Sauti Yetu Center For African Women And Families is a multi-issue community based organization that serves African women and families from all five boroughs, with offices in the Bronx and Staten Island.
The NYIC took the time to visit their office in the South Bronx and sat down with Staff Attorney, Trinh Tran and Legal Services Case Manager, Massange Kamara to learn more about their organization.
What kind of work does your organization do?
Sauti Yetu’s a community based organization located in the Bronx and our focus is providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services for African immigrants in New York. We have four different main programs here. We have our legal services program, where we provide legal services to our African clients. We help clients with naturalization, adjustment of status, DACA. We also provide legal services to victims of crime, intimate partner violence, and sexual assault. So that’s specifically VAWAG self petitions, U visas, battered spouse waivers. We also do general immigration cases and all the services are free.
We also provide children and family services. We have the VAWAG program which stands for Violence Against Women And Girls. And we have our Girls Empowerment and Leadership Initiative
Whose lives are you trying to impact?
African immigrants in New York City. We serve clients in all 5 boroughs. We also have an office in Staten Island because there’s a large Liberian refugee community out there.
What does being an NYIC member mean to you?
We’re actually a new member! Our legal services program just started four years ago. Sauti Yetu actually started with just the VAWAG program. That was because our Executive Director who is an African woman herself would be in the community and talk to other women who shared that they didn’t have a space to talk about being in America and things in her home. She was meeting with women in her kitchen and asked ‘How do I develop this?’, and that’s how we became a nonprofit. I think why we wanted to be part of the New York Immigration Coalition was to add the voices and experiences of the clients we work with and the communities we represent. Also to be part of a collective force of advocates who want to see change in immigration policies.
How has your organization impacted your community?
I think we’ve made a lot of positive impact in the African community, especially in the Bronx. We’ve saved a lot of clients who are experiencing domestic violence. We’ve gotten a lot of clients into shelters and saved children from being put in the system. As for legal services we’ve provided a lot of support for clients who are undocumented or who have green cards and want to naturalize. Clients who don’t have much to go home to we help clients with asylum applications or we refer them to organizations that can help them. All programs together we serve hundreds of clients. Our Children and Family Services program probably serve over a hundred clients every month. For legal services we probably have forty intakes a month.
We want to be a place where people can go where they don’t have to explain who they are or where they come from. They can share pretty intimate parts of their lives. We’re talking about people who have been the victim of violence by their intimate partner and sharing those things are not easy. Sharing it in your own language, your own mother tongue, means something. We want to continue to provide that, we strive to be that space. We want to be a place where it’s a one stop shop. The idea of having to go to one place to see your lawyer, another place to see your counselor, another place to see your case manager. We want Sauti Yetu to be that one place. We have social workers on staff, we have case managers, we have attorneys and we all work in a very collaborative way because we know what our clients are going through is intersectional and we have to work together to meet their needs. Our clients feel at home when they come into this office.
What are some recent accomplishments your organization is proud of?
We were really proud of us being able to bring a contingent to DC to rally in support of administrative relief. We were able to bring staff and for many of them it was the first time they got to be a part of a rally. We took a bus early in the morning, it was a whole day thing. We were really proud of being a part of that as an organization and collectively as a member of the New York Immigration Coalition.
For a specific case, we just got a green card for one of our clients who was a victim of domestic violence. Those heavy cases where they receive their green cards are really meaningful to us. It sort of sets them free and let’s them do more for their lives. As part of domestic abuse, sometimes abusers use their immigration status a power to control. Being to able to help them get a green card can be really life changing. Going to a client’s naturalization ceremony is really awesome because many of our clients don’t have family here. So that means something, being able to be there and stand with a client while she’s taking the oath.
Do you have any upcoming programs or events that you would like people to know about?
We have a Parenting Across Cultures class coming up in the fall. It is a parenting class for African immigrant parents. We talk to them about laws on education and about the American education system. Rules about abuse and neglect in the United States. It also serves to validate their own parenting skills, not to say your parenting skills are bad and to leave them, but tell us how you raise your children and we’ll help you be better parents because the system is different here.
We have our women’s group. We have our Youth Summer Program. That program is for young immigrant girls that recently immigrated to the United States. It helps them adjust to society here. It helps them practice their English, with school and with homework. This summer they’re teaching ESL and running workshops on different topics.
We also have the Hands Project. It’s project tells the story of young women who have experienced female circumcision. Girls who come from families that practice female circumcision and are now living in the United States and dealing with that part of their lives. We’re still working on it, it’s an ongoing project, and we’re still collecting stories from girls who have had that experience and are trying to cope with it.
What do you wish the public knew about your organization?
We’re here to help with open arms! I’m always pleasantly surprised after legal walk ins after we ask how people hear about us. It almost always says “a friend.” To us, that’s the best type of referral because that means someone in the community told someone about us because they knew someone who needed help. I think larger organizations don’t know we provide legal services now because we’ve mostly been known for social work and case management. But it’s really important for us that people know this organization exists, and that we’re for African immigrants.