In 1993, while chatting over steaming cups of coffee, coupled with feelings of gratitude living in the U.S, a small group of women from South East Asia wondered how they could live with purpose and do something for their communities. They came up with the idea of creating a support system for other women who were new migrants from Asia.
They talked about helping those in need of a helping hand, to assimilate with the mainstream culture in the U.S. And soon their conversations veered around creating a safe space for young migrant women, at the crossroads of life, vulnerable and with no one to turn to. They made a collective commitment to help and address deep-rooted patterns of inequality in the community and women experiencing domestic problems, domestic violence (DV) or abuse.
It was against this backdrop that Ms. Hemu Agarwal founded the Asian Women’s Alliance for Kinship and Equality (AWAKE) in Rockland County to bring about awareness of domestic violence. Although in its initial years, the group included women from several countries in South East Asia such as Indonesia, China, Vietnam, India etc., there was a gradual shift to the communities from South Asia.
In the early years, the Organization attended County and Town fairs to share the rich culture, heritage, history and arts of India. It was a grassroots attempt to introduce themselves, while networking with the community. They would also do simple things like demonstrating how to drape an Indian saree. Although they could not openly discuss the topic of domestic violence in those social events, they were hoping to create awareness of their Organization and assure those in desperate need, that there was a sisterhood of hope and they could reach out to one of the AWAKE members.
In 1998 a violent murder of an Indian woman by her spouse made the community acutely aware of the problem of domestic violence that existed in the South Asian community. Ms. Jaslin Chopra, a NY certified Counselor for DV survivors, became President of the Organization. The vision was to build a society where women and children live without fear, with dignity and respect, and as equals.
She spearheaded the DV chapter by engaging with the Rockland Family shelter, legal and police entities and offering insight on specific cultural issues and sensitivities that exists among the South East Asian population.
AWAKE later expanded to North Bergen, New Jersey.
In 2005, Dr. Raman Kaul, also a NY certified counselor for DV survivors, took over the Presidency and expanded the Organization to Westchester County. Through her charisma and tireless efforts, today the Organization has grown to 50 plus volunteers. The mission is to build with local communities, a society free of violence for South-East Asian women and children, and to empower and to help them integrate into society.