Tag Archives: ASAWA

Youth Assemble for Grassroots Education During Quarantine

In the light of school closures due to the Coronavirus, two high school seniors, Uditha Velidandla and Sarika Sriram, set up a free online program for elementary and middle schoolers through the Almaden South Asian Women’s Association

After learning about the 3-week school shutdown on Friday, March 13, Velidandla and Sriram put in more than 24 hours over the course of two days preparing lesson plans and the technology needed to go live on Monday, March 16th, the first day of the shutdown. Their main goal?

“To give parents enough time to find an adequate replacement for formalized education”

Over three days, their volunteer-run program grew from 6 students per grade to more than 50 students in each grade. In the second week now, the program includes over 400 students and 90 volunteer tutors. 

All classes are run on Zoom, an online video conferencing platform. “By using Zoom”, Sarika explained, “the social aspect of class is still present. The students and the teachers can see each other, and lessons are more interactive.”

For elementary schoolers, the program consists of lessons taught by high school student volunteers from 9 am to 3 pm. The curriculum is based on various sources, including textbooks used in local elementary schools, and state standards. “We wanted to ensure that we were keeping the kids engaged while helping them refresh concepts learned in school earlier in the year. We know from experience how easy it is to forget material over an extended break.”

The successful first week included classes such as mathematics, reading comprehension, creative writing, and also STEM-based experiments and activities, Hindustani and Carnatic music lessons, and an arts class.

Udyat building a spaghetti tower for science class.

They announced this week that they have expanded their program to include a middle school.

“There was a high level of demand for a middle school program. We are fortunate to have enough volunteers who are willing to teach the middle classes.” says Uditha. “None of this would have been possible without the help of our dedicated volunteers- they have spent countless hours with us along the way, from planning the curriculum to teaching classes and responding to questions on our behalf. Both Sarika and I are very grateful for all of our volunteers.”

They are also trying to work with the San Jose Unified School District to make their lesson plans available to children in San Jose who are unable to access e-learning.

“It is heartwarming that we have been able to contribute to the community that has given us so much. We hope to be of similar assistance to communities that do not have easy access to e-learning infrastructure. We are proud of the fact that we hit the ground running and that the program has continued into its second week”, they say. 

They have received positive feedback from parents, receiving messages and emails that are similar to this one parent’s experience: 

I’m amazed how all the kids and tutors have progressed so well, to get comfortable with the online learning concept, with order and respect, in just 4 days of classes. Today WhatsApp has been very quiet, which is awesome! Congratulations to all tutors, organizers, and students. And I must say my kid is quite eager to attend classes and loves ‘seeing’ his friends and future middle-school friends in the e-world. Thank you all.”

It has not been all smooth sailing for the two founders. They continue to spend 12 to 15 hour days bringing this service to the community. “In addition to adapting our communication styles, we have had to iron out technical issues and assist tutors in managing online classroom behavior. We have taken the help of parent volunteers to ensure that the classroom is a welcome learning environment for everyone.”  

If you are interested in learning more about the program or donating to their cause, Sriram and Velidandla encourage you to send an email to info@asawa.net, and to explore the ASAWA website.

Suchitra Patri is the founder and president of the Almaden South Asian Women’s Association. She is an accountant by profession and enjoys reading and spending time with her family in her free time. 

Deepen Your Roots: ASAWA Models Community Outreach

I remember my first day at my Americorps program, Public Allies Silicon Valley – a program which recruits young people to engage in grassroots activism. I stood alone – the only Indian in the room of 40 people. Discomfort was the first emotion. Will anyone understand my SRK references? Soon after, I was perplexed. I live in the Bay Area, how could this be? 

Growing up as a first generation Indian American, I would get frustrated with my parent’s generation. Though immigrants, like my parents, are integral members of their community, they sometimes lack awareness about the foreign land we are now structurally a part of and the diversity of the people around us. 

Community engagement and interest in the space around them is what will make America feel like their own, but they forget to empower and uplift our colleagues and allies. Their pursuits don’t align with social justice.

I yearn for South Asian activism, which at times has felt nonexistent or ignorant. 

I am always astounded by the inimitable perseverance I’ve seen from my immigrant parents, friends and their families. Caught in an unfamiliar culture, they stand focused, driven, patient, invested in their children and their future.

I have come to understand them better and I don’t blame them. They were preoccupied with survival. I am preoccupied with the future. A condition of privilege.

Truly a minority in the U.S., constituting 1.6% of the American population, South Asian Americans are left to their own devices–trying to string together a network of people with the limited resources they have. Since 2010, the South Asian population in America has increased by 40%. There is a growing need for community based activism.

Our culture is a non native seedling in a brush of old plants with deep roots. In order for the new roots to take, it must be given water and nutrition, nurture and care. Without it, it will be overtaken.

But it’s a new time. A new generation of South Asian immigrants. And someone needed to remind me.

Who better to introduce me to my changing landscape in Almaden, South San Jose, California, but my mother. 

I walked into the Almaden Library and Community Center on October 19, 2019, my first time in 10 years, to attend a Diwali event. I was there in support of my mother’s dance group, as the duties of the devoted fangirl requires.

I scanned the room for a familiar face. To my surprise, I didn’t recognize a single person in the room. What’s more? There was a niche group of women, members of the Almaden South Asian Women’s Association (ASAWA), running the event. 

Oomung Bollywood Dance at ASAWA’s Diwali Event

ASAWA had put on a Diwali event with local artists, performers, and vendors, to fundraise for breast cancer. I immediately felt like my community had been revitalized. There was a fresh energy in this room of 275 people, more people than I’d ever seen at the community center. There were children dancing to ‘Coca Cola Tu’, parents running after their babies with a samosa in hand, high school students collecting event donations, performances ranging from poetry to singing and dancing. Every age group was engaged and the feeling was palpable. The town I had grown up in and felt I had known, had transformed. 

ASAWA was founded by Suchitra Patri, a working mother of two, with no familial network in Almaden. When she fell sick six years ago, she had to rely on her husband to take her to doctor’s appointments. The implications of being an immigrant and the void of being without parents and siblings created the impetus to form ASAWA in March of 2019. They didn’t have financing or 501(c)(3) status but it was the non financial help from friends like Aruna Iyer, that gave AWAWA life. ASAWA could be the network that would support without the implied feeling of burden; an organization borne to nurture and shower the sapling roots that push through the dry dirt and established roots, to find some space for themselves. 

Since then, ASAWA has opened its doors to a wide variety of people – Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Caribbean, and everything in between. It  prides itself on inclusivity and ensuring that every South Asian demographic has a safe space– They have tackled youth, senior, health, and education initiatives and developed a community and an advocate base. ASAWA isn’t tied to political or religious views, rather, they extend a helping hand where they see disparity. 

Their efforts are novel and forward-thinking, creating dialogue in the Almaden South Asian diaspora – and include inviting San Jose Mental Health Awareness Group to de-stigmatize mental health, leveraging social services programs to help visiting parents who may not have health insurance and advocating for children at their local schools against racism.

ASAWA is a model for what is and what can be; community specific work that addresses the needs of the community. ASAWA is one of the few South Asian organizations in the Bay Area trying to contribute back to its microcosm. 

Numerous studies show how important representation can be for minorities and people of color. The next generation of minority children are more likely to pursue diverse career pathways if they see someone like themselves having done it before them. The next generation needs strong role models and activists; people that are fighting for them and their interests. If you are interested in getting involved with ASAWA or have ideas, check out their website here

We are stronger together and we are here to stay.

Srishti Prabha is the current Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for women and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.