PART III OF APASA’S COMMUNITY ROAD MAP, HEADED BY OUR EXTERNAL COMMUNITY CHAIR, MINAH YANG
Hello! Welcome back to APASA’s Community Roadmap, an initiative where we spotlight an organization that serves the APIDA community and hear more about their mission and how we can get involved. This month, we are taking a stop at the South Asian Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing culturally and linguistically specific services and advocating for the South Asian community in Southern California.
Thank you so much to Hina Ahmad, the Program Manager at SAN for taking the time to speak with me about SAN’s history and the amazing services they provide for their community.
You can watch the interview above or read the transcript below:
How and why was the South Asian Network first founded?
We were founded in 1990, and we really came about because there was a need for advocacy and orientation for the South Asian community. We saw that there was no organization serving the South Asian community that could speak South Asian languages: Hindi, or Urdu, Punjabi. And there was a need, there were domestic violence cases, but no one was there to address it. And 1990 is when there was a huge migration of South Asians to the nation to California specifically. And so we wanted to create some routes for South Asians to go to, to connect with other community members and to get the services that they need.
What have been the main challenges the South Asian Network has faced while trying to meet the needs of the South Asian community here in Southern California?
That’s a difficult question. Because we do so much, we do domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, case management. Since the pandemic started, we’ve definitely seen an increase in those cases, folks are stuck in their homes, they no longer have school or work to kind of go to as a place of refuge. We realized that we don’t have enough case managers that were trusted, and community members want to come to us and we want to be able to serve them in more South Asian languages than our staff has. We also do a lot of COVID education and outreach. So we’ve been doing clinics in gurdwaras, masjids, places like that. But just like every other community, in the beginning, there was a lot of misinformation about the vaccine and the side effects. So we were really pushing that work, letting folks know that it’s safe, it’s a lot better to get it than to not get COVID and dealing with that and being hospitalized. We were doing a lot of that footwork, doing cold outreach on the streets, going to businesses, and letting folks know that it’s important to get vaccinated and to stay safe and vigilant. And then I’d say one of the difficult things in the beginning of the pandemic as well was technology. A lot of our clients are older adults not used to what we’re doing now on Zoom, so providing them assistance through Zoom and over the phone is just not what what they were used to, because before they’d be able to come in and we’d be able to read mail for them, assess them face to face in their language, maybe give them some chai and some tea, just make them feel comfortable. Whereas now I kind of feel like it’s a colder conversation. But we opened the office pretty early, so community members are now able to come in and we can assist them in person.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected SAN’s programming?
It’s been difficult. We went through a transition in the pandemic and the Executive Director left, we got a new one, you know, a lot of staff left due to their home situations and needing to take care of their children. So this was really a rebirth for us at SAN, we’ve grown our team from four to twelve. We were doing everything. We had a server in the office that we could only utilize in the office, so when the pandemic started, we switched to Google Drive. Now we’re back in the office and just updating our phone systems or computers, everything like that. Like I mentioned before, folks want to do things in person, or in their language, and we just didn’t have that at the start of the pandemic. But luckily, we’re open now in a safe way.
You mentioned that your team grew from four to 12. Do you think more people were trying to find ways to get involved during the pandemic and so they gravitated towards this organization? Or was it more just like you were actively looking for people to recruit?
Yeah, I think a little bit of both, right. I mean, just from the news, we hear folks are getting out of certain industries or thinking more about what they really want to do. The new Executive Director and I both came in during the pandemic as well. We wanted to rethink what the South Asian Network was, and how we really want to work for the community. We wrote job descriptions to fit current events, and what we really need and what the community really needs. Right when we put out those applications, they just came pouring in, so I think folks just were interested in helping their community and just wanting a job with a cause and passion.
What is one program the South Asian Network offers that you wish more people knew about?
Oh, that’s a good one. Obviously, all of our services are free, but I think we could always do more outreach about the public benefits work that we do. We provide assistance with filling out the CalFresh application, which is food assistance, CalWorks, which helps you get a job, general relief, or if you don’t have a specific immigration status, you can still apply for public benefits, especially if you’re in LA County. I think folks may not know or be scared to apply to certain government relief programs, but they’re available to us. In 2016 in that administration public charge was in effect, so folks who had green cards were hesitant to get public benefits. In 2020, that rule was reversed so folks can now get public benefits and it won’t affect their citizenship at all. But still, we have some community members who are reluctant but still need that assistance,so I think letting folks know that we provide assistance with filling out public benefits applications MediCal, CalFresh, CalWORKs.
How is the South Asian Network looking to grow or expand in the future?
I think there’s a lot of different routes we should be taking. I think one is just on the communications front. Like I mentioned, we’ve been here since 1990, so that’s 30 years of experience, trust, knowledge. But I think our digital footprint isn’t where it should be. I feel that we should be really utilizing social media more than we are. We hired some comms staff, so I’m very excited to get that work going. Also our civil rights work, what we were founded on is the civil rights work and workers’ rights and things like that. I think over the years, we’ve kind of been focusing on domestic violence work, which is great, but I think now that our staff number is getting bigger, we can start doing that civil rights work again. 2022 is a really important year, because it’s an election year, so we really want to start doing our GOTV work and getting folks registered to vote, but also at this time, we want to start doing some anti-Asian hate work. Election season is when people get nasty and we want to make sure that folks are equipped, that they have bystander intervention training, self defense, and things like that, we want to bring that into the community. So I think we’re going to be focusing a lot more on building up our Civil Rights unit.
What are some ways that people interested in the South Asian Network’s mission can get involved?
I think we still have a couple of job openings on our website, but we’re always looking for interns or volunteers to help us out in the office. We’re always looking for volunteers and interns for every unit: the Civil Rights unit, the mental health unit, our domestic violence unit, citizenship, etc. What we do is we have an intro meeting where we talk about what your interests are, and then we place you with the specific staff member who does that work. We want it to be a mutually beneficial relationship. So folks who are more interested in immigration, for example, they could volunteer and do citizenship applications. We would base it off your interest. You could go on our website, sign up to be a volunteer, and then we’ll reach out to you from there