SAYA!'s mission is to create opportunities for South Asian youth to realize their fullest potential. We deliver culturally sensitive services and support to help make this mission a reality.
In 1996, Sayu Bhojwani, SAYA!'s founder, stepped onto a public basketball court in Elmhurst, Queens. She met a handful of South Asian young men and realized the lack of resources for youth like them. Later Sayu met five young women, ages 14 to 17, who attended Newtown High School. Two of the young women were married and one was being raised by a single mother. Within a few months, the newly-rented space was filled with South Asian youth from across Queens, and as far as Brooklyn and the Bronx. Arts and leadership-building became avenues for youth to explore race, gender, class, and ethnic identity.
In 1998, we began our school-based programming. By placing a social worker in several public high schools, South Asian youth had an ally within the school system who understood their challenges. The school sites became a repository for first-hand information about the experiences of South Asian youth. These partnerships built trust with funders, elected officials, and other service providers.
In the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, the need for SAYA!'s programs gained new urgency. This was a difficult time for South Asian communities. Harassment and racial profiling against South Asians were rampant. Many South Asian youth refused to go to school or hang out in public places. They expressed anger towards the WTC attackers and frustration around why their homelands and beliefs were being blamed.
In December 2001, SAYA! received a large grant from The Rockefeller Foundation. Under the leadership of Executive Director Annetta Seecharran, SAYA! grew, almost overnight. SAYA! provided a safe platform for youth to tell their own 9-11 stories, participate in peace forums, demonstrate outside INS detention centers, and hold open-mic sessions. With the 2000 Census data revealing a significant rise in the South Asian population, we broadened our vision to respond to the times.
Some things have not changed. SAYA! continues to be a gateway where school administrators, mainstream service providers, government agencies, elected officials, researchers and the media can learn more about South Asian youth. SAYA! is also a gateway for youth to access internships, jobs and higher education opportunities.
As the political and economic climate shifts, SAYA! is also adapting our programs. We will continue to evolve to ensure all South Asian youth have the tools and opportunity to realize their dreams.
A targeted and scalable model, Support, Action, Guidance and Enrichment (S.A.G.E.) is a college and career readiness program designed to work in small groups of 15-20 youth over multiple years. In this way, young people develop healthy relationships with staff who serve as role models and provide individualized support in order to help youth thrive academically.
Youth will build the foundation of knowledge needed to understand and overcome academic challenges with the following programs:
- Homework Help-Youth will be encouraged to ask questions and participate in a comfortable environment, ensuring that any linguistic or cultural barriers are overcome. They will stay on the right track academically and organize their time.
- Subject-Based One-on-One Tutoring-Youth will grasp the concepts covered in school, especially in preparation for the Regents exams (e.g., Algebra, History, Biology, etc.).
- Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT) prep course- Youth are prepared to succeed on the SHSAT and navigate the high school application process.
- SAT prep course- Youth who have attended and completed the course will secure on average a 200 point increase.
Essay Writing Workshop- youth write effective personal statements for college applications, complete college applications, and think critically as required at the college level. Also, youth will increase comfort with the English language by developing creative writing and written communication skills.
Youth increase self-confidence, sense of purpose, and responsible decision-making skills.
Action-Based Learning- Youth will encounter settings beyond the traditional classroom to grow intellectually as well as learn the importance of achieving results through hands-on service based learning projects. These programs include gender-based programs and co-ed leadership development programs:
- Desi Girls is a leadership development group for South Asian women and was created to address the many challenges they face. Participants explore body image, personal relationships, sexual health, gender discrimination, domestic violence, and cultural pressures of growing up in the United States. Desi Girls uses arts and activism as tools for empowerment to build leadership skills and self-confidence. The goals of this program are to enhance the critical thinking and decision-making skills of the young women, to facilitate bonding, friendships, and a sense of community among the participants, and to increase their level of civic and community engagement.
- Desi Men's Society (DMS) targets predominately South Asian young men on the verge of becoming disconnected from school, social, and family life. DMS's goal is to teach our youth the social, emotional, and ethical lessons that all well-adjusted and well-informed young men must learn. DMS achieves this through the implementation of its BHAI principles (Brotherhood, Honor, Achievement, and Independence) which aims to build leadership skills in all areas of life.
- ARISE is a co-ed leadership program focused on civic engagement and service learning. Youth learn to identify the social, economic and political issues affecting their communities and how they can become agents of change. Participants attend workshops on racism, poverty, homophobia, social violence, and political injustice. They participate in advocacy campaigns aimed at examining and challenging the social and political structures which exist.
- SAYA!'s Institute for Public Service (SIPS) Fellowship is a co-ed leadership program designed to develop skills and gain experiences beyond the classroom that teaches youth to be civically-minded voices in their communities. Through the SIPS program, Fellows will have the direction and foundation to build on and learn the steps necessary toward pursuing a career as elected or government officials, civic-minded corporate executives, or nonprofit leaders.
Taking Action. Youth will demystify how to achieve success by exposure to otherwise foreign places, people, and practices through:
- College Trips that include campus tours, informational sessions, professors, and admissions officers will familiarize youth with the codes of conduct for college interviews.
- Power Lunches and High Chais (career awareness workshops) which are meetings with leaders from various academic and professional fields will open the eyes and minds of our young people to the possibilities that await their futures.
Guidance is essential to upholding the first two principles (Support and Action) by providing our youth assistance in managing their time and planning for the future through:
- Chalo College ("Chalo" is Hindi for "Let's go to...") Youth will work one-on-one with staff to develop a four-year plan that includes how to accumulate credits to matriculate through each high school grade and graduate as well as apply to, select, and enroll in college, including identifying sources of financial support.
- Enrichment ensures that youth receive a well-rounded education by having the opportunity to participate in artistic expression, sports, and wellness programming unavailable in schools. Youth will develop goal-setting, team work, and conflict negotiation skills as well as increase self-esteem and technique through their participation in piano, poetry writing, music production, Bollywood dance, and chess.