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!

 

 

 

 

Sahiyo U.S. Advisory Board Spotlight: Maryum Saifee

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 Maryum Saifee, who has graciously agreed to serve as the Chair for our inaugural U.S. Advisory Board. photo3_maryumsaifee

1) Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I was born and raised in Texas and the product of Indian immigrant parents. Like many South Asian-Americans, my parents were baffled when I strayed from the script (pursuing a medical degree to eventually take over my mom’s practice) and opted for an unpredictable career in public service.  My first act of rebellion was joining the Peace Corps at nineteen. I worked in a small village just north of the Dead Sea in Jordan. In my two years there, I became interested in the impact of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. When I came home from Jordan, I served as an AmeriCorps volunteer working with South Asian survivors of domestic violence and educating school administrators in Seattle on the impact of post 9-11 anti-immigrant backlash. Just over ten years ago, I joined the U.S. foreign service where I spent more time in the Middle East serving in Cairo (during the 2011 Arab uprising), Baghdad, and most recently Lahore. I was also proud to serve as a policy advisor in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues leading the U.S. government’s efforts to address and respond to gender-based violence (including bringing about an end to Female Genital Mutilation) globally.

2) When did you first get involved with Sahiyo and what opportunities have you been involved in?

I first became involved with Sahiyo when I worked in the Secretary’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs in 2015.  I organized panel discussions at the United Nations during key moments (the Commission on the Status of Women and International Day of Zero Tolerance) as well as at large-scale civil society convenings like the Islamic Society of North America’s annual convening. Sahiyo was (and continues to be) a powerful force for social change. Prior to Sahiyo’s existence, FGM was framed as a faraway problem restricted to sub-Saharan Africa. However, over the last few years there is a greater understanding that FGM is global in scope and not only occurring in South and Southeast Asia but communities all over the world.  I have been honored to serve as Sahiyo’s first advisory board chair and hope to help the organization continue making a strong impact.

3) How has your involvement impacted your life?

Sahiyo is a powerful platform pushing for long-term social change.  Despite backlash and pushback, the organization continues its work and has given survivors like me the opportunity to forge bonds of solidarity with others fighting against FGM.  

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

I would say to try and stay upbeat even when there are challenges.  Changing mindsets won’t happen overnight, but it will happen in time.  My advice is to be patient and stay focused on the end goal. And in the meantime, make sure to practice self-care to avoid burnout.

 

Intern Spotlight: Sahiyo editorial intern Jenny Cordle

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Jenny Cordle joined Sahiyo’s team as an editorial intern in October 2018. She is currently researching the intersection of maternal and child health, traditional healing and spiritual beliefs in Northern Ghana through Georgetown University for her Master’s of Science in Global Health. Jenny’s passions include documenting human rights issues through photography and nonfiction writing. In 2016, she received a Certificate in Documentary Photography and Nonfiction Writing from Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, with her work focusing on female genital cutting in Mali, West Africa. She worked as a communications associate for Tostan. Read about Jenny’s experience with Sahiyo below:

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

I became an editorial intern in October of this year. I learned about Sahiyo’s work through a network of people in Washington, D.C, working to encourage abandonment of female genital cutting.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

I have the honor of honing the voices of many who share their experiences on the blog with FGC through storytelling and editing.

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

I have been on a journey to work in some capacity on FGC as a human rights issue since I lived in a small community in Mali, West Africa, where girls were cut. Sahiyo has given me that opportunity. I have been writing about my time in Mali and I will get to share those stories through Sahiyo’s platform, which is an honor. Working with Sahiyo has been an educational experience that has taught me more about FGC in Asian communities. It has also connected me to a network of tireless human rights activists.

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 is an incredible organization with dedicated global advocates. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have an interest in human rights advocacy. We need as many passionate people as possible to speak out in support of ending FGC. Check out our website on ways to get involved!

 

Volunteer Spotlight: Alisha Bhagat

Alisha is passionate about working with organizations to think systematically about a sustainable future for people and the planet. She is a futurist and strategist at Forum for the Future, a sustainability non-profit that works with companies on long-term thinking and systems change. Prior to joining Forum, Alisha was a foreign policy consultant for the US government. She first became an activist through protesting the war in Afghanistan in 2001. Alisha has served on the board of BitchMedia, a feminist media organization since 2016. In the past, she was a Girl Scout troop leader in her community. She holds an MS in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and a BS from Carnegie Mellon University. When not thinking about and shaping the future, Alisha is an avid gamer and science fiction enthusiast. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, adorable daughters, and loving cat.

1)    When did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I first became involved with Sahiyo in August 2016, when a friend connected me with Mariya, Sahiyo’s co-founder.

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

I made a documentary back in 2004 called Deen and Duniya that deals with religion and modernity in the lives of Dawoodi Bohra women in Mumbai. One of the topics covered is FGC. The film had been casually circulated amongst friends and family but given its relevance to Sahiyo’s work, Sahiyo asked if they could feature it on their blog so I did a short write up of it, which you can read by clicking here.
Most recently, I helped organize an activist retreat in New York for eleven activists associated with Sahiyo and working on FGC within the Bohra community. It took many months of planning, but we had a really productive retreat where activists were able to connect, find community, and better equip themselves to be change agents.

3)    How has your involvement impacted your life?

Being an activist is very empowering and meaningful to me. When I first found out about FGC in the Bohra community, I felt a number of things: shock, outrage, and helplessness. Engaging in activism is a way to reclaim power and agency. I strongly believe that the future is what we create so if this is something we do not want, we need to work towards making this practice a thing of the past. I’m so glad to be part of a community of people who feel similarly, who share not only the same cultural and religious background but also the same values. My involvement makes me hopeful for the future.

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

Start with a small action. Perhaps it is talking about Sahiyo’s work with a friend or sharing a survivor story. Maybe it means hosting an event or attending a workshop. The first step to engage is challenging but doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Think about a way that you could engage and contribute and find a way to do so that is personally meaningful. Also, if you don’t know how to participate – reach out! There is so much we can do together.

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Geethika Kodukula

Geethika is a graduate student of Biostatistics in Public Health at Kent State University, Kent Ohio. Originally from Hyderabad, she has been involved in social work since 2011 when she started studying Math, Stats and Computers at St. Francis Degree College for Women. She is a dog-person and endeavors to study Mental Health and suicidality among vulnerable populations. When she is not working on her research, she tries to read fiction and play video games.

1)    When did you first get involved with Sahiyo?Photo4_Geethika

I first reached out to Sahiyo in April 2016.

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

I proofread and edit the newsletters, blog posts and media reports for readability, help with sending out the newsletter, spread word among my peers, and help maintain the Sahiyo blog.

3)    How has your involvement impacted your life?

I am proud to be a part of this community. It’s terrific to read our volunteers’ and founders’ achievements each month. The impact that we are trying to create together empowers me and helps me fight the helplessness I feel in the face of injustice. Survivor stories each month keep me motivated to keep fighting.

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

Never underestimate what you can do. Ask for help when you need it. Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters. Don’t forget to take care of yourself!

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Roshan Kokane

Roshan Kokane is based in India and has been Sahiyo’s social media intern since July 2017. He is a journalist and web editor by profession and graduated in journalism from the University of Mumbai. He plans to continue his education in the field of journalism, human rights, public policy and public health to build a career and life in which he can effectively support every cause he believes in. To learn more about how he has supported our work at Sahiyo, read his interview below.
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1) When did you first get involved with Sahiyo?
I first got involved with Sahiyo in mid-2016 when I interviewed one of their co-founders for the article I was working on. Luckily, I got really intrigued upon chatting with them and knowing what they do and instantly felt the need to support the project. I have no first-hand experience of undergoing genital cutting and neither does someone from my family but when I first read about it in my college, it affected me. I knew I had to support the project somehow and began working with Sahiyo. I still help them out whenever I can and in whatever capacity they find me useful in.

2) What opportunities have you been involved with at Sahiyo?
I have started working on Sahiyo’s social media channels. I want to help the organisation in amplifying its reach and get more people to understand the impacts of Female Genital Cutting on survivors. I also look forward to helping Sahiyo with their website and reporting.

3) How has your involvement impacted your life?
I have really learned a lot from the little time I have spent working with Sahiyo. The co-founders are extremely humble and come with great knowledge and understanding of the subject. They have the right kind of treatment mapped under their objectives for everyone who seeks involvement. The recent investigation had a tremendous impact on the policies around Female Genital Cutting in Kerala and they work the organisation does is truly inspiring for me. Through my involvement, there has been a lot of learnings on human rights, violation of human rights, abuse, trauma, survivors’ strength and compassion for each other.

4) What pieces of wisdom would you share with new volunteers or community members who are interested in supporting Sahiyo?
Please support Sahiyo in every way you can. This is the social innovation (creating change and impact through conversations) we need to ensure that every human being deserves their right to live and no power can bring anyone to do something that’s not just abuse but a severely traumatic practice under the pretext of curbing their sexual desires or citing religious or health benefits. Sahiyo does a commendable job in proving that there are no medical benefits to female genital cutting and is very ethical and strong as a group with its values to end Female Genital Cutting worldwide.

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Shabana Feroze

Based in Bahrain, Shabana Feroze is a Bahraini citizen originally from India. She started volunteering with Sahiyo in April 2017 and is the owner of advertising agency The Silver Kick Company and co-owner of a lace fashion business called Lace Love. She teaches Les Mills group fitness classes in the evenings and is a style and travel blogger at TheSilverKickDiaries.com. She believes in chasing her passions and standing up for what she believes in.

1)    When did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I first got involved with Sahiyo in April, when I signed the petition for the UN to invest in research and support to end FGC in Asia. I commented on the petition that I’m signing as I’m a victim myself, and Mariya responded to me asking me if I would like to share my story on Sahiyo’s website.  I then shared my story on the website and became a volunteer soon after.

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

I try and help in any way I can as I want to support these incredible women who founded the group, and this worthy cause, as much as I can. I have helped make the website feedback evaluation questionnaire, helped to draft social media posts, and have been an interviewee for a research project based in Mumbai that will help activists who aren’t from the community. Currently, I’m working with the social media intern at Sahiyo to make their social media more effective and reach more people. And of course, I have shared the petition with my network and keep sharing news about FGC and Sahiyo’s research as much as possible so I can get friends and family to support the cause, and get them to share it with their friends and family.

3)    How has your involvement impacted your life?

I do think that being involved with Sahiyo has helped to reduce the pain of being a victim of FGC. It makes me feel so good that I’m able to be a voice of Sahiyo, and to help spread the word that FGC is harmful, unnecessary and traumatizing. Ever since I realized I’m a survivor of FGC (my memory had blocked it out), I have been wanting to do something to stop FGC and through Sahiyo I get to do it. It has given me the courage to be able to talk to my cousins and friends to not have it done to their daughters or other girls in the family.

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

Every little bit counts. There are many small jobs that need help inside the organization which we, as outsiders, don’t realize. So please volunteer and help out in those jobs. The founder members are already doing a lot of selfless work and spending lots of time to make Sahiyo a strong voice, and every little thing you can do to help them will help Sahiyo become stronger.