Tag Archives: #empower

The Serenity Project Transforms Pain

Serene Singh is a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford completing her postgraduate studies in Public Policy but it is her work outside of academics that initially inspired her. As former America’s Junior Miss and Miss Colorado Teen, her pageantry and modeling experience created a space for her to empower women worldwide. She created The Serenity Project nonprofit to give confidence and self-love tools, improve, and provide access and opportunity to at-risk women.

The Serenity Project was founded in 2016 after Serene lost a best friend, a survivor of violence, to suicide.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for at-risk women in the U.S., womxn who unduly battle body dysmorphia. While working in the US Senate on violence, trafficking, and rape policies she noticed womxn survivors were never in-charge of the settings where changes impacting survivors were created. Serene dreamt of empowering survivors to dream again. In the face of a culture of mental health stigmatization, societal shaming of survivors, and a lack of tools for at-risk womxn to gain confidence, Serene’s vision to support and empower women has made waves and had an impact spanning across the United States and reaching hundreds of womxn. Previous project participants include (but are not limited to) survivors of domestic violence, attempted suicides, PTSD, human trafficking, etc.

Empowering womxn survivors to transform their pain into their power is what The Serenity Project is about.  

The Serenity Project empowers “at-risk” womxn by challenging 1) unhealthy beauty standards 2) the rising number of suicide attempts and 3) the lack of support, tools, and skills survivors receive to grow through the trauma they have gone through. 

The Serenity Project begins with a 10-15 at-risk womxn to participate in a kick-off fashion show (featured in the Documentary) followed by a 12-month curriculum called the Soaring Curriculum, alongside a globally-based mentorship program. The curriculum builds skills (i.e. self-compassion, meditation, public speaking) while womxn mentors from around the globe are able to serve as mentors and support survivors to develop passion projects that help the womxn pay their experiences forward and invest in their dreams.

The Serenity Project’s recent release of The Serenity Project documentary captures the very first year of the project lifting off the ground. The visceral impact of witnessing womxn gaining confidence and unapologetically being their true selves touched everyone’s heart. The Live Zoom event followed by the Youtube Premiering of the Documentary brought tears to the eyes of many viewers who were survivors themselves. 

Serene Singh states, “There is nothing more powerful and inspiring than a woman who discovers her wings and uses them to build herself up and bring others with her too. That is what this nonprofit is all about.” 

For more information or inquiries, visit their website or email theserenityprojectofficial@gmail.com


 

Juneteenth: Examining Our Own Bias

This Juneteenth, I reflect on the state of our nation. I’m heartened to see many South Asians protesting in solidarity with the Black community, but saddened that some in our community remain indifferent. I worry about deep-rooted biases that remain unaddressed within our community. 

Even as we speak out, we must also look inward. We need to change the ways we think and speak and act in the privacy of our homes and families. 

Growing up in India, I was, unfortunately, no stranger to racist biases. Some of my aunts believed fair skin was more beautiful. Villains in books I read were usually portrayed with darker skin (some written by and for Indians). A South Indian friend who moved to Bombay was teased and called “Kaalu” (black) at school. We might try to pass off these examples as “small things” but they aren’t. At the very least, this sort of insidious prejudice damages our self-confidence and instills self-hatred. Worse, even subtle bias against dark skin can build a wall between South Asians and other communities of color.  

Unfortunately, I noticed that immigrants continued to harbor insidious (and overt) prejudices.  I’ve rarely seen art by Black artists adorning the walls of South Asian American homes or books by Black authors on shelves. We rarely question the history our children are taught. We buy into the model minority myth; few of us question where it came from. Some of us deny the cruelty our own communities suffered as a result of colonial oppression. And when we experience racism, we often try to explain it away or excuse it or pretend it didn’t happen, as though we fear that admitting it might lead to our expulsion from America. 

When I came to Southern Virginia, I saw a noose hung in a yard; I was pulled over by a policeman whose hand went to his gun holster when I reached for the identification he demanded; I was told, by a well-meaning neighbor, how pleased she was that I, a “colored girl”, hadn’t created any trouble in their neighborhood.

Whenever I speak to young people, I work up the courage to mention these incidents, because to pretend they never happened would, I believe, do a greater disservice to their generation than any discomfort that I – or they – may feel if I share these difficult memories. I also acknowledge the privilege I have despite all that I’ve experienced because my skin isn’t Black (which is why I live to tell the tale about my frightening encounter with the police).

In addition to speaking honestly to our children, raising our voices on social media, and supporting organizations that seek change, there are a few other simple steps we can all easily take. We can actively seek to support black-owned businesses.

We can read books by authors like Dunbar-Ortiz and Kozol that speak about aspects of history or our nation today that are too-often overlooked. We can take pride in well-researched and documented achievements by South-Asians and people of color and distinguish these from unproven or exaggerated claims.

We can add books by diverse authors (African-American, South-Asian, indigenous, Latinx etc.) to our children’s shelves. We can educate ourselves about anti-racism. We can listen to music and comedy and watch current films and TV  created by and for people of color.

We can examine and eradicate racist expressions from the language we use. And we must celebrate joy and beauty in communities of color, too – because it is by embracing other people of color today that we move toward a more equitable tomorrow.

It’s hard enough to alter our own behavior and admit and accept our mistakes; it’s harder still to counter racist assertions when they’re made by family or friends. Especially when these members of the community are older than us. We uphold the notion that elders are to be respected. It’s an important, fundamental and undeniably compassionate aspect of our culture, which should be maintained. That doesn’t mean we ignore racist rhetoric; it means we devote time to cultivating individual ways to persuasively and persistently call attention to racism when we encounter it. A commitment to creating permanent and fundamental change sometimes involves engaging in uncomfortable conversations with those we love. Speaking up may be perceived as disrespectful, but remaining silent is worse – it is not only disrespectful to humanity but also a form of violence that aids the oppressor. 

If we ignore injustice, we set an example of cowardice to our youth and we endanger their futures by allowing oppression against people of color to continue. We also dishonor the thirty-five million South Asians who lost their lives because of white colonial oppression and forget how many of us – or our parents or grandparents – were driven here in part because of the floundering economy left behind in their countries of origin after years of white rule. Participation in protests is a wonderful beginning; we must continue by creating lasting cultural change.

Padma Venkatraman at a protest.

Black Lives Matter to our South Asian Community for two reasons. The first and far more important reason, which has been explored already in India Currents, is that we owe the Black community our gratitude because if it weren’t for the battles they fought, we wouldn’t be in this country today. The second and more self-centered reason to speak up and stand up is the one expressed in this article: we owe it to ourselves, our elders, and our children. 

Happy Juneteenth!

Dr. Padma Venkatraman is the author of The Bridge Home (a 2019 Global Read Aloud selection and winner of the Walters, Golden Kite, Crystal Kite, and South Asia Book awards), A Time to Dance, Island’s End (winner of the Paterson Prize) and Climbing the Stairs (a Julia Ward Howe young readers award winner).

Coronavirus to Karunavirus

Feeling like the “wrong kind of doctor” (I have a doctorate in organization change), I initially felt helplessly inadequate in my response to the coronavirus pandemic.  Thinking of all the family, friends, and colleagues I knew who were fighting in the front lines of medicine, I questioned my career choice.  With the exponential increase in COVID-19 patients across the globe, what was I doing with my life?  

Instead of consulting, teaching, and writing, shouldn’t I have been practicing?  Thinking of the brave souls who practiced medicine, I wondered about my contribution.  To be sure, for big chunks of my career I had used my biomedical engineering background and my doctoral studies to guide leaders in healthcare, but when I asked myself what would Mother Teresa be doing, I recalled my meeting the saint a month before her death.  A life lesson emerged from that experience:  “We can lead best by serving the needs of our community and by following the lead of those we serve.”

So my heart turned to those I knew in healthcare – at Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, UW Health, UCSF, SF General, and Stanford Health Care – and I found my own way of serving them:  with compassionate and supportive listening.  I recalled a review I had written a decade ago about Dr. Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for StoneThat India Currents review, titled “Hippocrates Made Human,” centered on the following question from this empathetic novel:  “Tell us, please, what treatment in an emergency is administered by ear?”

I realized that by being in dialogue with my family, friends, and colleagues, by sharing my words and listening to theirs, I could support those who were fighting the good war.  Finding my voice on email one early morning, I checked in with all those I knew who were fighting the good fight for my own family. Later that week, my wife (Mangla) and I looked beyond our own circle of healthcare providers and sent varying versions of the following email to friends whose children were at the front line:

Hello Friends

We’ve been thinking about you all and praying that all are keeping well.  

Here’s a note that we’ve sent to the many clinicians who take care of our family 

“Thank you for the outstanding care you always provide to our family.  During this time of the coronavirus pandemic, I’d like to also thank you for heroically being of service to all of your patients.  Please take care of yourself and your loved ones.”

We know that each of you has at least one family member or friend who has been similarly heroic.  Of course, we are all so blessed (or at least we hope each of us is) to be taken care of by doctors, nurses, dentists, physical therapists, and the countless others (public health experts, researchers, biomedical engineers, administrators, supply chain clerks, et al) who serve behind the scenes.  A heartfelt thank you to all!

Friendship is truly a lovely word.  And words are keepsakes, keeping us close in good times and distressing ones.

And here is a word from Sanskrit that is always much needed:  karuna.  Given that we can all use more compassion in our lives, you might find of interest this website highlighting compassionate acts: karunavirus.org.

In Friendship … Mangla and Raj

Some responses came immediately as if from next-door kin:  “Thanks for sending this note, Papaji! Yes, [we] are staying healthy.  I’m trying to see the positives. [When we] go on our daily walks, I can’t help but be reminded that Spring is happening all around us. Cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the birds are chirping louder every day, my indoor seedlings are just about ready to be planted outside, and the air is cleaner.”

Some emails read as if they were Western Union telegrams – surgical sentences and grammatical errors suggesting distracted medical battlefield urgency:

  • “Thank you so much my friend … desperately needs this as it has been certainly overwhelming for all of us.”
  • “Will catch up soon … knee deep into COVID-19 as I and in our command center this and next week.”
  •  “So thoughtful of you to reach out … much appreciated … more careful response to follow.”
  • “Doing fellowship in Infectious disease at Stanford … warning … worst is yet to come … brace yourself.”
  • “Thank you … I hope you and the family stay safe.”
  • “In the front line now treating patients and attending on them … but praying and hoping for the best … work has doubled.”
  • “Thank you for this thoughtful note … I’m doing well (on nights right now, delivering babies) and have been in good health.”
  • “Coronavirus is causing a lot of stress for us … Stay safe and wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap for 20 seconds.”
  • “Thanks … that’s very nice of you to say.”
  • “Sorry for not responding sooner … keep waiting for a moment I can put some thought into my response … silly me.”
  • “Thank you very much for the thoughts, the support, and your friendship … hope you and your family continue to all be healthy … hope isolation doesn’t keep you from the grand baby!”
  • “Until calmer days…”

And then there were the responses from Dr. Megha and Dr. Pooja.  In these letters from two sisters whom my wife and I had known since they were little girls in frocks, I could hear the distant thunder of war against an invisible enemy:

Dear Raj Uncle and Mangla Aunty,

Thank you so much for your very kind words and touching email, and for thinking of us during these uncertain times. This has truly been a humbling experience thus far and I can only pray that this is soon behind us with minimal loss….

Best wishes,

Megha

*******

Dear Raj Uncle and Mangla Aunty,

Thank you so much for reaching out to me. 

That passage was really beautiful.

It made me feel hopeful about the future.

I am working in the ICU for a month and am grateful for the opportunity to learn from this pandemic and care for patients.

I am especially inspired by nurses and respiratory therapists, as they have the most contact with patients. 

Their bravery, compassion, and selflessness inspire me every day.

Wishing you and your family all the best now and always!

Pooja

*******

Gentle reader, even if you are not a doctor or planning a career in the caring profession, as a consumer of medicine you may be wondering about that question from Cutting for Stone:  “Tell us, please, what treatment, in an emergency, is administered by ear?”  Perhaps we can all embrace this universal response — “words of comfort.”

Dr. Rajesh C. Oza, a Change Management Consultant working with clients across the world, has written this for all of those in healthcare, including his nephew, Avinash, the first MD in the Oza Family.