muslim world through film. Sounds of Silence is an exceptional and eye-opening film that profiles artists in Iran who are fighting to find a way to express themselves through music under the guidelines of the Ministry Of Islamic Guidance or Ershad. The film highlights the underground music scene in Tehran and plays out an in depth interview with the journalist who is heavily involved in this movement. For me, the film allowed me to realize the intense need for a creative outlet during difficult times and the importance of music as it fills this role. I encourage you to check out this film and the artists featured in it.

The DC Muslim Film Festival will be airing The Warrior next week:

Thursday, March 12th at 8:30pm in Grand Ballroom at George Washington University

**Special Performances by: Capoeira Malês DC (Doing Capoeira–a Brazilian Martial Art) & MOKSHA (Presenting a Classical Indian Bharatanatyam Dance) AND Free Henna Painting**

Sudhir Venkatesh speaking at ChangeMakers Reception of the 2009 South Asian Summit

Sudhir Venkatesh's third book, Gang Leader for a Day

The 2009 South Asian Summit is fast approaching (register now!) and its shaping up to be an amazing experience. The latest development is the announcement of the speaker for the ChangeMakers Awards reception, Sudhir Venkatesh, Columbia University professor and author of some very interesting books about the underground economy in inner city America (including one I am currently reading: Gang Leader for a Day). We are very excited to bring Venkatesh’s insight and perspective to the Summit. So don’t miss out on any of the exciting events and register for the Summit (Apr 24-26 in Washington, DC) today!

For more information about the Summit, visit <http://www.saalt.org/pages/South-Asian-Summit.html>

SAALT Special Reception Takes DC by Storm

Staff and Board at SAALT Special Reception

The SAALT Inauguration Special Reception was a great success this Inauguration Weekend in Washington, DC. More than 200 people gathered at K&L Gates, a stones throw from the White House, to mingle and connect with one another, as well as bid on silent auction items and enjoy food and drink. Check out pictures from the event at the SAALT Flickr here.

See the whole album at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/saalt/sets/72157612864880146/

Staff and Board at SAALT Special Reception