At Tahirih, our ability to advocate alongside immigrant women and children on their journey to justice depends heavily on pro bono and volunteer support. This support may include providing clients with full legal representation or brief advice and counsel, transportation to appointments and court appearances, interpretation and translation services, daily living assistance, or other social services; or providing Tahirih local offices with administrative support, document filing, or donation collection. Without the help of our volunteers, Tahirih would not have been able to expand its mission and interdisciplinary model of service to five high-need locations across the nation in the last 10 years. One team member that serves as the backbone of our volunteer work is Tahirih Houston Volunteer Coordinator, Piyu Sen.
Piyu is an asylee who received her legal status in 2011, a full two decades after her mother applied for asylum for her family in 1991. The journey was long and arduous, but finally, Piyu found refuge in the United States where she was able to live as a proud immigrant and take advantage of every opportunity that came her way. Piyu received her bachelor’s degree in nonprofit management with a concentration in volunteer management, has worked as a professional educator under the Montessori Method, and enjoys abstract painting and poetry.
After college, Piyu learned about the Tahirih Justice Center through a former student’s mother who served as a pro bono attorney for Tahirih. After hearing wonderful things about the organization and its mission, she knew this was an environment with which she could connect. She applied for the volunteer coordinator position and has been with Tahirih Houston since 2016.
I was drawn to apply to Tahirih Houston because I wanted to work with people just like me, those who are trying to navigate the complicated and often hostile environment that United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) hosts. I wanted to share the hope that helped me through my journey with the clients we support.
As Volunteer Coordinator, Piyu works with a variety of individuals, communities, and corporations. She oversees all volunteer activity from recruitment and training of volunteers to helping Tahirih Houston achieve its fullest volunteer potential.
I write Tahirih Houston’s Pro Bono Newsletter, help update the website, provide HR support for interns and volunteers, plus keep a close eye on what trends are happening in the Houston immigration legal realm. I help with smaller events such as our annual Art & Impact Painting Party and Auction. I plan our client holiday event year-round since the Houston office has the largest number of clients within the organization. I also help with eligibility phone screenings and walk-ins when I’m in the office.
For Piyu, finding new ways to efficiently run the volunteer program is vital to its success. Improving volunteer experience, familiarizing one’s self with new platforms or finding best practices to manage finances are some important tasks to improving how Tahirih uses volunteer power.
“Prior to my employment, there wasn’t one set way of acquiring, training, or even retaining volunteers. That all changed when I came to reconfigure what was being done. We went from not recording any volunteer hours to having almost 1,200 volunteer hours in 2018 alone.”
And those volunteer hours are precious. Piyu knows that she couldn’t do her job without the time, talents, and energy that her volunteers bring. Even more, she knows that their efforts are steeped in making a meaningful contribution to a better community.
My most fond memory of working with a volunteer is when a client needed help with a scholarship essay to further their career development. This volunteer sat with the client on 2-3 separate occasions to help said client achieve her dream. By the end of their time and work together, the client was a finalist in receiving the scholarship!
Besides overseeing the volunteer program, the best part of Piyu’s job is the donation drives.
I LOVE it when the in-kind donations that I’ve been able to source light up a client’s eyes! We received over 45 brand new strollers before winter break and being able to hand something so vital to a family really gets me choked up.
But some days can hit hard for Piyu as there are many challenges that come with serving clients. In the wake of increasingly poor immigration policies, listening to the awful experiences that some clients have to face upon their arrival in the U.S. can be heart-wrenching.
It’s very hard to listen to some of the horrific events that have happened to our clients and know that I can only do so much to support them on their journey. As an immigrant myself, it is also very challenging to see what is happening at our southern border and how volatile certain parts of America are becoming to immigrants that have a right to safety and freedom.
Piyu firmly believes that Tahirih is one of a handful of nonprofits that amplifies client voices to shape legislation that will further protect survivors of violence. Tahirih’s compassionate, thorough, and interdisciplinary services for those who need them most allow issues with extensive diversity, equitability, and inclusive decision making to be addressed.
As an immigrant and an asylee, I know the true struggle of what our clients go through. It’s the support of the public that enables us to do our work. We must let our local representatives know that immigrants are vital to the fabric of American life!