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Southern Hospitality

Aparna Bhattacharyya shares her story about her work at Raksha.

Aparna BhattacharyyaAparna Bhattacharyya is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts as an AAPI Women leader.

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”– Maya Angelou

In my personal experience, how people make me feel in both difficult and happy times is something I always remember. I have a distinct memory of my mother saying “there is nothing like Southern Hospitality” after a couple helped with us a flat tire while on a family vacation. Being from Georgia, this made me really proud to be from the South. Being a Southerner and having parents who had a restaurant growing up has made hospitality a key component of what is important in our work. How do we make people feel when things are tough in their lives? How do we support them when they are sad, mad or even happy? How do we have a loving conversation with someone when we have to challenge or confront them? Raksha’s work is about making our community feel comfortable in asking for help, building a community that will love and support them along the way, and encouraging community members to making healthy changes in their own lives.

I have known since elementary school that I wanted to work to end domestic and sexual violence. I had originally wanted to be a lawyer but then after volunteering as a victim advocate in college, I knew this was the path I wanted to take. I had started working for the City of Atlanta as a victim advocate when Raksha was just starting. My father handed me a Raksha flyer and little did I know that Raksha would be my calling. It is through Raksha that I learned to truly love my community.

Raksha, meaning protection, was started by young women who wanted a resource in Georgia for South Asians seeking support. There was no organization to serve our community’s needs. I was so lucky to be a part of developing and growing Raksha. It is not just a job, it is my passion. While our focus is usually on working with South Asians, I always try to make sure we are advocating for all immigrant communities. Raksha services have grown and adapted based on the needs of the individuals coming to us. Since 1995, Raksha has come a long way in building community trust and partnerships. It is such a gift when community and faith leaders open their doors to Raksha to help make our community stronger and healthier.

I love this work because it’s creating a space that I personally know has made a difference in my life. I love this organization because it has started dialogues in the community that were nonexistent before. I love this work because I get to see family members, friends, community, youth, and faith leaders find ways to take their own stand and make the world a better place. Of course, it is not easy to hear about abuse, violence, and discrimination on a regular basis, and it is my earnest hope that these ugly truths are eliminated someday. What IS inspirational is when community members who find their own strength, tell their own truths, and have the courage to make their own choices.

It is a great honor to be recognized for the work I have been doing over the years. I sincerely hope that this recognition will motivate individuals to do something to create peaceful dialogues and end violence in our communities; to find ways to provide support to the community members who are being abused; to lift the stigma of counseling, and create ways for survivors of violence to heal. This work is lifelong and hard but we need to come together to find ways to truly build healthy relationships and work to end the violence in our communities.

Aparna Bhattacharyya is the Executive Director of Raksha, Inc.