Cathy Liebowitz '15
Student Director of CCESP Nicaragua
Major: Environmental Studies
Hometown: Plainfield, NHRead the full interview
Sindhura Kodali '08 is an Asian and Middle Eastern Studies major with a regional focus on South Asia. She is from West Bloomfield, Michigan. Her parents immigrated to the United States from India in the early 1980?s. She was born and raised in Michigan in the company of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who also immigrated and visits her family in Andhra Pradesh, India, frequently. Her upbringing was strongly rooted in keeping alive the traditions and culture that her parents brought with them to this country and her dedication to understanding the peoples of South Asia and the experiences of South Asian immigrants has guided her through her four years at Dartmouth.
Sindhura?s interest in working with people of South Asia is part of her larger hope to help others by understanding herself and the people around her in the process of full and complete immersion. Her pursuit of that aim has taken her all over the world, from the coal mines of West Virginia, the rain forests of Nicaragua, and the slums of Chennai.
She spent her junior summer working in a rural hospital in Andhra Pradesh and working with Nalamdana, a street-theatre group in Chennai that performed plays to convey important public health information to people in Chennai's slums and surrounding villages. While there, she noticed a large disparity in the HIV response systems in both states and decided to explore it further by undertaking a senior honors thesis project "AIDS in South India: A Comparative Analysis of AIDS in South India over the past 20 years and its current role today," for which she returned to India to conduct fieldwork.
While at Dartmouth, Sindhura has been active in the South Asian community by serving on the executive board of Milan, Dartmouth's South Asian Students organization and chairing and organizing multiple events. As co-president, she helped to develop a stronger focus on community service and awareness of social issues by encouraging dialogue and discussion among members regarding South Asia. With the rest of the board, she organized the first annual South Asian Spice Benefit dinner which raises funds and awareness for a special cause selected each year. Her senior year, she served as a senior representative and mentor on the executive board to provide leadership support for underclassmen. For the past two years, she has also served as an intern for the Pan Asian Council and worked on coalition building within the Pan Asian Community and specifically on issues relating to Asian and Asian American women and the South Asian community. Her work with students in the Asian and Asian American community at Dartmouth furthered her interest in the experiences of 1st and 2nd generation immigrants and reinforced her commitment to serving that community.
Next year, Sindhura will be working with South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!) which serves youth from low-income South Asian immigrant communities in Queens, New York that works with low-income immigrant youth in the area. (SAYA!) was founded in 1996 with the mission to create social change and opportunities for South Asian youth to realize their fullest potential. It is the only organization of its kind in New York City, providing non-sectarian comprehensive youth development services to South Asian youth, one of the fastest growing low-income minority groups in the city. Most of this growth has been in the low income segment of the South Asian community. These South Asians are the New York City cab-drivers, newsstand and restaurant workers, nannies and domestic workers, who work long hours, usually without health benefits and for a bare minimum wage. Youth who come to SAYA! are from these low-income families. They live in under-resourced neighborhoods and attend schools that are over-crowded and have among the lowest student achievement records. Teachers and school personnel are usually not well versed in the South Asian culture and languages, which makes it difficult for the youth to communicate with them. They have little or no access to leadership development opportunities in their schools and communities. The lack of South Asian role models in the media makes the situation worse. SAYA! serves primarily young people ages 11 to19 who are recent immigrants or American born children of immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Guyana, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri-Lanka and Trinidad. SAYA! provides a safe space for these children while also advocating for policy changes with respect to their development needs.
Typically, recent South Asian immigrant youth are in need of supportive counseling, introduction to the American school system and society, and general social support. On the other hand, South Asian youth who are born in this country or who have lived here for a number of years struggle with understanding their role in the American racial and political landscape, feeling at once ?foreign? and American. In addition, they face the range of challenges common to urban American teens. These students often find their own way to the SAYA! center seeking wide range of supports and opportunities that are inaccessible to them in other mainstream settings. However, most of SAYA!?s programs require a year long commitment, are center-based, and have limited seats, meaning that both youth and volunteers who are interested have to be turned away.
As a Lewin Fellow, Sindhura will partner with SAYA! next year to launch a mentoring program for children between the ages of 11-19 to establish mentoring relationships between interested South Asian professionals and college graduates who can engage with these students and develop relationships that expose the youth to different role models, career options, and advising through close personal relationships that are not otherwise available to them. She will work with SAYA! for a year following graduation and will work to launch a mentoring program and implementing and evaluate it. In order to launch the program, Sindhura will use her experience with the South Asian professional community in the US to network with local South Asian professionals and organizations to recruit committed volunteers. After recruiting volunteers and mentors, she will work to create matches and continue to work with the community to ensure that it is meeting needs. She hopes to work with SAYA! to create a program that will be successful and can be sustained and expanded in coming years.
In her work with SAYA!, Sindhura hopes to devote her energies to providing services to a community that is particularly close to her heart. She hopes to help SAYA! aid South Asian immigrant youth deal with the kinds of struggles she personally experienced growing up as a 2nd generation immigrant in America trying to understand and come to terms with her cultural heritage, background and identity. Though she has been fortunate enough to have hard-working and educated parents, she has seen how the lack of opportunities and resources can affect youth firsthand in her own community among her own family. She hopes help provide SAYA! youth with culturally sensitive resources that will help them take advantage of the world of wealth and opportunity that surrounds them instead of being left out by it.
Last Updated: 8/7/11