At a Natural Helper workshop. Photo courtesy of API Chaya.

When you are experiencing harm, from the smallest things to the largest crises, who do you first turn to for help? How do their responses shape your wellbeing, your situation, your approach to dealing with difficult things? Through our 25 years of work and holding these questions, one thing has always been clear: when people are in need, we turn to each other. Before we turn to state systems that harm us; before we even turn to organizations like API Chaya. It is the people around us that have the most power to shift the conditions of violence in our lives. 

With this foundation, we frame all of our programs around the principle of “Natural Helpers” (NH) — working to build skills and power for people in our communities, people who are trained to recognize the dynamics of intimate partner violence, and how to support people experiencing harm, and work with people causing harm to change. This model has been with us from the beginning, birthed by one of our founding mothers Emma Catague, who retired from staff, but is still doing her own work of Natural Helpers in the Philippines. The NH model nurtures natural community leaders and offers tools and frameworks to heal from and respond to violence on an individual level, while seeking to transform the root causes that allow that violence to happen in the first place. 

The vision of the NH program is rooted in community organizing, in building and shifting power. We offer train-the-trainer sessions for people who want to take the NH model into their own communities. It can be adapted, changed, molded to the specific needs of the place, group, community working together to end intimate harm. We are deeply committed to recognizing leadership in multiple forms, as well as building collectively. We recognize that this work is most effective when people are doing it with their own folks — approaching violence intervention and prevention in culturally specific ways, in the same native languages, from the same perspective and social context. We see all community members as grassroots leaders; as agents of change; as the solution to make the world we want.

We’ve had the opportunity to build with thousands of people over the years in these culturally specific ways. Two highlights are with the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS), and doing this work inside various state prisons. With MAPS, natural helpers happens in the context of Islam, using the Quran to ground in community values and find ways forward that fit the needs and frameworks of MAPS and its members, including working with Imams and creating response protocols for mosques. 

Inside prisons, we see that people who are incarcerated are beloved members of our community who often do not have access to trainings or groups that honor their own survivorships, accountability, dignity, and power to intervene. Through our work with the API Cultural Awareness Groups, we have been able to offer weeks long learning and practice groups, now completely led and facilitated by themselves.

In 2019, API Chaya started our Speakers Bureau in response to growing community need for facilitators on these topics, especially adapted to cultural and linguistic needs. This looks like building with multilingual Natural Helpers to adapt some of this content into their languages. 

We are also working with survivor leaders: former program participants who are no longer in crisis and want to support each other, in building up their skills to become paid speakers and trainers. The people most impacted by a problem are the best people to find the solutions, so we are invested in survivor leadership in all ways at API Chaya.

We are now also expanding nationally, in February, 2020, we held space for grassroots leaders in New York, including groups we’ve long admired, particularly the Transformative Justice Hub, Survived and Punished, and Desis Rising Up and Moving. We do this work knowing that our role is to use our resources and experience to build up leadership and skills of the people in our communities, where we can share what we know, and support people to move into places of taking action that makes sense for them and their people. We all have a role to play in transforming harm when it happens, and collectively we have the inherent power to create a world where we all belong, and all can thrive, and we invite you to join us  in taking action towards this vision.

As our communities change gears to social distancing and people experiencing violence become increasingly isolated, we encourage community members to lean into our collective wisdom around supporting one another. Check on those you love. Check on your neighbors. Be an agent of care. To learn more about API Chaya’s Natural Helper model, contact [email protected] for upcoming training opportunities. To request a Natural Helper training for your organization, contact [email protected]. 

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