Asian American Community Fellowship Reflection: Lillian Guo
Asian American Community Fellowship Reflection
By Lillian Guo
When KAN-WIN was first founded in 1990, the organization was called “Korean American Women In Need.” Their initial endeavor to respond to the demand for domestic violence services in the Korean American community grew into the organization we call KAN-WIN now. Their 2013 name change symbolized their increasingly diverse clientele and growing ability to meet the variety of linguistic and cultural needs in the Chicagoland area. They have expanded from a small grassroots organization that only had the capacity to respond to hotline phone calls into an expansive multilingual agency that provides case management, counseling, legal advocacy, transitional housing, and support groups for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. More recently, they have begun delving into community education work by providing workshops, presentations, and training to community members.
I spent my summer at KAN-WIN as a community engagement intern, working under the youth organizer and field organizer as my supervisors, and with another Northwestern intern. The community engagement team’s job is to educate community members who request workshops and are committed to gaining the necessary tools, skills and knowledge to build more safe communities and futures free of gender-based violence. My day-to-day responsibilities involved creating educational tools for workshops, managing social media campaigns, working with the youth peer advocate leader (YPAL) program, and helping to coordinate and organize volunteer opportunities. I enjoyed being in an outreach role through which I was able to meet many amazing people in various organizations around the Chicagoland area that do similar work and come face to face with community members to build relationships with people we want to connect with. Each day was a different and unique experience; sometimes I’d be in the office working quietly at a desk, sometimes we’d traverse the city doing workshops and outreach across different neighborhoods in Chicago, and some days we’d even be organizing and running rallies in downtown!
Though KAN-WIN’s main focus as an organization is providing direct services to people, by being a part of the community engagement team, I was able to witness and be a part of an ideological shift happening to ensure a dual purpose for the organization. Direct services agencies are necessary to respond to situations of violence as they arise; KAN-WIN in particular is especially necessary because of the capacity of the staff to speak multiple languages, to comprehend how racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds make it difficult for people to respond to and intervene in abuse, and to understand the ways that citizenship and socioeconomic status can be barriers that prevent survivors from seeking state and legal intervention. But KAN-WIN’s staff are also increasingly working towards dismantling conditions of injustice and inequality in the world in a broader sense, and they recognize that part of the way to do so is through education and community outreach to prevent situations of gender-based violence from arising in the first place.
One of the main projects that I worked on with my fellow intern was creating a timeline as an educational tool to highlight the intersections of Asian American activism and domestic/sexual violence activism throughout history. Through conducting this research, we learned about how laws and policies have been constructed time and time again to maintain patterns of institutionalized violence that are reproduced through militarism, imperialism, and on both macro and micro levels. Learning this history helped me understand why when doing direct service work to help survivors heal and move forward, we can’t examine the situation of violence or injustice as existing in a vacuum; rather, we should look at the intimate links between interpersonal violence and state violence, and recognize that in order to truly build futures without gender-based violence, we have to be committed to eliminating violence that happens at multiple levels.
Overall, my experience at KAN-WIN was extremely special and really wonderful; I loved being at an office doing meaningful work that is close to my heart, and it is impossible to go a day there without feeling the infectious passion that each staff member has for making their communities safer. My supervisors made me feel very welcomed and cared for throughout this internship by giving us real responsibilities and opportunities to contribute in substantive ways to their ongoing work. Additionally, we have been given numerous opportunities since the commencement of the internship to stay connected to the organization and continue volunteering with them. The staff at KAN-WIN is filled with extremely sweet and kindhearted people, and I loved being surrounded by inspiring and passionate Asian American women who value justice and community as much as I do. This organization truly exemplifies the value of a strong community in the face of adversity, and I feel lucky to be a part of that community now.
Throughout the course of the summer, I was challenged time and time again to imagine a world without gender-based violence—I can do that so much more clearly now. But envisioning is the easy part; I’m ready to continue working to keep on making that vision a reality.