“Empowering women to live free from violence.”
This is the motto of the New York Asian Women’s Center (NYAWC), an organization based in New York city that “helps women and their children overcome domestic violence and other forms of abuse by empowering them to govern their own lives.”
This motto on the NYAWC homepage immediately caught my eye. That word “empowerment” in particular hooks me. Because you don’t often hear the word “empowerment” used in the same breath as “domestic violence.” But empowerment is key; it’s how organizations and shelters like NYAWC, which provides “a safe haven through multi-lingual support programs and shelter services,” help break the cycle of abuse.
As part of January’s Human Trafficking Awareness Month, I had the opportunity to engage in a bit of Q&A with a staff member at NYAWC.
But before I get into the thick of things, let me do a quick plug — Here’s an easy way for readers to get involved and give back to this great organization! NYAWC’s two programs for wellness and for children and youth are in need of art and musical supplies for counseling and group activities. You can support them by visiting NYAWC’s MyRegistry page.
It’s not often we get to learn more about how a non-profit came to be, how it works, and what inspires its staff. Mary Caparas, manager of NYAWC’s anti-human trafficking program, Project Free, gave us an inside look at NYAWC:
Angie: What is your first memory of working with NYAWC?
Mary: My first memory was actually being provided with supervision – and realizing that I had more to say and more to process than I initially thought!
Angie: What has surprised you the most about working with NYAWC?
Mary: I was surprised at the level of collaboration and shared leadership staff continually strived for. It was exciting and re-invigorating.
Angie: What do you find most challenging about promoting awareness for human trafficking? (An author aside here: We all must strive to educate ourselves beyond the many misconceptions of abuse and recognize it as a real issue affecting all kinds of people).
Mary: I find the topic’s inaccessibility to be the most challenging. Some people focus on images from popular media — and forget about the resilient and capable human beings it affects. As such, some people are either unwilling to discuss or face its root causes or find the entire topic too triggering to bring up.
Angie: What is the best thing to happen to you since you began working with NYAWC?
Mary: The best thing really has been meeting clients as I find that I do learn the most from direct work with them. While I have worked at NYAWC, it has been ingrained in me that exploitation and/or abuse can be part of an ongoing continuum so, although I specifically manage Project Free, NYAWC’s anti-human trafficking program, I also continue to step back and realize that clients may have also experienced more than just trafficking in their lives. It is always very much present in my mind that victimization labels can perpetuate stigmas.
Angie: What do you wish other people knew about HT or about what NYAWC does?
Mary: I wish people knew how much of an open door policy NYAWC had. We might be called the “New York Asian Women’s Center” but we serve anyone who has ever experienced some form of abuse and/or exploitation inclusive of gender, race, or sexual identity. We also serve clients indefinitely. If you also got to know each of the staff and counselors, you would get a sense of how generous and kind they all are and in a city that is always moving and working, such kindness is like breathing wonderfully clear air.
Angie: Tell me about some of the people you’ve met and worked with while working with NYAWC. Who in particular has inspired you?
Mary: Aside from the hard working and generous staff here, the folks who have inspired me really have been the clients and community members. They share their lives with you – their wins, their losses, their laughter, their strategies for survival, their histories. They have told me what we should advocate for especially if they don’t yet have the resources (or energy) to use their own voices. It inspires me to lead a life of service for others.
Angie: What would you tell someone who is looking to get involved for Human Trafficking Awareness Month this January.
Mary: I would say that they should think of one thing (even something small) that can create a great ripple effect. Believing a person when no one else will is something seemingly small and requires no material resources, but it can make a world of difference for a person who keeps having doors shut on them.
Angie: How do you think art and entrepreneurship can help those in difficult situations?
Mary: Having worked with the Deaf community, I learned that art can allow for expression when the voice is not accessible. At our Asian Women’s Empowerment program for possible survivors of human trafficking, I’ve also seen how the arts can create a sense of community and alleviate anxiety. Entrepreneurship gives opportunity for a person to have a vision and utilize one’s skills.
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Need help now? Call NYAWC’s 24/7 multilingual hotline at 1-888-888-7702 or visit www.nyawc.org for more information.