Each month at ASAAP, we’re recognizing volunteers for their time, effort, and contributions! Interested in getting involved? Check out our Volunteer Page!
March 2017: Ratna Chaudhary
Peer Leader, Project Advisory Member, 25 for 25 Award Recipient
Ratna Chaudhary is a PhD in Physics from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. She is an ex Associate Prof. with more than 22 years of teaching undergraduate students at University of Delhi, India. She has been involved in various capacities at ASAAP including Story-Sharing for Sexual Health project and the Heart to Heart Project. Below is an excerpt from an interview with her! Click here for the full interview transcript.
Shriya Hari, Community Development and Volunteer Coordinator:
What motivated you to volunteer?
Ratna Chaudhary: When I came to Canada, I was looking for work, and I found it but wasn’t too satisfied with it, so I was looking for volunteer opportunities. ASAAP was right in the building I was staying. It’s my community, the South Asian community, and the people are welcoming. I really appreciate the work, I’ve been with ASAAP not just as a volunteer but as a community member.
SH: What have been some of the activities you’ve participated at ASAAP?
RC: I have been associated with a number of projects, some of them are the More than Fiction project, the Story Sharing Study project, the Heart to Heart Project as a Parent Project Advisory Committee Member. Filling in the Gaps project/workshop. I was also a facilitator for the Ontario Women’s study, and the Art Therapy Coordinator for our clients as a cofacilitator one summer, and I was a part of the Community Mural Art project led by Victor Mansano, a well known Toronto muralist which resulted in a collection of art works for the office. I’ve been involved with The Pride Parade and Fund Raiser galas, and I’ve done some Hindi translation/editing of outreach material. The volunteering and working in projects for ASAAP has been a soul filling and self rewarding experience.
SH: Tell us about your work on special projects.
RC: I’ve worked with clients as well; it ran for the whole of summer and was a therapeutic experience for everyone; we expressed ourselves with art – and art is very close to my heart. I’m going to be busy with a South Asian radio channel coming up! It’s a new program on Radio South Asian. Story-Sharing for Sexual Health was a project we did with community members where we wanted to see the impact of stories on community members- when you listen to a story you’re connected to a person, you see the whole picture – how you can contract this ailment, and manage with the challenges, and how people around you can uplift you or support you. Those stories, people who are not positive, they can maybe understand the perspective of POZ people. That insight was really touching.
SH: What did you find rewarding in your Peer Leader Role?
RC: My position was Peer Leader, and then being the very basic unit of the whole project, to eventually occupying a position of leadership in community. When I go out into the community along with the information, they need incentive. I don’t need the incentive, but they need the incentive to come out to learn something new, some financial backing to a project to support community members. Volunteering brings good karma has become the motto of my life. Having worked in the teaching field for 23 years now I feel is my time to learn and teach and contribute to our communities. ASAAP has been so kind to recognize my work with them, I am so grateful to be awarded the 25 for 25 award ,which was an award presented on the 25th Silver Jubilee year honoring 25 volunteers of ASAAP.
Check out her work with Story Sharing for Sexual Health here:
August 2016: Alex Urquhart
Peer Blogger, Dosti: Looking for PrEP
Alex Urquhart is a 26-year-old queer man, living and working in Toronto, Ontario. Born in Guyana, he immigrated to Canada in 1999 and has been in love with it ever since. He holds a degree in Journalism from Ryerson University, and plans to continue his education pursuing social work. He currently works at the AIDS Committee of Toronto, and his blog ‘Looking for PrEP’ is published by ASAAP and republished by PositiveLite.com. You can find him advocating for provincial coverage of PrEP, consuming too many carbohydrates and on twitter @AlexAviance.
Shriya Hari, Community Development and Volunteer Coordinator: How long have you volunteered with ASAAP, and how did you come to know of ASAAP?
Alex Urquhart: I’ve been volunteering at ASAAP for about 5 months now in various capacities. I learned about ASAAP after meeting with them at the 519 volunteer fair. It was love at first sight, and I’ve been involved ever since.
SH: What motivated you to volunteer?
AU: I had a lot of reasons for volunteering. At the time, it started out because I planning to go back to school to study social work. I thought ASAAP would be an awesome place to get experience in the industry, meet new people and really teach me a lot of practical skills I could apply to my new career. In the end, I’m happy to say it really has been all that and more.
SH: What have been some of the activities you’ve participated at ASAAP?
AU: My major project for ASAAP has been my blog, Looking for PrEP. I currently blog about my experience taking a drug called Truvada, used to prevent HIV infection. It is now also being republished on Canada’s premier HIV magazine, PositiveLite.com! I also led a talk on PrEP for Curried Conversations, a discussion group for South Asian guys who like guys. I was also extremely proud to be part of a pilot project launched by ASAAP and the other AIDS service organizations to bring free HIV testing to pride.
SH: Tell us a little about your writing/blogging process: how do you decide what to write about?
AU: I try to write about things I think are relevant. Not only to me, but also to racialized queer guys in general. Nobody’s writing for us! Nobody really talks about the fact that men can and do have trouble negotiating condom use. I like taking the conversation there and really trying to demystify and start a dialogue about it. I’m really fortunate and grateful that I’ve been given a tremendous amount of latitude to take the blog in places I want to see it go. My main objective is to keep it as authentic and realistic as possible, I’ve read other blogs about PrEP where the writer just seems completely unrelatable. One of the real challenges with writing this blog has been the personal aspect. For it to work, I have to talk about sex that I’m having (or not having). It often means confronting the ghosts of relationships past, present, and future. The question really then becomes, how much do I put out there? To me, the answer to that question is if I believe that somewhere out there someone can benefit from my experience.
SH: What do you like most about volunteering at ASAAP?
AU: It’s so hard to choose what I like most! I think one of the best things about volunteering at ASAAP is the opportunity to do real impactful work. I’ve volunteered at other places where I mostly just stuffed envelopes all day. However, volunteering at ASAAP I feel that right away I was being asked to help work on community health resources, and I could use my actual skills to bring exciting new things to the table. This is great because it’s more engaging, and it looks awesome on a resume. I’ve also met so many amazing people since volunteering at ASAAP. I’ve expanded my networks tremendously, both personal and professional, and I really could not be more grateful for that.
June 2016: Reenita Verma
Peer Leader for Brown Kiss
Reenita Verma is a Peer Leader and Writer for Brown Kiss, an online blog part of ASAAP’s Women’s Sexual Health program which is written by and for South Asian women. In this interview with Shriya Hari, our Community Development and Volunteer Coordinator, Reenita shared some thoughts with us about volunteering at ASAAP, her writing process, and the importance of spaces for South Asian women. Check out two of her pieces on Brown Kiss here and here.
Shriya Hari, Community Development and Volunteer Coordinator: How did you come to know of ASAAP?
Reenita Verma: I was at Take Back the Night in 2014 when a lovely Volunteer Coordinator [laughter] met me – and it was kind of a kismet moment – we were sitting beside each other, and talking, and I was thinking of getting more involved in community, and which groups I wanted to work with…and being new to Toronto – you and I started talking and I did some research after our talk and it was a pretty awesome organization and I knew I wanted to be part of it.
SH.: What motivated you to volunteer?
RV: So I was working on my social service worker diploma and kind of trying to figure out who I wanted to work with, with what groups of people, as an ally, as a social service worker, as a service user – I really wanted to build my network and I also wanted to meet some new people because all I had done in my first year in Toronto was go to school!
SH: What have been some of the activities you’ve engaged with at ASAAP?
RV: So I have a attended a Condom Stuffing – and we watched a movie and created a dialogue about what was happening in that film –it was about an organization in New York – I’ve participated at a Forum as a spectator – Peer Leader – for Brown Kiss – and focus groups as well. The focus group I participated in – we were talking about South Asian women and what we knew about sexual health – and it was very cool because I got to be in a room of diverse people – like South Asian women of all languages and all ages and all backgrounds talking about one singular topic: sex and sexual health which was never done before – so this was very cool.
SH: Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement with Brown Kiss?
RV: So, with Brown Kiss: the purpose of Brown Kiss is for us to start creating a dialogue – things that are happening with South Asian women, with a focus on sexual health – we’re women who talk about everything. Once a month, I’ll contribute a blog article about something I’m experiencing, something that’s on my mind. We’re also transitioning into the facilitator portion – we meet with community members, peers, and we talk about intersectionality, various topics – whatever needs to be discussed, we’ll discuss it.
SH: What does your writing process look like?
RV: My writing process is very organic – I tend to be an emotional writer, and what I mean by that Is that I tend to write from the heart, so I definitely sit down and brainstorm different ideas and topics and subjects to write about, but I take the experience as a South Asian woman navigating this world and institutions – I take those experiences and put pen to paper and that becomes a blog piece!
SH: You mentioned a lot of different identities – service provider, service user, ally, South Asian woman – how do these identities contribute to your writing?
RV: I am a qualified social service worker – I’ve also accessed organizations such as ASAAP for sexual health needs, creating educating/prevention, creating dialogues for my personal self – I’m not someone just in charge of creating a blog post and saying what I’m experiencing – the purpose is that I’m trying to create conversation with anyone in the community that wants to talk about these things – with other South Asian women! I’m not someone who is creating the topic, but it’s to address a need to talk about these things among community, with peers, allies, moms and sisters and friends – I’m only starting the conversation, but I am someone who needs to have this conversation and to listen and to learn – it’s the opportunity to build knowledge as well.
SH: What do you find rewarding in your Peer Leader Role?
RV: There’s never been an aspect of my involvement that hasn’t been rewarding! It’s true! I love this – I love that there’s a channel for me to explore my on creative process with writing. I love that I get to challenge myself every month by digging into discovering things about my South Asian background that I most definitely dismissed growing up – like learning my language, or the effect of wearing a sari out in public – I would wear jeans and a T-Shirt so things like that – or who I’m dating, if they’re south Asian or not. Trying to figure out where my life is still colonized, and what I’ve internalized about my South Asian culture – I love meeting new people and sharing experiences. The Peer Leaders are diverse, and so their experiences are different than mine, and yet we all contribute to this amazing website with thoughts and reflections.
SH: Any last thoughts?
RV: The last forum – Filling in the Gaps – it’s super terrifying but so empowering and just so powerful to have places like ASAAP create spaces where people that are South Asian – especially South Asian women who have to constantly deal with patriarchy and all this stuff that is so exhausting on our shoulders, to sit there and to have these opportunities to meet each other and let’s start breaking down these things and connect and build community, and our social circles – to me that’s incredible important and something I never thought was so necessary and I’m learning it’s actually absolutely crucial to who I am as a person to connect to others in the South Asian community… so I’m super thankful to ASAAP for that 🙂
April 2016: Vasantha Krishnan
Parent Project Advisory Member for Heart to Heart.
Vasantha Krishnan is a member of the parent project advisory committee for Heart to Heart, ASAAP’s Family Health Program. She has been a long-time committed volunteer at ASAAP who has been engaged in a variety of capacities since 2012. In this interview, she shared some thoughts with us about volunteering, and the importance of parents’ roles in children’s health needs in South Asian communities.
How long have you volunteered with ASAAP, and how did you come to know of ASAAP? I started in 2012; after attending some talks and presentations by Vijaya, [ASAAP’s Executive Director] she recommended ASAAP for volunteering. In India, I knew about these issues, but I was not involved. I knew it as an outsider to the issues; here I’m participating and am involved. I’m learning a lot at ASAAP, as I was not exposed to this information before.
What motivated you to volunteer?
The whole concept of the organization, the subject you are covering, reaching out to the public – I’ve made some good friends after coming here!
What have been some of the activities you’ve participated at ASAAP?
I’ve participated at workshops and at the Annual General Meeting, I was a greeter. I’ve packaged flyers and resources for the community. I’m also a project advisory member for Heart to Heart.
Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement with Heart to Heart?
After talking to Jaspreet, [ASAAP’s Family Health Coordinator] about Heart to Heart, I learnt about participating in the advisory capacity role. We talked about how to approach the other parents and young adults about sexual health. I think we have to reach out to parents to talk to them about how these issues exist. For everything including mental health, we must listen to children. Parents really shut out these issues and say “this doesn’t exist”, we must really listen to children, not as a parent, but as a friend.We south Asians are often worried about what society is going to say. Society will say “the boy is like this, girl is like this” we’re concerned about what the neighbours will say. There’s a hush hush sentiment about it. This is a taboo in our society.
What can we do to address this taboo?
The parents don’t want to accept it and are in denial. They know the fact but they don’t want to accept it. It’s very much so in South Asian communities where it’s a taboo in our society. They don’t want to talk about it. To address this taboo, we must raise awareness and approach the parents, if possible. Approach the parents and let them know that these issues are prevalent, and that people exist. How do we bring together? We have to bring parents together and talk to them, and make them understand that their children or their friends’ children may be like this. The problem is bringing parents together. They have to be willing to listen, to come for the program, to talk about these issues. They have to talk to other people to learn to accept their children as they are. Well I know it’s hard for parents to accept their children as they are! It’s hard for parents to mentally come to terms with it, and they need support too.
What do you like most about volunteering at ASAAP?
It gives me a sense of satisfaction, of doing something useful, and contributing to society. I want to interact with people!