Two wonderful women, Christine Francis and Zaihra Ahmed, joined Saheli as interns last fall. They have brought lots of energy, enthusiasm, and fresh ideas to their positions. Christine, a psychology major at Lasell College, works as Saheli’s Domestic Violence Program Intern, and also assists with the College Readiness Program for South Asian Girls. Zaihra Khairun Ahmed, a law student at Suffolk University, is Saheli’s Harry Dow Legal Assistance Intern, and is focusing her studies on human rights and immigration law.
As they reached the mid-year point of their respective internships, Christine and Zaihra spoke with journalist and Saheli volunteer, Santa Poddar, about their experiences and challenges they have faced.
Christine: My personal experience growing up in the Indian community inspired me. I became aware of how pervasive and salient violence against women was. Although I love my culture and community, I saw so much injustice and sought the education and experience to understand and confront these issues. Fast-forwarding to spring semester of my junior year in college, it was time for me to choose a place to intern for my entire senior year. When I heard about Saheli, the organization immediately captivated me. As I delved further into my research about Saheli, I knew that I definitely wanted to be a part of this team.
Zaihra: At a young age, I was exposed to the injustices that women and children faced, when I participated in observational fieldwork teaching in Bangladeshi village schools. This experience enlightened me and sparked my interest in completing my political science degree at Bates College. At Bates College, I wrote my thesis on the empowerment of Bangladeshi women through NGOs. This research underscored for me the value of human rights and my desire to dedicate myself to improving the lives of marginalized populations. Thus, two years later, I found myself at law school, but I knew amongst all the schooling I wanted to immerse myself in real-life practice. Therefore, when I realized that my law school was offering the Harry H. Dow scholarship for Saheli I was very pleased. Saheli not only provides me with the opportunity help with legal services for South Asian women and families who seek to lead safe and healthy lives through domestic violence safety planning, but also demonstrates how my coursework applies to the job. Saheli gives me a grassroots experience and a perspective on how the law often affects and can help assist efforts to improve certain communities. I am very happy to be a part of such an important group.
Santa: What is it like to be an intern at Saheli?
Christine: My title at Saheli is the “Domestic Violence Program Intern.” During my first semester, I worked closely with Senior Domestic Violence Advocates and assisted with administrative work, case consultations and peer supervision. Occasionally I provided supportive counseling for clients. I also learned about how this type of violence affects South Asians both similarly and differently, and was provided several opportunities to attend talks and trainings. I am still in the middle of my second semester and one of my favorite projects that I have been involved in was the College Readiness Program. This is a curriculum designed to empower South Asian adolescents at Watertown High School and it was such an exhilarating experience to impart advice and information to these amazing young women. In summary, the time I spent with this incredible team has provided me with a nuanced perspective on violence against women in this community. Every day I am grateful to work alongside and to be mentored by such amazing women who care about this issue as much as I do.
Zaihra: The Saheli community is nothing but helpful and effective. As a new member in September 2016 I was immediately greeted with compassion and guidance. Since then the Saheli volunteers’ and staff’s warm demeanor and dedication has continued and this in turn helps me become a more effective legal advocate.
Santa: What have been the most rewarding and challenging parts of your internships?
Christine: The most challenging aspect of my internship was getting accustomed to doing managerial work. It was difficult to keep track of the influx of emails, scheduling, and providing assistance to the office while meeting my educational goals at the same time. However, I found that these skills are just as vital as providing direct services to clients. This, along with the fact that I feel that my supervisors truly care about me and my growth as a young professional were the most rewarding aspects this semester.
Zaihra: I am learning new things and being positively challenged in every way at Saheli. The challenging work is trying to grapple with the injustices some of our clients face; however, this challenge has a sense of purpose that drives me to become a better legal advocate. The work the Saheli volunteers and I do is important and life-changing.
Santa: What surprised you most about working for Saheli?
Christine: When I first stepped into Saheli’s twentieth anniversary party, I was a bit intimidated by everyone. I was the youngest person working on my undergraduate degree, as there were psychologists, medical and legal professionals, social workers, professors, and highly experienced advocates in the room. What was most surprising, when I spoke with everyone that day and for the rest of the semester, was how humble and down-to-earth everyone was. My supervisors as well as other members were so inclusive, passionate, intelligent, and genuinely wanted my input for projects and making decisions.
Zaihra: Saheli is wonderfully surprising in many ways, but the one way that sticks out to me is how well integrated it is in the Boston community. Saheli working together with all the other NGOs and care services is truly inspiring.
Santa: What is your advice to others who are thinking of interning for Saheli?
Christine: My advice for anyone who wishes to interning for Saheli goes as follows: do your research and see if it is something you want to be a part of. In order to provide the services as effectively as we can, Saheli needs interns and volunteers who are consistent, responsible, passionate, and dedicated. Expanding on this sentiment, do what you can for your community! There are so many ways to support Saheli, and the best way to figure out where your skills are most needed is to schedule a time to talk the people who work here. Everyone will be enthusiastic to hear that you want to help out in any way possible!
Zaihra: Saheli is a community that can help change lives of people placed in impossible situations. The work at Saheli is important, rewarding and inspiring. If you want to make a difference in someone’s life, I highly suggest you join the team.