Monday, April 09, 2012

Life Changers - Finding meaning through Amy

As I look back, whenever I thought I was struggling (professionally or personally) in life is when I have done the most meaningful work. This post is meant to be a part of the series of reminisces of those time periods.
A few years ago, I was involved with an organization dedicated to the cause of the domestic violence victims in the tri-state (New York - New Jersey - Connecticut) area.  Let’s call it – ‘Life-Changer’. Life-Changer is very particular about confidentiality to ensure the safety of their clients and people who work with them, their staff and especially volunteers.  It office location and shelter addresses are secret. It doesn’t give references to its volunteers. It also avoided social media presence and web activism till recently.

Apart from the fact that women’s causes naturally resonate, a big reason I joined Life-Changer was guilt. I regret not doing enough for someone very close who went through a tough situation in her life. But as I look back I realize that the work I did gave me a sense of purpose to anchor my own life. Apart from helping with their outreach, marketing and activism, I worked closely with few of Life-Changer’s clients. This portion of my work was the most rewarding.

On my first such case I advocated for Amy (by now you know that’s not her name). Amy married someone from her own country and moved to the United States with him.  She needed to get a US passport for her recently born baby. The Life-Changer staff member who was working with me had told me the details of the case. Amy had been here for less than a year. Like many women who move with their husbands, Amy wasn’t eligible to work, and had no source of income.

I met Amy at the steps of the court-house. This was her third visit. Passport application for a child needs to be signed by both parents. Only problem was that Amy’s husband deserted her before the child was born and Amy had no idea where he was.  We said hello and talked a bit using signs. Amy spoke little English. This was a woman living alone with a newborn baby in a shelter. Amy was in a country different from her own; she was not very fluent with the language and had almost no support structure. For someone going through all this Amy was really strong. I was worried earlier, but I realized apart from the language, Amy didn’t need me much.

We went in the court. I did my part – filled up the baby’s papers, presented them to the officer and just before she was about to put the rejected stamp on our application - told her Amy’s story, mentioned the relevant exception to the law and presented the documentary evidence. She was sympathetic and filled an additional document to expedite the case while we were standing at the window and the others were waiting. I thought she must have seen many such cases before.

Amy was happy when we came out of the court.  She understood that her application was accepted because the officer hadn’t given it back to her. I tried to tell her that she should get her son’s passport in week to ten days.  I wanted to walk with to her public transport location and make sure she could take the right route to the shelter. She politely refused. As we said good-bye she hugged me. I watched her go. Amy was ready, to take the world on her own. She would be first of the many women who I will learn from.

Now that I am in a different geography, not actively involved I think I can actually use the real name instead of Life-Changer. I should think about that.

Book Update :  After my recent tryst with psychology and history am back to fiction. Read, 'A Walk Across the Sun' and 'The Girl Who Played with Fire'.  

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