Kalayo Pestano and Priya Rai, Co-Directors, API Chaya

By Kalayo Pestaño and Priya Rai 

In 2020 as we closed out our 25th year as an organization, and an unprecedented year in our history, we look forward with hope and conviction to a future of deep transformation and a world free of violence. We are reflecting on this time one year ago, when we decided to (then) postpone the celebration and mobilization we planned for our 25th Annual Vigil as well as International Working Women’s Day. We held our breaths collectively as we moved into new practices of keeping ourselves and each other safe. These conditions shifted the way we work, organize and provide services and programs. As the year brought unrelenting challenges, our staff adapted and continued to serve our communities.  

It was also during this time that our former executive director, Joanne Alcantara, transitioned out of her role, with a plan for a new leadership structure. Last fall, API Chaya moved to a co-director model, moving us – two survivors and longtime staff – into executive leadership. Co-directorship allows us to lean into our differing and complementary skill sets with the goal of furthering the incredible growth of API Chaya. A little more about us: 

Priya: I am transitioning from my role as community solutions organizer, and have been an intern, advocate and organizer at API Chaya since 2012. I come to this work as a mixed race, queer and chronically ill survivor of many forms of interpersonal and systemic violence, and am dedicated to building power in marginalized communities by mobilizing against violence, and through finding transformative community-based solutions to harm. I have been in the anti-violence anti-prison movement for more than 15 years and believe deeply in dreaming wildly and fighting to win.  

Kalayo: I am a nonbinary, queer immigrant from Mindanao, Philippines. As an organizer and cultural worker, I have been cultivating deep relationships in communities for the last 15 years and building collective power across local and international movements. I started as an intern at API Safety Center and came back to be the Volunteer Coordinator at API Chaya in 2013. After organizing projects in partnership with South Asian, Pacific Islander and Filipinx communities, I continued as community organizing program manager. Outside of API Chaya, I work with Queer The Land in building resistance against gentrification by resourcing a home, organizing space and resources to trans and queer Black and brown people.  

We are dedicated to moving forward with care and intention, and to work within the anti-violence movement to align its efforts with racial and economic justice and broader calls for liberation. This movement has taught us to “let ourselves be transformed by the work,” and we want to continue that transformation in this new capacity. We commit to a practice of meeting challenges with curiosity, being embodied in the face of hardship and our own traumas and holding boundaries with deep honesty and vulnerability. It is from this grounded place that we will be able to be adaptable and meet emergent needs. 

With this community-supported decision, API Chaya moves closer to embodying the values we seek to nourish in our movements for justice: sustainability, well-being, strength in shared power and diversity, and the cultivation of joy at the individual and collective level. Moving into leadership during this particular time is challenging, but thanks to our incredible staff, board and communities, we are finding our ground. 

The past year has been one of the most harrowing and heartbreaking for us all, and especially those also experiencing harm at home or at work. 2020 brought so much for us to mourn and also so much for us to celebrate. This is a time of upheaval, and with that comes possibility of real change. From the millions of people marching in the streets for an end to systemic racism and forging new ways of achieving justice, to the millions around the world struggling with COVID – we know this is a time where we must address problems at their roots. We will continue our work on the individual, interpersonal, community, and societal level to support those being made the most vulnerable, and to shift the conditions that allow harm to happen. 

Today, we are still witnessing increases in domestic violence and are concerned for children and vulnerable adults living at home with abuse. We know that isolation also creates the conditions for human trafficking to persist. We urge communities to stay connected to one another in this time, and create opportunities for potential survivors to seek help, seek connection, and find healing. API Chaya is always here for you – we need all of us to come together to create the world we want. 

Together, we can achieve a safe, healing, and vibrant community. 

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