09 Mar, 2015

celebrating international women’s day…

Sehba Sarwar
09 Mar, 2015

Today, International Women’s Day, is cold and rainy day. As I adjust to the spring time change, I reflect on the women’s workshops I’ve been offering in Houston’s Gulfton neighborhood. I’ve worked in this community before, but more with youth at a nearby high school. This time, as part of my What Is Home? project, I offered a six-session women’s workshop at the Baker Ripley Neighborhood Center.

When starting out the workshop, I didn’t have a clear idea on how the mornings would unfold. At the orientation session, more than eight women attended, many seeking health, immigration, and labor support. As we entered into the workshops, attendance lowered but intensity increased as women shared stories about work practices, legal documentation issues and more. And though Baker-Ripley provided notebooks, often the gatherings consisted of conversations in Urdu and Hindi, that were then translated into English for Baker-Ripley’s University of Houston-Downtown intern, Ana Perez.

After each workshop ended, I returned to my computer where I typed out the stories, which I brought to the women the following week for correction. As I clarified that the stories would be performed, the narratives were altered so identities could remain private.

On Friday, February 27, at our final session this spring, one of the participants brought dhokla for snacks, Shirin from HISD’s Newcomer/Refugee Services brought tea, I brought fig cookies, and we read over the narratives for the last time. When it came time to part, the conversation extended well past the ninety minutes allocated for the workshop.

And then, I took the stories to Westbury High School, where I ran a parallel workshop for Nepali and Indian students, who will share their stories and also read the women’s stories on Thursday, March 12.

I haven’t run workshops or performances in this format before and am excited to see Barun, Hemangi, Kali, Purnima, Sagar and Suk perform. I’m also curious to see who will attend at ten on a Thursday morning.

Note: The image is designed by Joshua Turner, containing workshop participants’ writings in Gujarati, Hindi, Urdu, Nepali, Spanish and English.