As Thaakat Foundation’s Break the Silence lead this past year, I’ve heard countless stories of violence against women. These span from instances of domestic violence here in the U.S. to systematic mistreatment of women all across the world. Ever since the brutal rape in New Delhi, India that made international headlines, and jolted our collective conscious, Thaakat Foundation has made it a priority to empower women, educate our communities, and build a network of information and transparency.
Since my first criminal law class as a nervous first year law student, I’ve been exposed to a wide variety of legal and social protections for women. For example, amazing organizations such as Apna Ghar (“Our Home”) and Mujeres Latinas en Accion provide resources in the form of counseling, translation services, and transitory housing. In addition, the Violence Against Women Act, empowers immigrant victims of domestic violence who may otherwise fear deportation if they report their abusers to authorities, to file for a green card. Resources are available. However, research shows that the overwhelming reason victims don’t seek help is because they simply don’t know about their options.
As a senior law student, I am able to handle my own cases (supervised by a licensed attorney, of course). I went to the courthouse ready to meet my first client. I was nervous, afraid of messing up an Order of Protection for someone who really needed it. My client walked in, and before I saw her injuries, she looked like someone I would go to school with. When I first met Amy*, she had bloody stitches on her forehead. Her head, arms, neck, throat were covered in purple-yellow spots. She kept pulling at her clothes, self-conscious that she wore sweats to court because she was in too much pain to dress more formally. Throughout our hours-long meeting, she described how her she got those bruises, occasionally using apologetic self-deprecating humor to diffuse the seriousness of the situation. Although I had spoken at length about domestic violence at length before as a liaison from Thaakat, I wasn’t prepared to meet a girl, no older than myself, who needed the law to protect her.
Thaakat Foundation has worked overseas to ensure that Pakistani girls in our Kachra Kundi Campus are provided with the same access to education as their brothers. We’ve worked to reduce the stigma of domestic violence in immigrant communities, empowering women to leave abusive relationships. In the abstract, it’s easy to isolate people who we don’t know and haven’t met. It’s too easy to dismiss their stories as other. But meeting Amy, a white, educated woman with the support of her family and friends, reminded me that women’s issues are everywhere. They are in South Asia, in the U.S., and in our communities.
As Emma Watson said in her epic U.N. Gender Equality Speech (if you haven’t watched it, you should), “Feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes”. We are still a long way from reaching political, economic, and social equality, but the first step is education and I hope that my experiences have given you a better sense of what we have accomplished, and how much more we have yet to accomplish. And in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I hope that you will help us Break the Silence.
One out of every four women will experience abuse during her life. However, increasing reports are being received from men who have been victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence can happen to anyone.
Break the Silence Lead, Thaakat Foundation
711 Law Student, Class of 2015
DePaul University College of Law
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In this last year we have seen many challenges but more than anything you all have allowed us promise and opportunity. Growth at our adopted project sites has been exponential and we have been able to touch people in a way we never imagined!
Below are some mid year project highlights we wanted to share with all of you.
Fatama Maternity Center, Sierra Leone: In April 2014 we launched our state of the art healthcare facility in Pujehun District, Sierra Leone. Not only has this center set a standard of care in all surrounding regions but thanks to the guidance of our site manager, Philip Momoh and guidance of the district medical officer, we now have the only facility for hundreds of miles operating with light around the clock. This was possible through our solar electricity installation earlier in the year. We knew it would cost more, but we didn’t want our staff to be limited in when they could treat patients, day or night.
Since the launch of our center, an average of 500 patients see our nurse on a monthly basis. More than half are children, dozens are mothers receiving pre-natal care and hundreds more are adults looking for vaccines and treatment against deadly diseases such as typhoid and hepatitis. The leading cause of visits is Malaria (contributing to at least 50% of case visits) and we will be evaluating opportunities for prevention and education of this disease.
A few months ago, the country was also ravaged by an Ebola outbreak, one of the worst of the century. While the government helps to contain the fatal disease, our nurse and staff have put on their safety gear and gone door to door to help encourage villagers to come forth if they are ill. We have also been the first in the district to distribute rubber buckets and bleach to help stop the rapid spread of the virus.
We have also hired 2 more employees to help keep the center safe and clean and have been able to provide a 25KG bag of Sierra Mix, a nutritional infant supplement that is already making impact for our littlest patients.
Dreams for Kachra Kundi, School in Karachi, PK: When the year began we were struggling financially. The number of students was growing, our bus was no longer big enough for our teachers and we simply needed more classrooms. Without budget we began and were hopeful donations would come. Today, we have gathered enough in donations to continue the expansion of 12 more classrooms. Thanks to partners like One Ummah, we have also been able to supplement the students with food and new clothes and have also gotten an advance deposit for a new bus.
We are hopeful that by the new year we will have several additions to our school and new hope for an additional 250 more students.
Kachra Kundi is based in the Gulam Hussain Goth district and is the cities largest dump which is home to several hundred families. This school has taken them out of the garbage and off the streets and allowed them for a route out of this life where they otherwise eat, breath and sleep in this burning waste.
Konadu Basic School, Tanoboase, Ghana: In this small town of Tanoboase, students didn’t often go to school. Clement had a vision to change this. We partnered with Clement ‘Righteous’ Boamah to build a school last year and today, it stands sturdy and is providing an education to more than 80 students, 40% of them are female. With 5 certified teachers and enthusiasm from the community, the school continues to be voted one of the top educational facilities in the district. Earlier this year, the small car used to transport our students broke down, there was no coming back. Again we were in a difficult situation, we had no funds.
With the help of our partners, Liz and Austin and some helpful sponsors, we have been able to put down a deposit to finance a brand new school bus! We are continuing to look into options to also provide sustainable economic growth opportunities for these villagers, namely land and fresh water to raise livestock and possibly a new computer lab.
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A few months ago we launched a maternity center in the rural village of Blama, Sierra Leone. Since then, our nurse has been seeing and treating an average of 500 patients a month, more than half of them children, and several dozen expecting mothers.
Unfortunately, West Africa has been hit with a agonizing Ebola outbreak. The outbreak has ravaged the nation. More than 400 suspected cases and hundreds dead in just Sierra Leone. People are afraid to come forward for fear of being tested positive, they know that there is no cure. For those that are found tested positive, there are people chasing them with knives- desperate to rid of the disease as fast as possible. Things are going in a downward spiral.
Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, the top doctor who was actively working to fight the disease fell ill early last week while overseeing Ebola treatment and has passed away. Our hearts go out to his loved ones and all those that have been affected by this horrible disease.
We have been working with our staff and nearby villages to create an awareness program on the disease. Prevention is the only way to stop this. In the next month, we will be dispersing a team of more than 20 leaders, priests, imams, healthcare workers and students on one mission- to caution people, to help stop the spread. Since many of the villagers cannot read or write, gatherings will be held in community centers and homes.
To see a map of the regions Ebola has affected click here.
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