Our editor-in-chief, Maria, sat down with Mira at Saheliya to discuss the charity’s work and history. All donations for this summer’s issue help to fund the wonderful work that Young Saheliya, one of Saheliya’s many services, do in Scotland. We’re really proud to support such a worthy cause in our local community.
qmunicate: Could you tell us a bit about the founding and history of Saheliya and Young Saheliya?
Saheliya: Saheliya is a specialist mental health organisation for black, minority ethnic, refugee and asylum seeker women (12+) in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Our specialist Young Saheliya service works with girls and young women aged between 12-25 years.
Saheliya was created in 1992 in Edinburgh and started in one room with two staff members and has grown to be a vital grassroot organisation supporting over 1,300 women and young women annually.
We work with women who have experienced gendered abuse/racial inequalities and have had difficulties accessing mainstream services. We promote mental well-being by: combating the effects of abuse, reducing the stigma of mental illness, and building integration. We do this by providing practical, emotional, therapeutic support, advocacy in 14 first languages and group activities.
q: What type of barriers do young BAME girls face in Scotland and what support do you provide them with?
S: The types of barriers that BAME girls in Scotland face tend to revolve around isolation, living between cultures, racism, discrimination and issues with barriers to education and employment. In Young Saheliya we aim to support girls and young women through participating in group work with the aim of providing an opportunity for them to get to know other BAME girls in the area and decrease issues of isolation as well as providing support through developing soft skills such as employability skills and aiming to increase confidence within the group. We also provide counselling, art therapy, learning opportunities as well as one-to-one support.
q: You mention that many of your staff are ex-service users and that nearly all are from the communities you serve; why do you think that people are attracted to join the organisation and what was the inspiration behind the name of the charity?
S: We are an organisation that is led by BAME women focusing on the issues of the affected communities. It just feels right as a BAME woman to join and assist in its progression as we can see that the focus of the organisation’s aim is to effectively tackle issues faced by these groups.
We are a specialist women’s organisation, by women for women. We provide a safe environment where service users are able to feel safe, have their voices heard, deal with any issues they might be facing as well as socialise. As Shruti Jain, Saheliya’s Chair of the Board, said:
“We create a safe space where women can share their views and their voices will be heard. As women, we lift each other up. At Saheliya there isn’t a minority voice. There are people like you – with similar experiences, around the table.”
q: Young Saheliya provides a strong sense of solidarity and enthusiasm for improving the world for women and girls. Could you tell us more about the values at the heart of the charity?
S: Young women are the future! We work tirelessly to promote equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalised. We offer client centred, wrap-around support concentrating on unity, progression and confidence building and to assist young women in finding their own voice in this ever-changing world.
q: What change would you like to see for BAME girls and young women in Scotland in the next few years and what conversations would you like to encourage?
S: We would like to see more opportunities towards inclusion, increased support towards BAME women and girls, and more projects led by BAME women and girls where they are able to lead the conversation rather than conversations being started for them.
q: How is Young Saheliya responding to the challenges of the coronavirus crisis?
S: This has been an extremely challenging year for the charity and the women/young women we work with and we have received more referrals than before. Our staff have been creative, adaptive and extremely flexible in supporting women, many in desperate situations, throughout the Covid period. All sessions were initiated online and had there been clients needing resources they could be provided to remove barriers of participation. Our Young Saheliya service has been running interactive sessions which were regularly updated to ensure engagement and enjoyment.
We are happy to say that we have managed to move almost all of our services and learning groups from face to faceto phone, whatsapp video, and online, only dealing with the most critical situations in person. There are still some barriers, such as access to IT, and we continue to work hard to solve these issues.
Thanks to fundraisers and individual donations as well as funders we were able to organise additional one to one support, group work as well as counselling and art therapy throughout Covid period. Our hubs in Edinburgh and Glasgow are usually the havens of activity, but during the past year these have been done remotely.
q: It is really impressive to be able to provide your services in so many different languages. Why do you think this is important and what languages do people most often use your service in?
S: Language is power. For most of the women and young women we work with English isn’t their first language. We cannot highlight enough the importance of being able to discuss matters in your own language, especially when needing to discuss often very traumatic matters.
We offer specialist services and advocacy in 14 first languages. However, our salaried staff team speak 34 languages and our trained Access2safety sessional language support workers speak an additional 15 languages. Our staff can find the right words giving all women and girls an equal chance to be understood and to get support and access justice.
q: Finally, how can students help or get involved with Young Saheliya?
S: Offer events and discussions on issues covered within Young Saheliya to raise awareness, encourage those who need support to seek it, and normalise conversations around minority issues. They can also donate to the charity or fundraiser if they can.
Follow Saheliya on social media for updates or join their mailing list here to receive their quarterly newsletter.