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The Short Version: Apna Ghar, a Chicago-based nonprofit, is on a mission to come to the aid of immigrant survivors of gender violence in the US. Founded in 1990, the organization offers a 24-hour crisis line, emergency shelter, and other supportive services for women and families experiencing domestic violence or sexual abuse. After working with Apna Ghar’s counselors, advocates, and professionals, many women have been able to free themselves from abusive situations and become independent and functional members of society. If you’re in an abusive relationship, you can consult with the Apna Ghar team to come up with a plan to ensure your family’s health and safety. From leaving your abuser to seeking medical assistance, Apna Ghar can provide local resources for survivors of all ages and cultures.
According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 women have experienced gender violence by a boyfriend, spouse, or family member. Additionally, almost 30% of women who have been in a relationship have experienced intimate partner violence, including physical and sexual abuse, at some point in their lives.
“The experience is pretty similar across all socioeconomic and racial lines,” said Neha Gill, Executive Director of Apna Ghar, a nonprofit that helps survivors of trauma in Chicago. “It’s unfortunately something women experience no matter who they are or where they’re from.”
Five Asian-American women founded Apna Ghar in January 1990 because they wanted to direct resources toward assisting immigrants and refugees dealing with domestic violence, sexual abuse, or family trauma. The founders came from diverse backgrounds in activism, but they shared a desire to confront the language and cultural barriers confronting immigrant women in abusive situations.
“The founders came together when they realized that as immigrant populations grew, issues of gender violence were surfacing,” said Neha Gill, Executive Director of Apna Ghar. “A lot of issues exist in these growing populations, and the founders wanted to be able to address them.”
Today, Apna Ghar provides advocacy, housing, and supportive services for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, family violence, human trafficking, and sexual abuse.
Neha oversees the agency with guidance from a hands-on board of directors, many of whom have been with the agency since its inception. These dedicated individuals devote a lot of time and resources to help immigrants and refugees recover from trauma. The organization’s overarching mission is to prevent gender violence in the community.
“We base our services and programs on an understanding of what the survivors need,” she said. “We hear from them what would work best for them and cater our services around responding to what the survivors themselves are telling us.”
If you want to get involved with the nonprofit and support its altruistic mission, you can make a donation online or attend Apna Ghar’s fundraising events. Every April, the organization’s Taste for Life invites 400+ people to sample signature dishes from some of Chicago’s best restaurants. It’s a great opportunity to do something good for the community and treat yourself to a night on the town.
What started as a volunteer-run crisis line soon became a citywide effort to heal and empower immigrant survivors over the phone and face to face.
The 24-hour crisis line is available for women who want anonymous advice from a trained counselor or advocate. Women of all ages, from teenagers to seniors, can use this hotline to understand what their options are and what legal, medical, and social services can protect them from an abusive partner or family member.
The crisis line is a great resource for women who may not yet be ready to leave their homes or file for divorce. They can discuss their situations and consider their options anonymously.
Apna Ghar also offers an emergency safe home for those who do leave an abusive situation and need a safe place to recover. Residents receive counseling and legal advocacy as well as the support of a dedicated case manager. Although the nonprofit doesn’t employ any attorneys, they can recommend local legal firms that do pro bono work for immigrant survivors.
“We work to support survivors in terms of finding employment and becoming financially secure,” Neha told us. “A lot of our services came as a result of what we saw people needed.”
From its transitional housing program to its wellness workshops, Apna Ghar offers comprehensive services and resources to get people back on their feet. Even if the nonprofit doesn’t have exactly what you’re looking for, you can bet they’ll know who does. “We recognize we can’t provide everything for survivors,” Neha said, “so we have a large network of organizations we work with so we can give referrals for education or job training as well as ESOL classes.”
In addition to its client services, Apna Ghar also conducts trainings in collaboration with other social service agencies, medical professionals, and law enforcement. The Apna Ghar team is a recognized authority on the subject of gender violence, so they can inform other professionals who work with survivors on the best ways to serve their unique interests.
Because of the agency’s specialization on immigrant populations, it can also provide resources on cultural awareness and immigration laws. Drawing from decades of experience, the team can assess the court system’s responsiveness to immigrant survivors and make recommendations on how it can run more smoothly in cases of domestic abuse.
“We think of improving the health care system and the legal system as part of our mission,” Neha said. “We want to help professionals across the board improve their services for survivors based on what we have seen they need.”
Apna Ghar backs its recommendations with case studies and other research. The team has also gone into local schools to conduct informational lessons about healthy relationships. By connecting with students on a personal level, the nonprofit hopes to positively impact how they engage with friends, family members, and romantic partners in the future.
“We engage with the community and conduct large-scale advocacy efforts, so we can help prevent gender violence in the future and help change the impacts of the experience,” said Ashley Tsuruda, Development Manager of Apna Ghar.
Hearing success stories from women who got out of bad situations and turned their lives around inspires Apna Ghar’s tight-knit team. Everyone working for the organization knows they are contributing to an effort that can change people’s lives for the better.
Vijaya was pregnant when she left her abusive partner and sought help at Apna Ghar’s emergency shelter. The organization helped her receive free prenatal care, and she soon gave birth to twins. Two months later, Vijaya signed a lease for her own apartment where she’s now raising her young family in safety.
“I felt like giving up, but your support helps me go on,” said one program participant. Many people in the nonprofit’s client community praise the team’s compassionate care. Some individuals come away from counseling sessions with a new outlook on their lives and their roles as parents. Some families grow closer together in the safe spaces provided by the agency.
“I am amazed at how supportive everyone is here.” — An Apna Ghar program participant
Some women come to Apna Ghar at the darkest moments of their lives, and the team competently and compassionately gives them the resources they need to move forward. “I thank you for your sympathetic ear,” another said. “I feel like we are in good hands.”
“When we think about how big the problem is, sometimes it feels a little daunting,” Ashley said, “but it’s great that the way the organization is structured, we can focus on the individual and help them overcome the issue and start over.”
Gender violence affects women of all ages and backgrounds. It’s a prevalent issue for families around the world, but it’s not easy to know what to do when an intimate partner becomes abusive. Fortunately, Apna Ghar and other nonprofit agencies have put significant resources into empowering women to get help and prevent bad situations from escalating.
Whether you’re seeking a divorce or just need someone to talk to about your situation, you can turn to the organization’s crisis helpline or emergency shelter to receive meaningful support as you figure things out. These caring advocates never lose sight of the human aspect of their work. They understand how difficult it can be to overcome abusive family situations, and they do everything possible to make sure no one has to go through that process alone.
“The staff reflect the client community,” Ashley told us. “We feel part of the solution, and we’re very connected to the issue of gender violence. It’s very important to all of us.”