By Jacklyn Tran
Northwest Asian Weekly
Volunteering is a way to help a cause by identifying a need and satisfying it, but to Aaliyah Gupta it means so much more than assisting on a mere task. It means living out a dream, uniting the community and serving the greater good. This notion is clearly expressed when one speaks with her about her community contributions.
For her work, Gupta is being honored as one of Northwest Asian Weekly’s Top Contributor to the Asian Community.
Gupta moved to Seattle in 1998 with her husband, her eight-month old twins and a desire to connect with her South Asian community. Through her search for this connection, she came upon nonprofit organization Chaya, which had been established two years prior by a man and group of women. This group saw domestic violence as an issue that was not openly brought up as a problem in the South Asian community.
“In 1998, Chaya was still a seed of an organization, a real grassroots effort,” said Gupta. “Independently operated, it consisted of a phone line in a board member’s garage.” Volunteers worked hard on an individual level, to the extent that they could, to cater to the needs of other women.
Those that created Chaya worked toward receiving a grant allowing them to hire their first employee. Once funding had been attained, Gupta was hired on as project manager. Her initial goals were to set up an infrastructure while doing advocate work. These objectives, however, were momentarily put on hold as call volumes dramatically increased.
According to Gupta, “At the time, Chaya was the only organization of its kind. It really resonated with me.” Gupta did not intentionally seek out to help women of domestic violence. However, once she began her volunteer work, she saw it as a prevalent issue.
With 33 percent of women across the world having experienced physical violence, it was all the more reason. Before long, Gupta helped transition Chaya from a small, determined effort to a strong community presence.
Thanks to Gupta, Chaya has developed into a well-established support system for South Asian women in times of crisis and need. It provides free and confidential assistance to women through their toll-free helpline, support groups and direct services that explore options and provide information to women.
Gupta helped raise awareness of domestic violence through workshops and events, among a multitude of other things. All of this is done with a vision of inclusion, acceptance and responsibility for what happens in society. The ideal end result is a world that is fair and free of violence.
That vision has been the same from day one. Gupta is proud that Chaya has been successful in mobilizing people in the community. Recently, it found domestic violence being acknowledged as a problem by people of varying demographics. Twelve years ago this was not the case. In addition, most people (according to a focus group) had a fairly sophisticated understanding of the issue.
“That is two of the objectives,” said Gupta. “Acknowledgment and understanding. It’s good news for us. The work has taken root. It’s having an impact.”
In 2003, Gupta resigned from her position with Chaya to make way for some new energy within the association. However, her first foray into community involvement must have resonated so well that after a two-year hiatus, Gupta returned as a volunteer and board member once again.
“The thing about Chaya is that it becomes a part of your life. A part of my world is within Chaya. (My) learning, relationships, friends. Chaya has given back to me as much as I have given it.”
Gupta sees volunteering as an opportunity to delve into one’s interests. It is a way to live out dreams and aspirations that are not always manageable in daily routines. Separate from jobs, kids and other things in life, it creates a space to contribute while living out passions that might otherwise be overlooked.
What inspires Gupta as of late? “I find inspiration in everything. Art is my creative outlet. I am very aware of the world around me and find it important to be connected and responsive to that world.”
With the heart she has shown in supporting her community thus far, one can only imagine what more she will do for the world around her. ♦
Jacklyn Tran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.