September 10, 2010
My name is Payal, I am an Indian woman, born and raised in the U.S. I believe that I have been blessed with many things, but what I am amazed by every day is the seemingly effortless fulfillment of my basic needs. My parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1980, and worked hard to ensure that I would not have to struggle for the basics, that I would be comfortable, and that I would have the opportunities to pursue my passions. Visiting family in India while growing up, I remember the moment that I first felt how arbitrary it was that I had so much and so many in the world had so few. This feeling stayed with me and has influenced the course of my life in very fundamental ways.
During college, I studied economics and international development. This field of study opened up a whole new way of thinking about why there is so much injustice and poverty in the world, and made me want to understand life in developing countries through firsthand experience. I volunteered in Ecuador for a domestic violence legal clinic one summer, living with a local family and spearheading a project to engage the community in discussion about violence against women. While this short experience was exhilarating, I knew that given more time, I could do more. My desire to get more deeply involved led me to Udaipur, Rajasthan after graduating from college.
During my years in India, I worked in various capacities – as a volunteer with Indian NGO, as a country director for foreign volunteers with an American non-profit, and as a project manager and research assistant with an evaluation organization. Through my experiences, I learned that compassion and patience, while indispensable, are not sufficient for success in the development field, and that both grassroots wisdom and rigorous research are necessary in turning small, trial successes into scalable policy solutions.
I felt that I could gain much needed skills in quantitative analysis and policy through graduate school and so came back to the U.S. to pursue a degree in public policy and international development. During my time in graduate school, I spent a summer in Liberia working with their Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and worked on a project on government accountability and community engagement in Andhra Pradesh. While top-down changes and policy reform were intellectually stimulating to me, I felt that I wanted more experience working directly with people on an individual and community level.
This led me to my current work with a U.S.-based non-profit where I am an advocate on economic justice issues for survivors of domestic violence in the South Asian community. My work allows me to connect my one-on-one work with survivors while also pursing new programmatic ideas within the organization, as well as advocating for systemic policy changes at the state and federal levels.
Every day I witness how a lack of knowledge and awareness hold women back from taking full control of their lives. Women must be given the opportunity to become self-sufficient in order to effectively fulfill their potential as women. Economic justice therefore is critical in making women aware of their fundamental rights, such as the right to education, housing, work, food, and health, and is both a way to prevent future violence as well as a way to promote women’s independence and full participation in society. For this reason, I believe that writing and communication are critical in directly opening people’s eyes to the world around them or inspiring them to create positive change.
I am ready to pursue a new path in my personal and professional journey. I have written on a personal blogs, for papers in school, and for newsletters at the places I have worked, and it is through writing that I have best been able to communicate my experiences to the world and those around me. I want to use my blessings and experiences to make others aware of the plights of the women of the world, as awareness naturally builds empathy and compassion and moves us to action. I have always viewed writing and journalism as powerful means to reach this goal. Through my words, I hope to build greater consciousness and move others to join the fight for women’s rights and dignity.