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Break the Silence on Domestic Violence with #MeriAwaaz

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Let me ask you: Where do you feel most comfortable, secure and unharmed?

I’m going to go on a whim and say that the majority of your responses would claim that home is that place for you.

Unfortunately, for some women and men, home is the first place they would relocate from. Thinking about the roof over their heads and beds they once slept warmly on just allows the memories of trauma and pain to plague their minds.

It gives me a heartache because you think about these women that can’t even go into their house, and we think that our house is the safest place to be in. So if they don’t go to their house, where do they go?

A relevant question by former Corrections employee and Vancouver actress, Mannu Sandhu.

Domestic violence killed 113 women in B.C. from 2004 to 2014, according to the province, and more than 12,300 police-reported victims of intimate partner violence throughout the province in 2013. It is still the most pervasive form of violence against women and they continue to be perpetrated in their homes by the people they love.

Hence, wanting to assume the role of catalysts to break the silence and stigma associated with domestic violence, Jessie Lehail and Mannu Sandhu teamed up in time for International Women’s Day to create dialogue and collaboration within their own community.

On March 8th, 2015, Meri Awaaz, which literally translates to ‘My Voice’, brought up to two hundred individuals together including: high school students, university students, police, politicians, academics and other delegates. Their objective? To break the silence on domestic violence by growing awareness, sparking dialogue, and empowering the community to take action on this prevalent issue.

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I had the opportunity to sit down with Jessie and Mannu to learn more of what inspired and motivated them to provide this event that advocates for investment towards domestic violence.

How did you two come to organize Meri Awaaz?

Jessie LehailJessie: The idea stemmed from last November. We had heard stories within the mainstream [media] but also South Asian domestic stories – people like Manjit Panghali, Maple Batalia and Narinder Kaur Kalsi and a few others were all victims of domestic violence and all passed away because of it. We did more digging and found some really interesting stats like one in four women within their lives will experience domestic violence. This was alarming, more so were all the women who are suffering in silence. Their experiences go undocumented, and they are experiencing life in hardship because of domestic violence. We are giving a voice to the voiceless.

Mannu: We figured it’s important for us to address those issues in front of the public and to knock on that window constantly to get justification for things, for the voices that are unheard. We want to make sure that we give them a platform for them to get a voice.

This might put you in a vulnerable position, but was there something you had witnessed that made you realize you wanted to be a catalyst for this prevalent issue that’s happening?

Jessie: That’s a really interesting question. Both Mannu and I, within our South Asian circles and mainstream circles, have heard of domestic violence cases with our friends, cousins, neighbours, masseuse, or our aesthetician. But, domestic violence isn’t just a South Asian issue. It spans culture, ethnicity, and socio-economic groups. It’s a national, global and local issue that needs awareness. The fact that it’s all too familiar that every one in four women will be experiencing domestic violence in their life – it hits close to home.

Mannu: I worked for Corrections for seven years… Talking to women – when we would call Mannu Sandhuthem, I could hear the fear in their voice when they say “Oh well, is he getting out? What is his condition now?” – it’s not where somebody has died. It’s women who are living in fear, which can be a very scary thing, knowing that the person that has abused you is now out on the streets and can get you again – it’s a very fearful thought for them and their kids. I know a lot of people say this issue is not just a women’s issue – it’s also a men’s issue at the same time – but I almost think that when a woman is abused or physically abused, they go through a different trauma than a man would. That was an ‘aha’ moment for me.

What do you hope to achieve throughout this entire process?

Jessie: We are not an organization, just two people who created an event, being catalysts wanting to engage different stakeholders and organizations getting them together in a room, create some dialogue, awareness and hopefully get some outcomes out of this conversation. Maybe there’ll be more efficiency, more collaboration, maybe a new idea that they haven’t thought of will arise and we can move steps forward to eradicate domestic violence. 

Mannu: The panelists we chose really addressed the issues that victims have. We wanted to get experts into one room. There’s a lot of promises made by the government, there’s a lot of grants given by the government, but we need to see how they are benefitting the actual cause. Numbers and stats sound great, but is it really helping the people that needs the help? We don’t plan to be an organization; we’re people who want to give a voice to people if they want the voice. We want to use the organizations’ expertise. We want to become catalysts for this issue, and we want to motivate each other to play a bigger role.

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Mannu, from your perspective and with the experience you have, why do you think women are so afraid to speak up?

Mannu: It’s fear. It’s fear of losing what they have. They think they have a home, a family, and it’s hard for them to let go of that. It’s that initial fear of “Oh, he loves me, he’s been there for me, we have a long history”. I think that really stops a lot of them to leave, including kids as well. 

Jessie: From my own academic research, there is a lack of speaking up even though you do see something. We need to, as a community in general, be there for one another, providing opportunities and avenues for people to get the help they need. A lot of this is fear and shame; we need to make sure we have a safe and respectful environment as people are vulnerable to provide their personal stories and thoughts. 

So how can we as citizens create more awareness?

Jessie: Regardless of who you are, you need to speak up, enabling those who experience domestic violence to have a voice, connecting them with the correct resources. Ensure you are helping them get the help that they need. 

Mannu: One of the biggest things is that people don’t know where to go. People don’t know where the sources are available. The public can help by just knowing what is actually available. There are lots of things available, it’s just that sometimes, we don’t have the knowledge to access those particular resources.

How has the feedback from the community been so far?

Jessie: Initially, we were a little worried that we wouldn’t get feedback, but in general, we’ve had an amazing response from different organizations, and the provincial government has really championed what we are doing. We have the ability to focus on educating that this isn’t just a South Asian issue, but a global issue. At the same light, we have this opportunity, since Mannu and I are both South Asian, to look at domestic violence from the cultural sensitivities through that lens to make sure that there is enlightenment and awareness. There are certain things that need to be examined through South Asian eyes.

Mannu: We are already in talks with Surrey Women’s Centre, Chimo Society, and also Genesis Family Empowerment Society. This is a great thing for us because we are building our relationships with agencies at this time. A constant dialogue is what helps you create awareness, and we have a lot of youth involved, really getting to the source and really helping them understand that this is a serious issue.

Jessie: I’m hopeful that one ‘aha’ moment will arise from this. This is just a tiny step in the domestic violence battle.

Mannu: Be aware of what is happening in your city. We get too used to stories we heard in the media that somebody’s killed. Sometimes, we get too used to them because it’s happening so often. At this point, I don’t want people to get used to that. We need to work collaboratively and together instead of pointing fingers at each other. Women’s issues are human issues. Far-reaching concerns like gender equality, education, and access to markets affect men and women alike at work, home, and in our communities.

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No human being deserves to be hurt, and no one should ever stand in silence. Let’s all join the conversation today and help make a difference:

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Krystele was born and raised on the beautiful island of Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands. Although from a tiny community, she was already traveling to North America at the age of 12 to compete and champion international public speaking competitions. Her global perspective has helped her branch out to discover new opportunities when she moved to BC seven years ago. At just 21, she has received a B.A. in Communications from SFU and has already worked for numerous organizations including Metro Vancouver, Canadian Cancer Society, Special Olympics BC, and the BC Non-Profit Housing Association to name a few. She is an entrepreneur, and handles social media for reputable brands. Krystele's passion is to help others find their voice and be heard, as well as inspire others to make the world a better place.

Charity

The 50 Women of Options: Lori Quinn

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On February 17th, Options Community Services launched its first capital fundraising campaign to raise $1.5 million for affordable housing units. The money is currently being raised through a partnership with 50 local women, all of who have pledged to raise $25,000 each in support of this project. Surrey 604 is encouraging public support of this project by featuring each of the 50 Women of options. Today we introduce Lori Quinn, a community volunteer and philanthropist. 

Tell us your name, a bit about who you are and your background? 

My name is Lori Quinn and I am a retired Real Estate agent and busy mother of two. I am also a  philanthropist and national competitor of Arabian horses. I have always lived in the Lower Mainland, and specifically in Surrey since 2004.

What is your job title/what company or organization are you with?

Community volunteer and philanthropist.

What achievements in your life are you most proud of?

Of all my achievements through the years, my children are my proudest accomplishment. I admire the amazing individuals they have become.

Why did the Women of Options affordable housing campaign resonate with you? Why are you supporting this initiative?

Over the years, I have noticed the homeless population rising in Surrey, and yet there are no housing options. I believe affordable housing is really important in curbing this housing crisis and feel that the Options’ affordable housing project is a great way to give back.

 

Learn more about the Women of Options and make a donation to this important cause by visiting the website: Women Of Options

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The 50 Women of Options: Shelly Lynn Hughes

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On February 17th, Options Community Services launched its first capital fundraising campaign to raise $1.5 million for affordable housing units. The money is currently being raised through a partnership with 50 local women, all of who have pledged to raise $25,000 each in support of this project. Surrey 604 is encouraging public support of this project by featuring each of the 50 Women of options. Today we introduce Shelly Lynn Hughes, owner of Fresh Magazine and Project Her.

Tell us your name, a bit about who you are and your background? 

My name is Shelly Lynn Hughes, and I am a multi-business owner and serial entrepreneur. I have worked in publishing for over a decade and recently published my first book, Pursuit:365, which also resulted in my first best-seller status on Amazon Canada. 

What is your job title/what company or organization are you with? 

I am the President & CEO of Fresh Magazine & pursuit:365.

What achievements in your life are you most proud of? 

I find myself looking forward too often to reflect on what I’m proud of, but there are many moments I could look back on and think, “wow, I made that happen.” Mostly, I’m proud of being a mom. My work is all for my two girls, making them proud of me and feeling inspired to become their own people.

Why did the Women of Options affordable housing campaign resonate with you? Why are you supporting this initiative? 

Women have a unique relationship with the concept of community. We have been the cornerstones of communities throughout history, and the Women of Options affordable housing campaign embodies this. What these 49 other incredible women and I have in common is our compassion for our community and our desire to give back. When those of us who are fortunate enough to be in a position to help choose to rally, we can accomplish so much. This campaign is a rallying point and I’m so honoured to be even a small part of it.

What are your social media handles? 

Personal Instagram

Pursuit:365 Instagram

Fresh Magazine Instagram

Fresh Magazine Facebook

What is your web address?

www.freshmag.ca

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5 ways Affordable Housing will Benefit the City of Surrey

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Lack of affordable housing has quickly become one of the largest barriers in preventing homelessness in British Columbia. Having served the Lower Mainland for the past 50 years, Options Community Services and Habitat Housing Society are working to provide safe, affordable rental units for the local community

Options provides essential social services in Surrey, Delta, White Rock/South Surrey and Langley. Recently, the organization has partnered with 50 local women to help raise $1.5 million in funding for a new affordable housing building in Surrey, BC. The money raised in this partnership will go towards the 100-unit complex at 81st and King George Boulevard. Of these 100 units, 30 will be market rentals, while the remaining 70 will be well below market rates —designated as affordable housing, with rent starting as low as $375 per month. This building and the resources connected to it will make a monumental impact on the community. Here are 5 ways that this building will directly impact Surrey:

1. Additional Resources:

Not only will the affordable housing build feature 100 new rental units, but it will also feature several community services provided by Options. These services include Early Years, special needs services for children and mental health outreach. Having these programs available for tenants in the building will be a bonus for all.

2. Build Relationships:

Whether it’s a social worker or an elementary school teacher, having and maintaining long-lasting relationships is crucial to establishing roots in a community. These networks of support will help at-risk individuals and vulnerable people build stability in their lives and increase their sense of community. Knowing there are people in your neighbourhood that can help support you can be a relief for individuals who do not have friends, family, or any other source of support.

3. Accessibility:

Currently, the housing market is very hot and the number of buyers is outnumbering the available stock. This applies to both home buyers and renters who are looking for affordable places to stay. This building offers 100 brand-new units that are affordable for low-income families. These families otherwise might not have any other options to turn to and be forced to consider unsafe housing conditions. Priced at $375 monthly for a one-bedroom, these homes can change the lives of those who are in need.  

4. Increased Safety:

By having a door to lock and a place to call home, the safety and security of the community is enhanced. Far too often, vulnerable peoples are subjected to unsafe conditions or forced to make tough choices. Many of these individuals are women fleeing violence, refugees, displaced seniors, at-risk youth or persons living on a disability income. . Housing such as this will better protect these groups and ensure that they have access to safe, secure and affordable places to live.

5. Job Growth:

The success of our vulnerable community members is a success for us all. In communities with affordable housing, there is often a growth in job opportunities.  A study by the New York State Association for Affordable Housing found that affordable housing projects created nearly 330,000 jobs in New York between 2011 and 2015, with many of them being permanent or long-lasting contracts (source). From engineers to health care workers, the growth of a community can directly contribute to an increased demand for workers. 

The Women of Options campaign was created to support the build at King George and 81st. More information and a profile on each of the 50 Women of Options can be found at womenofoptions.ca. Community support is vital to ensure its success. To learn more about ways to help or donate, please visit womenofoptions.ca.

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Charity

The 50 Women of Options: Tammy Dyer

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On February 17th, Options Community Services launched its first capital fundraising campaign to raise $1.5 million for affordable housing units. The money is currently being raised through a partnership with 50 local women, all of who have pledged to raise $25,000 each in support of this project. Surrey 604 is encouraging public support of this project by featuring each of the 50 Women of options. Today we introduce Tammy Dyer, Deputy Executive Director, Options Community Services.

Tell us your name, a bit about who you are and your background? 

My name is Tammy Dyer and I have lived in Surrey my entire life. My background is as an Early Childhood Educator and I was fortunate to have been hired by Options when the Growing Together Young Parent Program began in 1986. Over my 35 year career at Options has provided me opportunities to grow both professionally and personally. I am proud to be a part of the Options Executive team. 

What is your job title/what company or organization are you with? 

I am the Deputy Executive Director, Options Community Services.

What achievements in your life are you most proud of? 

Professionally I am so proud to be a part of the Options family and all of the achievements we have made over the years. None of my achievements that I have made professionally are ever achieved alone but as a team. If I have to pick a few it would be the Growing Together Young Parent Program that grew and evolved under my leadership and the current 81st Ave housing project that the Women of Options campaign is supporting. Personally, my biggest and most important achievement is being a mom to two amazing young women who are intelligent, kind, independent and beautiful both inside and out.

Why did the Women of Options affordable housing campaign resonate with you? Why are you supporting this initiative? 

As a long-time Options employee who spent many years supporting young families, I knew that securing safe affordable housing was one of the most challenging hurdles that my clients faced. When I talked to other staff from other Options programs a lack of safe affordable housing was a barrier that their clients faced as well. This project has been a dream of mine for more than five years and I was honoured to be asked to be one of the 50 Women of Options affordable housing campaign.

What is your web address?

Options Community Services

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The 50 Women of Options: Isabelle Martinez Hayer

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On February 17th, Options Community Services launched its first capital fundraising campaign to raise $1.5 million for affordable housing units. The money is currently being raised through a partnership with 50 local women, all of who have pledged to raise $25,000 each in support of this project. Surrey 604 is encouraging public support of this project by featuring each of the 50 Women of options. Today we introduce Isabelle Martinez Hayer, Mortgage Broker with Dominion Lending Centres.

Tell us your name, a bit about who you are, and your background? 

My passion in life is service to the community. A daughter of immigrant parents who struggled to raise a family during difficult times, I raised children to be engaged in community service, to be proud of being Canadian, and be guided through the principles of honesty, integrity, goodwill, understanding, and service to others. In 1989 I joined Rotary International and was among the first women to be inducted into the Canadian arm of the organization. I also volunteered on many boards including the Surrey Memorial Hospital Foundation, Surrey Board of Trade, the Bell Performing Arts Centre and TD Friends of the Environment.

What is your job title/what company or organization are you with? 

I am a Mortgage Broker with Dominion Lending Centres. I have also been involved with A Better Way and the Rotary Club of Surrey.

What achievements in your life are you most proud of? 

I am profoundly proud and appreciative, with the support of my spouse, to have had the privilege of raising 4 brilliant and accomplished children who have made positive impacts in their world and family. As a servant leader, I have also had many wonderful opportunities to engage and support meaningful organizations in our community, accomplishing great things to help uplift our society. Lastly, as a mature student, I have recently completed my Master’s degree at Royal Roads University and hope that this accomplishment will inspire others to reflect that you are never too old to learn and improve.

 Why did the Women of Options affordable housing campaign resonate with you? Why are you supporting this initiative? 

I support sustainable housing initiatives that help promote individual resiliency and I believe that through addressing housing insecurity, the community will benefit by uplifting residents, enabling them to tackle other important issues like raising their families, being more engaged in society and supporting the betterment of all.

What are your social media handles? 

Twitter

Facebook

What is your web address?

Surrey Rotary Club

 

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