Indhushree Rajan was born and raised in the United States. She has worked with physically and sexually abused children and adolescents, adult victims of rape and domestic violence, and at-risk youth and families with criminal, psychiatric, and substance abuse histories. In this interview, you will have the opportunity to learn more about her remarkable work.
Cendrine Marrouat: Hello Indhushree, it is great to have you. You contributed your own story to a collection titled “High on Life, Stories of Hope, Change, and Leadership.” I was at the book launch in Winnipeg, Canada and read the book. Your narrative, “The Gift of Voice,” is the story that moved me the most; it is very inspirational. How did you meet Nejeed Kassam, the editor, and why did you decide to take part in the “High on Life” project?
Indhushree Rajan: Actually, about two and a half years ago my cousin met Nejeed at a student conference, introduced us via email, and Nejeed contacted me on Facebook. We started emailing, and sharing about our respective non-profit efforts and visions/hopes for change, and became friends. I quickly developed great respect and affection for Nejeed, because he is one of those rare individuals who dares to believe in and enact his dreams.
What I personally love about The High on Life project is that it honours humble, vulnerable beginnings. To me, the real daring of a project like this is that it highlights the choice to publicly believe in others who may not entirely see the beauty and power of their own dreams—the choice to celebrate potential, new beginnings, and future success. Getting behind organizations that are already established, that already have money or fame or political backing, that’s easy. But having faith in individuals who are daring to hope, dream, and act, to whatever degree, for a better world? That kind of choice requires risk, and taking that kind of risk compels real courage. It gives me great joy that Nejeed is my friend. I am also extremely honoured to share the pages of “The High on Life“ book with truly remarkable people, who have transcended immense personal pain and hardship, and have allowed those experiences to expand their capacity and desire to love this world towards healing and lasting change.
I am so pleased that you were inspired by my narrative. I was actually going through a very difficult, particularly uninspired time when I wrote it. In fact Nejeed had to be patient with me, because I was not keeping to his deadlines and kept asking him for more time to submit my chapter! The circumstances surrounding my actual writing process, in some sense, kind of echo the piece. I was being asked to use my voice to speak for others — speak to others, and I was allowing my own doubts, fears and overwhelm to silence me. Well more than that, I guess at some level, I was choosing not to speak. So, the opening of my narrative was written just as much for me as it was for the readers. I recollected some of the most severe and graphic incidents of abuse that children I have worked with in the past have endured. In part, I wanted to lay bare the desperation and utter darkness that too many children and adolescents worldwide are made to face every day, and, for at least a few seconds, make people see them and listen to them — to lift the veil of invisibility just a little. But I also made myself remember the details of their stories to give myself a sharp reminder of whatreally matters. For me, it is this: the truth of empowered choice.
CM: You are the creator and director of Project Satori, an organization that helps and supports abused children and women in Third World countries. Would you tell us a little more about it? What is the story behind the name “Satori”?
IR: Right now, as I wrote in my narrative, Project Satori is focused on the research and implementation of therapeutic techniques in the rehabilitation of sex trafficking survivors, and we are specifically targeting work with this population in India. Project Satori is a collaborative effort of students at Pacifica Graduate Institute, U.C. Berkeley, and several student communities in Southern California committed to making mental health and psychological healing a reality for women and children in the third world. In the scope of our long-term vision, we will seek to partner with NGOs worldwide to help raise public awareness around the mental health needs of women and children in the Third World; create educational materials that will address issues of domestic violence, rape, and sexual exploitation from a psychotherapeutic perspective; and create mental health/counseling facilities in village communities, based on localized, culture-specific mental health needs assessments. We are an organization that operates from a platform of indigenous ethics, and as professionals, we seek to learn about local healing practices, so that the interventions we offer and participate in embrace indigenous wisdom, and also integrate psychotherapeutic practices that can be of greatest benefit to those suffering from psychological trauma.
My use of the word “Satori” (which means enlightenment) was inspired by one of the most beautiful descriptions of love that I’ve read. Essentially, the author noted that there is a confluence of time and experience that enfolds and unifies all of us — makes us one in spirit. And love manifests when we — a world of One — allow our intentions and actions to be led by gratitude, humility, and compassion. So I began imagining a world of One living in unified breath and heartbeat, sharing each other’s burdens as our own. I thought of how we would all inevitably find ourselves in the presence of love and light, and this made me think of “satori.” This was how idea of “Project Satori” was conceived… So to me, “Project Satori” is about bringing hope, healing, and light to the darker places in this world.
CM: Where can people find more information about Project Satori? How can they get involved?
IR: The main website is in the process of being updated in terms of goals we have for the coming year, and community awareness and fund raising events in which we are active, etc. However, those who are interested in getting a more detailed description of our organization’s mission statement, ethics, and values are invited to take a look. I am going to be speaking at a couple of community outreach and advocacy events focused on raising awareness about psychological trauma and sex trafficking, so I should soon have a “YouTube” channel that will highlight the work that Project Satori is doing around the sex trafficking pandemic, both domestically and internationally.
As far as getting involved, I think that right now, more than anything else, Project Satori needs people who believe that our mission — our commitment to changing mental health and trauma care for women and children who have been trafficked into sexual slavery, and suffered physical and sexual abuse— is their calling too…We need people who can be passionate about grant writing, fund raising, advocacy work, and public relations. And of course I welcome people who are passionate about mental health and trauma care for impoverished, marginalized communities — psychology students, therapists, social workers, counsellors, people who have non-profit experience domestically and/or abroad. It would be wonderful to have people of diverse professional, academic, and cultural backgrounds join our cause… I think more than anything else though, it’s going to take people who believe in our vision, and are committed to making it a reality over time. We are working in a field of enormous need and just about as much resistance to our efforts, so change will happen, but it is not likely to happen overnight…
I invite anyone who is drawn to learning more about Project Satori to email me directly. I would love to talk with you!
CM: In 2011, you will move to India for ten months. What will you do there? What do you hope to learn from that experience?
IR: Well, I will be doing research and rehabilitation work with sex trafficking victims, in hopes of identifying/developing therapeutic interventions which will be of greatest benefit to the short-term and long-term psychological rehabilitation of this population. I plan to work with two local NGOs (SANLAAP- India and The Centre for Social Research) to conduct this research, and will also do volunteer therapy work with rescued trafficking victims and rape victims for the duration of my stay in India. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to serve this population, and believe that this experience will teach me a great deal.
CM: Where do you see yourself in five years?
IR: In five years? Well, life has been so minute-to-minute for me lately, that’s actually kind of tough to answer! The standard answer? I will definitely be finished with my doctorate and licensing exam, so I will be a practicing clinical psychologist, and I believe that Project Satori will have grown to the point that I am travelling to India to do non-profit therapy work on a semi-regular basis. I also hope to have a solid core group of at least 4-5 committed non-profit staffers/therapists/interns who will be doing administrative, fund-raising, and hands-on therapy work for Project Satori… I also look forward to having a much more active and enriching personal life. (since I won’t be married to school anymore!) I guess the more difficult (but definitely more interesting) answer is that I will be exactly where I am meant to be. I have really been learning to remain open and keep walking. It’s that old cliché’: “Life is what happens when you make plans.” So, for the first time ever I am handing over the reins of my life to something much greater than myself or my calendar… divine purpose.
CM: All the current problems in this world often make us feel powerless. What tools do you think can empower someone to find a solution and effect change in their community?
IR: Well, I completely understand feeling powerless when looking at how many problems there are in the world— It can be overwhelming! But I guess the most valuable thing I have learned is that all change begins with attitude… and attitude is something that comes from within. It is the one thing you can control, and ultimately the only thing that matters. I think Gandhi said it best, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” If you nurture an attitude of love and compassion for others when you interact with your world — your family, neighbourhood, your community, you realize that opportunities to affect change are all around you. But it is attitude that opens one’s eyes to this reality.
I also think it’s important to find ways to be active in your community — get in touch with your passion for change… How do you see yourself serving others? Some people like doing volunteer work at community centers, hospices, or non-profit organizations. But others enjoy fundraising or organizing charity events… “Changing the world” looks different through different eyes, and activism is impelled by different talents, motivations, and life experiences — honor who you are in your community, and what you have to offer others. Once you figure out your role, persist in it… anything worthwhile comes through dedication, commitment, and hard work… But if your efforts are wooed by your compassion for others, whatever you do will become a work of love.
CM: What advice would you give someone who wants to follow your path?
IR: That’s such a humbling question… You know, I’ve been realizing that life is about the moments we get; each moment arrives carrying within it opportunities to be present, to be aware of those around us, and to choose. So if you can choose to be present with others with an attitude of humility and love, then changing the world, helping others — it all becomes inevitable. You don’t need a title, a degree, an organization — certainly, if these are pursuits that beckon you and help keep you moving forward on your path, then wonderful, but really, the main things anyone needs to affect change are a willing heart and an open mind. Just be led by gratitude for God, for you, for life, and being gifted with opportunities to love others. Choose love, no matter what… Everything else gets figured out along the way.
CM: How can people get in contact with you?
IR: My main email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org, but those who are on Facebook can look up the group, “Project Satori: Mental Health and Trauma Care for Women in the Third World.” And again, Project Satori’s website is: www.projectsatori.org.
CM: Is there anything that you would like to add?
IR: I want to thank you for the invitation to speak today. In closing I’d just like to say…
Dare to believe, keep dreaming no matter how much resistance you may encounter, and be open to learning from others along the way. You never know who may offer you a moment in which you can glimpse hope again, or tell you a story that may shift the course of your own, or may offer you advice that answers questions you weren’t even sure you knew how to ask. And finally, I encourage everyone to live in the realm of possibility… If you do it won’t be long before you get to witness the impossible come to pass…
I have been given the freedom, passion, and opportunity to speak and advocate for those whose voices have been lost to the pain of victimization and abuse. There are too, too many children, adolescents, and women who are forced to endure horrifying, de-humanizing acts of violence, abuse and torture every single day — without hope or even the vague idea that another kind of life is even possible, and you know, they do it in silence…They don’t have the luxury of choice; they don’t have the will or even the physical ability — many of them — to say “no more of this,” or “I hurt” or “Please help me…” But regardless of how I may feel in any given moment, I do. Real, lasting change emerges through consistent, committed action however big or small — and we shouldn’t let our own insecurities — our own feelings of being ineffective, or small, or ‘not good enough,’ stop us from forging ahead with full hearts… The truth is, we are all broken and imperfect, but desire to help others in need, and a willingness to keep putting one foot in front of the other on whatever path you believe will lead to necessary change — these are the things that make every single one of us ready — right now — to impact this world.