Staff Spotlight: Development Intern Sarrah Hussain

Sarrah is an undergraduate student still exploring what she wants to study at Stanford University. She is passionate about women’s rights and health, especially female genital cutting (FGC). This will be her first time working with a nonprofit organization, and she is excited to create change and uplift voices with the Sahiyo team.

1) When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I began following the Sahiyo instagram account and learning about their mission last year, when I became curious to learn more about FGC within my community. Since then, I have actively followed Sahiyo and its work, and when I saw the opening for internships in February I thought I’d shoot my shot. Since May of this year, I am officially a development intern for Sahiyo, and could not be more excited to work with this incredible team to make an impact for an issue I care deeply about.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

As a development intern, my work is primarily focused on expanding Sahiyo and securing grants and funding opportunities so Sahiyo can do the meaningful work it does.

3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?

I am still relatively new to Sahiyo, but already Sahiyo has impacted my life because I know I am contributing to a larger mission to create a greater change in the world. I am inspired by the passion I see in those I work with, and happy knowing my work has real meaning.

4) What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC?

I would say take the leap! When first considering applying to Sahiyo, I didn’t think I had the skills necessary to be a development intern, I was scared that I wouldn’t live up to what was asked of me, and I was even a little nervous about being involved with a nonprofit working on such a taboo subject. But I took a leap, applied, and got the position, and I am so happy I did. Though sometimes I feel lost, there is a whole team of wonderful people who want to support you and help you learn. It is really comforting and inspiring to see others who feel the same way as you and simply want to protect future generations of girls.

Volunteer Spotlight: Programs Intern Hunter Kessous

Hunter Kessous is currently an undergraduate at Brandeis University studying Biology, Health: Science Society and Policy, and French. She has been passionate about ending female genital cutting (FGC) ever since she first learned of the practice. Hunter aspires to be a gynecologist and perform reconstructive surgeries for survivors of FGC. Hunter is also a student researcher on an FGC project. She joined Sahiyo in May. 

When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I first connected with Sahiyo when I reached out for help with my research project on the movement to abandon FGC. Mariya, one of the co-founders, asked if I would like to volunteer for the summer. When the pandemic started, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get involved. I’m so grateful I’ve been able to work on the Sahiyo team remotely.

What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

I’m a programs intern, which means I am planning webinars. My big project at the moment is a webinar on FGC and education. The topic was inspired by my own experiences with how FGC is taught at my university. I also attend as many webinars as possible in order to learn what information is currently out there, and to see how other webinars are formatted. 

How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?

Before my internship with Sahiyo, I read and learned a lot about FGC. Even still, in just the first month of volunteering, I have learned so much more than I anticipated. I’m eager to continue broadening my knowledge and understanding of FGC through my work with Sahiyo. I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting many wonderful anti-FGC advocates and survivors. The movement to abandon FGC consists of a close network, and I am thrilled to join the community and have the opportunity to work with so many inspiring people. 

What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC?

For every moment you spend working with Sahiyo, you will feel that you are doing something important and worthwhile. You will meet empowering, wonderful people from inside and outside of the Sahiyo team that will make you feel supported and essential to the cause. I encourage anybody interested in joining the Sahiyo team to do so!

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Development Intern Maria Elena Rivera-Beckstrom

Maria Elena Rivera-Beckstrom is a researcher and an instructor with a strong interest in gender and women’s rights, and human rights. She uses her teaching as a platform to raise awareness on gender violence and inequity. She joins Sahiyo so she can contribute to the efforts in ending female genital cutting (FGC) as a development intern. She currently teaches at Salem State University’s Interdisciplinary Studies Department and also works at the Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership.

1) When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo? 

I started with Sahiyo on the week of May 18 as one of the new development interns. I basically found the call for application and looked up Sahiyo. It was actually the first time I learned about the organization, and although I have known about FGC, I did not know that it is also practiced in Asia. I voraciously read the website and decided to apply for the internship.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve? 

As a development intern, I help in funds-sourcing by doing research on grants for which we’re eligible to apply. I also help in developing and planning fundraising campaigns. Later, I believe, I will help out in writing proposals for grants. I also fulfill special assignments for staff members.

3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life? 

Since I have joined Sahiyo, I have become more knowledgeable about FGC and its practice in Asia. Although I just basically started, I am also learning more about the operations of a nonprofit. What’s most impactful, however, is that I already feel integrated with a group of people who are driven by the same mission: to end FGC. It is quite amazing to work with people who are passionate about and committed to a cause that addresses a particular issue of gender violence. It gives your life another level of meaning.

4) What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC?  

It is always a worthy endeavor to join a group of people for a worthy cause. Sahiyo’s effort to end FGC is a cause worthy of everyone’s time and investment and I encourage you to join us. What we’re doing impacts the lives of girls and women, and when we give even a little of ourselves to others, we make our own lives richer and more meaningful. We welcome you in our journey. Join us.

 

Sahiyo Intern Spotlight: Kendra Davis 

Kendra is a master’s student at Brandeis University studying global health. Prior to attending Brandeis, she was a community health volunteer for three years in Togo, West Africa. Kendra is passionate about educating communities on reproductive health issues. She is excited to contribute her experience, as well as grow with the Sahiyo team. 

1) When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I first learned about Sahiyo in April through my school’s weekly newsletter about internship and volunteer opportunities. I started getting involved with the organization in May as a development intern.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

So far I have updated monthly budgets and helped brainstorm fundraising campaign ideas. 

3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?

I wanted to gain hands-on financial management and budget development skills. I have been very appreciative of how intentional the organization’s leaders have been in ensuring I am exposed to opportunities to learn and strengthen these skills. 

4) What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC?

While I was onboarding, I was given educational material which helped me grow in my understanding of why female genital cutting (FGC) is practiced even through the passing of laws that have tried to stop it, unfortunately it still persists. I would say educating people about the history and the system that allows this practice to continue is the first step anyone can take. I feel like once you have that foundation, you can see how you can use your skills to take action, if that’s through teaching others, developing media strategies, or being an advocate for someone who has gone through FGC.

 

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Zahra Qaiyumi

Zahra Qaiyumi completed her undergraduate education at The University of Maryland, studying Physiology, Neurobiology, and Spanish. Afterward, she pursued a Master’s degree in Physiology at Georgetown University. She then moved to the Bay Area and participated in neurobehavioral research while working with adolescents diagnosed with ADHD at the University of California San Francisco’s Neuroscape Center. Currently, she is in her third year of medical school at the Frank H. Netter M.D. School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University. 

1) When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I have been following Sahiyo’s work as an organization for many years, but decided to get involved in the fall of 2019 during what was a rough patch in my personal life for a few reasons, khatna, or female genital cutting (FGC), being one of them. 

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

As a volunteer, I have written pieces interpreting research on FGC, as well as helped put together abstracts and posters in order to disseminate Sahiyo’s work to healthcare providers, survivors, social works, and law enforcement, among other groups. I hope to do more of this type of work with Sahiyo in the future. 

3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?

As someone who grew up in a community where FGC was the norm, my involvement with Sahiyo has been an integral part to self-actualization and healing. I joined Sahiyo at a time where I desperately needed allies who understood my personal struggles with FGC. Since joining, I have been able to use my personal experiences and integrate them with work that will positively impact my career as a healthcare professional. 

4) What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC?

Sahiyo has taught me that joining a community of peers that are just like you, that have been impacted by the same circumstances you have, can be healing in so many ways. Using experiences that are deeply personal to you in order to make change in the world, no matter how small, is liberating. I encourage anyone who is looking to feel such liberation to support Sahiyo in their goal to end FGC.

Intern Spotlight: Sahiyo Social Media Intern Kavya Palavalasa

Kavya Palavalasa joined Sahiyo’s team as a social media intern in July of 2019. Kavya has interests in film, art, research and gender relations in law, labour and academia. She is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in law at Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University in India. She has not only worked with Citizens for Justice and Peace in Mumbai, but she was also the editor-in-chief of the Centre for Women, Law and Social Change Blog for two years.

1) When did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I heard about Sahiyo last December when I was attending a workshop in Himachal Pradesh, India. It was the first time I had a constructive conversation about female genital cutting (FGC), and I wanted to support the movement against the practice in any way I could. I joined Sahiyo as a social media intern in July!

2) What opportunities have you been involved with at Sahiyo?

As the social media intern, my work has largely included helping manage the social media handles, and content creation for campaigns, as well as for the daily feed.

3) How has your involvement impacted your life?

Our body is a battleground. It is a struggle for power that often leaves behind scars. This manifests in the practice of FGC, as it establishes control over a woman’s sexual and bodily autonomy. What has been most inspiring about working with Sahiyo is that I have had the opportunity to witness a movement that allows women to encounter their experiences and their bodies as beautiful stories to be narrated, and not just as legal facts. It has been wonderful to closely observe and support this community of kind, brave, and tireless people. While creating content, I have understood the importance of compassionate and respectful language in advocacy, especially on social media. I have also understood so much about the practice itself. I found the Sahiyo guides and toolkits to be extremely informative and helpful. I believe that my involvement has had a deep impact on the way I communicate with people, and it has left me with hope for the future. I look forward to learning more!

4) What pieces of wisdom would you share with new volunteers or community members who are interested in supporting Sahiyo?

The resources that Sahiyo offers are incredibly helpful in starting a constructive conversation about female genital cutting with absolutely anyone. We must not forget that the strength of our feminist movement lies in a deep understanding of collective memories and struggles.

Volunteer Spotlight: Mariam Sabir

Mariam Sabir was born and raised in Dubai. After completing high school, she moved to the U.S. for further education. She is currently in her third year of medical school at American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine. Her passion is medicine and she believes in having a tangibly positive influence on people and being there for them in their most vulnerable state. 

1) When did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

This is actually a great story. I first heard about Sahiyo from a friend and was determined to attend the activist retreat. Alas, I had to work the very same weekend of the retreat and was terribly upset. I filled out a volunteer application in an attempt to get more involved. I am a medical student and was placed in Bakersfield, California, at the time for clinical rotations. Soon enough, I get an email from Mariya Taher, cofounder of Sahiyo, that she is from Bakersfield and was going to be visiting within the next two weeks. I was floored! What are the chances? We met and clicked right away. She has done so much for the cause and has inspired me to do the same. Having to miss the retreat only to meet with the cofounder of Sahiyo instead proved that joining Sahiyo was the right thing for me to do. God has a way of making things work.

2) What opportunities have you been involved with at Sahiyo?

So far, I have been involved with a FGM/C roundtable conference in MA, written a blogpost, contributed to our knowledge about FGM/C by reading and summarizing important articles about FGM/C, as well as contribute ideas and ways to improve and expand Sahiyo.

3) How has your involvement impacted your life?

Prior to being involved, I always felt this suppressed stress/urge to do something about FGM/C. Although, I have not contributed in a big way, being involved with Sahiyo and having open discussions with all the volunteers has put my conscience at ease. Sahiyo has several different ongoing projects in which you can use whatever skill set you have to contribute in any small way. It is the collective effort of everyone’s small contributions and their passion that has allowed Sahiyo to reach where it is and where it will be in the future. I am so happy to be a part of that growth!

4) What pieces of wisdom would you share with new volunteers or community members who are interested in supporting Sahiyo?

Spreading awareness is the most important thing for me. So my piece of wisdom would be to never shy away from discussing FGM/C with someone, whether it is your mom, aunt, cousin or friend. I understand it can be a daunting task, especially if the person you are trying to speak to is strong minded and conservative. But remember, it is not your job to change their mind or have them agree with your opinion. Your job is to simply make them question the tradition. Question the fact that maybe FGM/C, a tradition that has been followed for decades, needs to be reevaluated. Sahiyo has plenty resources you can use on how to approach the subject in the most polite, un-opinionated and non-judgemental manner.

Volunteer Spotlight: Sakina Sharp

Sakina Sharp is a corporate attorney and co-founder of a domestic violence organization in San Antonio. Sakina is vice president and managing attorney at USAA, which is a financial services company. She has been a practicing in-house attorney for 20 years, specializing in insurance regulatory law and consumer privacy. Approximately 8 years ago, she co-founded a nonprofit in San Antonio, Awaaz, to serve South Asians who are survivors of domestic violence. She served on the board for 7 years. She recently joined Sahiyo as a volunteer.

1) When did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

Early this year, I discovered Sahiyo when searching for an organization that advocates against female genital mutilation/cutting. This issue has been on my mind for decades and at the same time, it was hidden under the surface. I did not know, realize or understand that there were so many other Bohri women who felt the same way I do, and were doing something about it. I found Sahiyo on Facebook, and was taken aback. I felt like I found a forum to express my hidden story. I wanted to share my experience, and I thought getting involved with Sahiyo would be a way to do it. My first involvement was attending the annual retreat. The conversations in the retreat were very powerful. They helped me process my own experience. I had a hidden story inside me for many decades. The retreat allowed me to express it and then verbalize it into a blog.

2) What opportunities have you been involved with at Sahiyo?

I attended the annual retreat a few months ago. The experience was impactful. Since then, I volunteered to be the newsletter coordinator. I also draft the legislative and regulatory updates, allowing me to apply my legal training to my volunteer work.

3) How has your involvement impacted your life?

My involvement has helped me express myself and feel part of a bigger cause. I feel like I do my little bit to give a voice to an important gender-violence issue, which I personally have not been able to express in public. Perhaps if each one of us does our bit, we can encourage just another person to speak up, and then that person encourages another, and we eventually make a systematic change.

4) What pieces of wisdom would you share with new volunteers or community members who are interested in supporting Sahiyo?

Sahiyo provides a very safe place to advocate against FGM/C. Each of us can volunteer in our own ways. We can be private advocates, talking to our family members and friends, or pubic advocates, talking to the larger community by attaching our names to our stories. Whatever we want to do, whenever we want to do it, Sahiyo is there to provide the tools we need to tell our stories. And, if we just want to listen, and do it anonymously, Sahiyo provides a venue for that as well. My advice is to reach out as you are not alone.

 

Sahiyo U.S. Advisory Board Spotlight: Zehra Patwa

As Sahiyo’s U.S. operations and programs have grown, in 2018, we invited various individuals from a host of backgrounds and professions to join our inaugural U.S. Advisory Board. The advisory board provides strategic advice to the management of Sahiyo and ensures that we continue fulfilling our mission to empower communities to end Female Genital Cutting and create positive social change through dialogue, education, and collaboration based on community involvement.

This month, we are pleased to highlight Zehra Patwa, who has graciously agreed to serve as the Vice-Chair for our inaugural U.S. Advisory Board.

1) Can you tell us a bit about your background?Zehra sideshot 2019.JPG

I was born and brought up in the UK and moved to the US in the 1990s. I was born into the Dawoodi Bohra community and remain there with my family here in the US. In 2012, I saw a video of a Bohra woman talking about her khatna (FGM/C) and it opened up a whole world that I had previously been oblivious to.  At that same time, I found out that I, too, had undergone the cut at the age of 7 but I have no recollection of it.  Despite having no memory of my experience, I decided I could not be silent about this practice in what I had always known to be an educated and progressive community with strong women role models. I co-founded WeSpeakOut with several other women who were determined to end khatna in the Bohra community and we have helped open up the conversation on this once secret practice. We have also shed light on the practice in the Indian Supreme Court and hope to have an anti-FGM/C law on the books in the near future, I am also involved on the Board of IRIS, a refugee resettlement agency working to help refugees make a successful life in the US. I feel very strongly that we need to see each other as human beings first rather than getting bogged down with which group we identify with.
2) When did you first get involved with Sahiyo and what opportunities have you been involved in?
When I first got involved with activism, it was in a Whatsapp group with the founders of Sahiyo and several other women discussing our khatna experiences and encouraging each other to speak out against this injustice. Since then, my connection with Sahiyo has blossomed! Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut have done several campaigns together, notably, Each One Reach One, where we developed helpful guides to start the conversation about khatna between friends and family. I have attended several Sahiyo retreats, as well as participating in the wonderful Sahiyo Stories workshop where I created a video describing my feelings toward the reactions I have faced for speaking out about khatna.
3) How has your involvement impacted your life?
Finding out about this practice in my community in my forties set me off on a path of activism that I would never have foreseen. Working with Sahiyo has taught me that social change takes time and in order for cultural norms to shift, there needs to be a groundswell of support and shared experiences. I feel confident that with so many people speaking out, that this groundswell of support is growing every day and that gives me hope for the young girls in the Bohra community.
4) What pieces of wisdom would you share with new volunteers or community members who are interested in supporting Sahiyo?
Listen to those who you may not agree with and try to find common ground.  You will find that even if you disagree about something as important as khatna, you can find mutual understanding and come to a place where you are able to communicate at a deep level.  That is the beginning of true social change.

Sahiyo’s New Video Campaign: No More Female Genital Cutting – Volunteers Share Their Stories

As April is known as Sexual Assault Awareness month, as well as a National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Female Genital Cutting (FGC) is an issue which lies at the pivotal intersections between these two issues, Sahiyo has begun a campaign to highlight why the Sahiyo community is working to both support survivors of FGC as well as to work towards preventing FGC form occurring to future generations of girls.

Sahiyo reached out to our community of volunteers- spanning the globe, from Bahrain to Boston, and asked them to share their thoughts on their activism to end FGC, and why this issue matters to them.

Throughout the month, short videos made by our Sahiyo community will be shared via social media. These voices belong to our volunteers, staff, advisory board and storytellers, each of whom has a different history and experience or knowledge of FGC – from beginning volunteers to more experienced advocates

Do help us share this tapestry of powerful voices that are part of the ‘No More FGC- Volunteers Share Their Stories’ campaign by sharing these videos with your own networks. 

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Find them on Sahiyo’s Youtube or Facebook today!