Empowerment and Advocacy

At Sapna we believe that health and empowerment are intricately intertwined and to truly make a lasting impact on the health of our community, we must work holistically and include empowerment and advocacy as core values of our organization. As such, our empowerment programming and advocacy work are an integral part of Sapna’s mission. For us, empowerment means gaining knowledge,access, and a self-awareness of one’s own capabilities and then harnessing that power to create positive change. By uplifting women and encouraging them to not only recognize but to act upon their power, we are working towards a vision of women building healthy communities with peace and justice.

A key component of our program design is Action Groups, in which women from the community work together to address a particular concern or health issue. After receiving education on the issue, services, treatment, etc., Action Group members receive additional training on communication, outreach, and leadership. They then go into their communities to spread information throughout their networks and to reach and educate isolated women in need of services. They use their own empowerment to empower the women around them.

In addition to working on empowering our community through direct programming, we also believe strongly in working to raise the voices of our women. Given that many of the women we work with are vulnerable due to their gender, religion, immigration status, socio-economic group, and health we recognize that advocating for themselves isn’t necessarily feasible. As such, we work with other organizations and agencies to represent the needs and beliefs of our community. Sapna leadership is committed to advocating for the rights of our women and for augmenting their voices and relaying their concerns to our city, state, and national representatives.

“I used to be afraid of whether or not I’ll be able to do something, that maybe my English wasn’t good enough, that I wouldn’t be able to. After taking classes for some time, now I can. I have a job.So for changing my life, this has been a huge part.” Samsun, ESOL participant

The women in our community cite a lack of English proficiency as the largest barrier to employment, education, access to healthcare, and navigating systems in New York City. As immigrants, this language barrier coupled with the brand new culture and environment make it particularly difficult. Our women want to learn English to increase their communication with others, especially doctors,teachers, store owners, and employers. Over the years, our ESOL program has consistently brought new women through our doors, some of whom come with no prior knowledge and leave with the confidence that they can explain their health problems to the doctor, talk to their children’s teachers, ask for directions, and navigate more comfortably in the city.

We offer four different levels of English, ranging from absolute beginner to intermediate, with a curriculum designed specifically for immigrant populations learning English as a Second Language. Our Absolute Beginner class works with women who have no background in the language, beginning with the alphabet and teaching basic reading skills. Many of these women had never been able to read and didn’t know even a word of English before taking this class.

In addition to our Spring and Fall semester courses, we offer weekly conversation classes, taught by staff members. These classes emphasize discussions, with topics ranging from everyday conversations about family and childhood memories to more advanced conversations on women’s rights, global warming, or immigrant heritage. Sapna also offers a phone conversation program, which pairs volunteers with community members who want to increase their speaking skills. This program has allowed our donors and supporters to commit time as volunteers and connect with community members.

“I was a teacher back in Bangladesh, but here I’m working at Dunkin Donuts. My friend told me about Sapna so I joined the computer class. If I can learn the computer, I can get a better job and maybe work in a school again.” Haimanti, Computer class participant

Our newest class, computer literacy courses are in high demand. These classes requested by our women in our bi-annual community conference are an opportunity for women to gain entry into the world of technology. The beginner course curriculum starts with the basics of turning a computer on, using the mouse and learning proper hand placement on the keyboard. Each participant is helped to create what is most often her first email account. Throughout the 8-week sessions, students learn how to type, how to browse the web, how to use YouTube, and how to use email. Group classes are supplemented with individual lab hours at Sapna NYC. Once graduated from the beginner course, women can enroll in the intermediate course, which will work on Microsoft Word and Excel skills.

“All of us who come from other countries, those of us who are here from Bangladesh, we’re lonely. Sapna brings these women together and gives them a space to forge new friendships. It allows them to feel that yes, there is someone standing with me.” Hamida, Community Health Worker

One of the primary causes of low-level depression among the women in our community is isolation. A lack of English skills, lack of knowledge of the NYC transportation system, and a lack of social networks keep women closed off at home. Through our programming and events, we strive to recreate some of the relationships and support networks among women, which are part of the fabric of life in South Asian societies. Our open Women’s Circle, facilitated by our staff,brings together women in the community, allowingthem to build confidence, forge friendships, and gather strength from the group. Women share their experiences, troubles, and doubts surroundingdifficult topics like immigration issues, lack of autonomy at home, family troubles, and health concerns. The Women’s Circle is a safe space to share these thoughts as oftentimes our communities are male-centered, without spaces for women to gather and build their own connections separate from their husbands. This program helps women create bonds and friendships that are essential for support when dealing with difficulties in their lives. In particular, this also helps create a social network that can support if needed as a result of policies being proposed or enforced, i.e. having trusted women who can look after their children if ICE comes to their house or having somewhere safe to stay or someone to turn to if they are victims of domestic violence. Our Women’s Circle combines fun activities like picnics, art projects, and dance, with presentations by staff and partners and serious discussions about the issues that women bring to the group.

“Here at Sapna we began to think about ourselves. We dared to dream. We accomplished something. That is what we gained after joining Sapna NYC.” Laila, community member

ASHA (“Action to Improve Self-esteem and Health through Asset-building”)- ASHA, which means hope in Bengali, is an asset-building matched savings program attached to a course and one-on-one counseling that works with women to help increase mental well-being, access to higher education, and financial independence. Our new iteration of ASHA specifically targets young women looking to attend community college. Statistics show that many high school students who could attend at low cost do not matriculate; while those who do often fail to thrive. Low income immigrant students are entitled to grant support to attend school. Yet they often lack support and social capital to apply successfully. Once in college, these students are frequently overwhelmed, and lack techniques to cope with stress. Through this program we work with women to increase their social, financial, and mental capital, thus increasing both rates of matriculation and timely graduation.

1) Psychological Asset Building:  Young immigrant women of color are often vulnerable to imposter syndrome, especially in a college setting. Sapna NYC teaches how to overcome feelings of self-doubt, how to manage anxiety and stress and how to balance school-work-and family life, while also emphasizing the need for self-care

2) Social Asset Building: ASHA is designed to help women build lasting social connections that will persist beyond the end of the program period. ASHA will help young women build positive relationships with professors, administration and peers, as well as teach the skills for networking. The group itself also becomes a major source of support.

3) Financial Asset Building: Finally, ASHA helps women build financial assets using a matched savings strategy. Students are provided with financial literacy training and open bank accounts. For most, this is the first bank account they have ever had. At the end of the program period, savings are matched. Participants can use their money make purchases that assist with their college education—this includes everything from money for the subway to buying a laptop.

Our previous ASHA program was designed to address mental and physical health and enhance emotional well-being among middle-aged South Asian women in the Bronx. It focused more heavily on depression and isolation and successfully lowered depression scores by 50 percent on the standardized PQH-9 scale. Sapna has run five cohorts of the ASHA program in NYC and in rural Bangladesh. In this successful program, participants saved $10/week (twice national average), program retention exceeded 80%, and participants reached over 1,000 community members to raise awareness about mental health and financial literacy. Hear one of our first ASHA participants, Maqsooda’s story here.

“When I come to Sapna, I can meet everyone, I feel happy, I am able to learn a lot of things. If I ever have troubles, I can come to Sapna and get a lot of information. For example, I am going to become a citizen, so I learned how I can take the exam. A lot of things like that.” – Rashida, CLAP member

Citizenship- Our citizenship classes are facilitated by our Community Health Workers, who have been through the process themselves and understand the difficulties and nervousness immigrants face when preparing and taking the citizenship test. Our class covers all the questions and goes over the process in detail. Before the test, students receive one-on-one sessions for review and mock interviews giving women the confidence to pass their exam. We have a 98 percent pass rate on the first attempt.

Voter Registration- After our women pass their citizenship test, we immediately register them to vote. Throughout the citizenship classes and the voter registration process, we emphasize the importance of participating in local, state and nationwide elections.  In addition, we welcome any walk-ins who need help with voter registration and conduct specific voter registration times periodically.

CLAP “Community Leaders and Advocates Program”- A group of eight women participated in a yearlong advocacy training project. The project involved several stages, including a survey, education sessions, and Women’s circle project, which engaged community members in discussions about issues and problems affecting women’s wellbeing. A group of CLAP members met with Senator Sepulveda to discuss the issues brought up most frequently in the women’s circle, including affordable housing, street safety, and street cleanliness. Learn more here.

At Sapna NYC, we strongly believe that information is power, particularly in this political climate in which the community we work with is vulnerable not only to attacks from the administration, but also systematic misinformation and exploitation. Our workshop series was created in response to a rising climate of hate and attacks through policies that have put our women at risk, especially since many of these attacks are geared towards immigrants, Muslims and women of color. These monthly workshops share pertinent information with the community, raise awareness and inform them of their rights. Past workshops have covered the topics of Public Charge, Housing/Tenant Rights, Immigration Rights, Educational Rights of Immigrant Families and Domestic Violence in which we have partnered with organizations around the city including Sakhi, NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, Mobilization for Justice and NYC Commission on Human Rights.

At Sapna NYC we recognize that the most effective way in moving our community forward is to pair direct services and education with advocacy for policies that will support and protect our community. This includes educating our community on policies and proposed policies that would directly impact them, meeting with elected officials in NYC and in Washington DC, taking part in rallies and petitions, and organizing our community around issues that impact them.

Some of the issues we are working on include:

15% and Growing Campaign for Budget Equity

The Asian Pacific American (APA) community is by percentage the fastest growing group in New York City, nearly doubling every decade since 1970 and making up over 15% of the population. Over 25% of APAs continue to live in poverty. Current levels of public funding for the APA community remain disproportionate to our community’s needs and disproportionate to our community’s size. Roughly 5% of City Council discretionary dollars and less than 2% of social service contract dollars go to APA CBOs. APA community organizations not only serve hundreds of thousands of APAs, they also provide the most impactful culturally competent and language accessible services that are cost effective in the long-term.


Access Health

We believe that true access doesn’t just mean creating a service, but also ensuring that the service is physically, geographically, financially, linguistically, and culturally accessible. It also means that we must invest in educating communities on the services available and how they can access them. We push for investment in CBOs like Sapna NYC that serve APA communities as the most effective way to meet a rising need that city agencies are not yet equipped to meet.

Immigrant rights

Sapna NYC actively pushes the city to provide the services the immigrant community needs and to invest in systems and policies that protect and support immigrants. This includes pushing for greater linguistic accessibility and investment in adult education and workforce development, bringing workshops and initiatives to our community in the Bronx, and representing our community in roundtables and city meetings.