Empowering children through DV education

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“The more that we choose not to talk about domestic violence, the more we shy away from the issue, the more we lose”- Russell Wilson

Early this year I became a Board Member of  Between Friends, a non profit focused on preventing domestic violence in Chicago area. Our non profit works with kids from 6th to 12th grade and we are present in 40 schools in Chicago. Our programs are tailored to help kids recognize the warning signs of abuse and understand healthy relationships. By educating our children and making them aware of domestic violence we believe we are investing in a safe community for our future generations by taking an important step towards preventing and ending domestic violence.

As a new board member I am required to observe some of our programs. The School program is our biggest one and so I decided to observe a session. Our Program director met with me and walked me through the details including how many kids we have reached etc. Later I went to class where two of our instructors were going to educate 7th graders. When the kids walked in I wasn’t sure if they were the right age to understand complex topics such as abuse, healthy relationships, warning signs etc. The kids seemed playful, chatty, some shy and quiet.

But the instructors skill fully got everyone’s attention. I was really impressed how they started having a conversation with them about their weekend to make the kids feel comfortable and then slowly opened up the discussion to more serious subject of dating violence. The activity required the kids to imagine they were in a relationship with a person of their choice in their mind . The instructors picked a gender neutral name so there would be no judgement if the kids chose to have a relationship with same sex partner.

Then they were given different scenarios where their partner would treat them a certain way and the children had to decide to “stay” or “go”. Rules were – They had to make their own choices, and not be influenced by what their friends said or did. Each kid had a safe space to make their choices and not be judged or ridiculed by others. As each scenario was read out I saw these playful kids suddenly faced with choices like adults. Although at the beginning of the activity they were still giggling and smiling, I saw their playfulness shift to a more serious mood when their imaginary partner started crossing the line. I watched in awe as each one of them made a choice to stay or go.

During  Q & A most of the kids clearly identified warning signs of abuse including the cycle of abuse and shared their views without any fear of judgement on their imaginary partners unhealthy behavior. Often times we dismiss kids as being too young to understand complex human emotions or circumstances. But these kids opened my eyes and I realized I had underestimated their emotional intelligence.

When the class ended I felt proud of these kids and  I realized that by engaging them in such discussions early on we were empowering them to build their lives and communities free of abuse.

Developing healthy attitudes and behaviors are the key to reducing violence. I am glad and grateful that I am part of the effort to create safe communities for our future generations.

Copyright Vani Murthy 2017

Unexpected Blessings

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Nov 18th has been very special day for me. I was presented a Women to Watch Award by Illinois CPA Society. I am in complete awe and very humbled by the recognition.

Early this year my boss said she would like to nominate me for this award. I was busy planning my wedding at the time and didnt think of it much. When I got back I was shocked to see the email that I was one of the winners. It took my breath away.

Who knew that me a survivor of Domestic Violence, someone who was told by my abuser that I was not worthy enough would be one day respected and recognized for her efforts by the entire accounting profession as a leader for her contributions to the community, the profession and to the organization she worked with.

Few years ago, if someone told me 10 years later I would be recognized as a Women to Watch and considered a leader I wouldnt have believed them. 10 years ago I had just walked out of an abusive relationship and was trying to get back on my feet.I never thought DV would happen to me but it did. It took a lot of courage to walk away from my abuser but I did it. I moved to a different country to go to school and started working to support myself soon after graudating with a Masters degree. The next 7-8 years I spent working hard, rebuilding my life, focusing on my career and healing myself. Along the way I was actively involved in helping my local community in whatever way I could.

As a survivor of domestic violence, it is incredible how far I have come.  Since 2011, I started working with survivors of DV and later with homeless kids, sharing my story and empowering them in any way I could. After several years of working directly with survivors of DV I felt ready to take my efforts a step further. I am happy to share that I recently became a board member of a nonprofit called Between Friends hoping I can make a bigger impact in my local community and be of service to the organization in preventing domestic violence.

God has blessed me not only with recognition professionlly but also gave me a second chance at love by bringing my wonderful husband into my life. As if these werent enough to overwhelm me He found a bigger role for me to play in the community as a Board member at Between friends. Yesterday when I was on our way back home from the award ceremony with my wonderful in laws in the taxi, the driver  mentioned he was the music director at his church. He was  playing a gospel song that was something to this effect”, He will wipe our eyes dry and take us up to His side.And forever we will be His.Singing, “Blessing and honor and glory and power forever to our God.”.

I took that as a sign that God was making his presence known and telling me I am with you in everything and I have you in the palm of my hand. I will lift you higher than you could possibly imagine.

Encouraged by the turn of events I decided to take a brave step and start a campaign to raise money for Domestic violence for Between Friends. I want everyone who is or has experienced Domestic Violence to have opportunities that were available to me.

Please take a few minutes to review the link and donate to support the cause. Every dollar matters. Help break the cylce BE THE CHANGE

https://www.gofundme.com/break-the-cylce-be-the-change

God bless

Copyright 2016 Vani Murthy

Education-My mom’s precious gift to her daughters

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“[Girls] know that education is their only path to self-sufficiency.  It is their only chance to shape their own fate rather than having the limits of their lives dictated to them by others.”-Michelle Obama

Someone asked me yesterday,”What is the best advice I have ever received?” and I said,”It wasn’t really advice but just something my mom said that has stayed with me forever. Ever since we were little, me and my sisters have often heard my mom say,”The only thing I can give you, which will truly stay with you, is education. Don’t focus on money because money comes and goes. Focus on education because no one can take that away from you. Besides once you have education money will follow.”

My mom strongly believes that education will give girls the confidence they need to stand up on their own, have their voice heard, make them strong and self reliant. It will give them the ability to think for themselves, analyze and make their own choices. My mom was one of the first few generations of young women that went to college when free education was made available to young women by the then Prime Minister to encourage them to go to college. My mom still remembers how excited she would be to hear about all the different classes her elder sister was taking and how she dreamed of following in her sisters foot steps and wanted to read more and do better than her sister.

But all her dreams were dashed when her parents decided to marry her at the age of 19. She cried, begged and pleaded with the elders in the family but nothing worked. She was told,”What is this madness about wanting to get an education. You are lucky you are getting married before your sister. Stop this nonsense and be a good girl.You need to focus on your future. It is time for you to have a family. That is what you should be doing because you are a girl. What else do you need?”. My grandma supported and fought for my mom but she didn’t win because women had no say in the family and according to the men women lacked the ability to know what was good for them. And so it was decided against the wishes of my mom and my grand ma that she was to marry my dad and settle down in a place far away from home, in a city that spoke a different language and had a different culture. At my moms wedding my grandma cried hard not only because her daughter was going far away but because she was crushed with guilt and disappointment for letting her down.

Lucky for my mom, my dad turned out to be a good guy. He couldn’t bear to see her cry and was devastated when he learnt about what happened. So although he would terribly miss her he sent her back to my grandma’s so she could pursue and finish school. He promised to write to her and come visit whenever he could but asked her to focus on her school work and not worry about a thing. So off she went to school …proud that she was one of the  handful of young women who come back to school after marriage. But alas it wasn’t meant to be. She had my elder sister when her final exams were going on. Unfortunately she couldn’t take the test and so she did not graduate. But her dream stayed in her heart.

And she vowed that she would never let that happen to her daughter. As fate would have it she had 3 daughters and so her drive was even more stronger to make sure her daughters grew up to be educated, confident, independent and self reliant women who were not afraid to have their voices heard. As an adult I understand why she pushed us so hard. Education has truly saved my life. It has made me everything that my mom hoped it would and more. It gave me the courage to face and overcome many obstacles because in my heart I always heard my mom say”no one can take education from you”. It gave me strength and the quiet confidence that no matter what happens I am going to be okay.

It gave me the courage to walk away from an abusive relationship and start over again. It gave me the courage to choose to live abroad and pursue my dreams in a new place. It opened my eyes to a whole new world and many possibilities. It brought me opportunities even during one of the toughest recessions this country has faced and helped me keep my dream alive despite immigration hurdles. It helped me to reach out to women who survived abusive relationships and to homeless children and mentor them. I was able to stay in this country long enough to meet my wonderful husband and get a second chance at experiencing a loving and healthy relationship. It brought me recognition by being this years recipient of Women to Watch Award under the emerging leader category.It has made me who I am.And I am glad my mom is here to see this. Although my dad passed away when I was young I know he is beaming with pride as he watches over me.

As for my mom  her daughters have not only fulfilled her dream but have soared beyond her wildest expectations as all her daughters have earned  double masters, are successful in their professions, in leadership roles, recognized as talented and accomplished women all of them married to wonderful men who love and respect them, encourage and support them to scale new heights.

Thank you mom for being a great role model and making us who we are today. Thank you for giving us the greatest gift ever – the gift of education thereby permanently empowering us to believe in ourselves, to be who we are and to never stop soaring.

We love you very much.

Copyright Vani Murthy 2016