Saima Afzal is founder and director of SAS RIGHTS, a Community Interest Company that is all about dynamic and creative ways of problem solving and generating community-led activism.
Saima has often collaborated with the Shiloh Project. You can read an interview about her organisation SAS RIGHTS, and she was one of our 2018 activists and participant in our lockdown series. Saima also ran numerous campaigns last year aimed at challenging Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG), some of which were profiled on our blog (see here and here.)
This year, too, Saima has worked tirelessly at reaching the most isolated and marginalised members in her community of Blackburn with Darwen, facilitating support, information, and networking. This has included a fabulous vaccination drive (in two languages). Given the constrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as Saima’s personal hardship with aggressive treatment for cancer, these activities were particularly challenging. All the while, to keep things going, Saima also had to raise funds for her various projects: this in an environment where funding streams are fewer and donations harder to raise. Quite simply: in insecure times like the present, with many struggling financially and feeling anxious, it’s tough to fundraise.
But… Saima is resourceful. And she has also gathered around herself a loyal and committed team of specialists and volunteers. Somehow, she has managed to do a great deal, partly with the help of grants from the National Lottery Fund, which help cover expenses..
The VAWG work Saima leads has the title, ‘Truth, Art, Action and Activism’. This has a number of separate ‘branches’: such as, the ‘From Isolation to Cohesion’ project, offering talking therapy, including by Zoom, during times of social distancing and restrictions; the ‘Take A Break Project’, providing fun online exercise and wellbeing sessions; and the ‘Opening Minds – Love Difference Project’, opening up important conversations on topics that can be difficult to talk about (such as sexual orientation or domestic violence). Quite often, participants from one project find themselves opting in to another – with chats after the exercise class, for instance, leading on to involvement in group discussions, and from there to talking therapy or referrals.
Saima has decades of experience of working in safeguarding, specialist advising, and human rights advocacy. Most of her work has been in supporting women who experience or live within controlling relationships, or in community structures and cultures that make accessing support difficult. Alongside facilitating help and support to minoritized women, another kind of work Saima does so brilliantly is building bridges of communication and understanding between disparate groups: such as between people of different religions, backgrounds, professions, or ethnicities.
Thank you, Saima, for the invaluable work you are doing and for the goodness and optimism you model and exude.
If anyone can donate to Saima’s work, please visit here