2013 Miriam Dinerman Scholarship Award Winner
Roopa Raman, NYU Silver School of Social Work
I still remember the day I learned about the poor working conditions of service and maintenance workers at my undergraduate university. I spoke to one 62-year old Latino man, Mario, who had been employed by UCLA for about 20 years. I was appalled to learn that he was receiving low wages with no health benefits, like other UCLA maintenance workers. UCLA’s refusal to grant pensions to these workers left him feeling hopeless about his impending retirement plans. I was incredibly moved by Mario’s story and worked steadfastly with the labor union American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 and other student activists to organize these workers. We achieved success within a year, bringing them under the wing of AFSCME Local 3299. The PACE Scholarship will grant me the necessary time and freedom to better myself as a social worker and to continue to advocate for education, equitable programs, and services for the vulnerable communities that I have become strongly committed to.
Over the next five years, I worked with seven labor unions and fought for the basic human rights of vulnerable communities in various industries, including construction, education, and commercial laundry. As a labor organizer for UNITE HERE Local 11, I advocated for hotel and restaurant employees in Los Angeles. I learned Spanish in order to enhance my relationships with many of them and to better understand their powerful life stories. One of the members, Juanita, was a hotel housekeeper who was desperate for family health insurance coverage in order to pay for her sister’s surgery that had been postponed for some time. I gave her emotional aid, referrals to health-related resources, and conducted leadership trainings with her and some of her co-workers to inspire them to achieve their personal and financial goals. I found my work at labor unions extremely rewarding, where I could channel my passion of advocating for social, political, and economic justice for low-income and minority populations.
Over the past five years, I have continued to promote political and social justice and equity for these populations through community-based organizations. I volunteered at Suicide Prevention Center at Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, in Los Angeles, with clients who were at risk for suicide. At Options for Recovery, a substance abuse treatment center in the Los Angeles vicinity, I facilitated therapy groups for low-income female drug and alcohol abusers. During a clinical social work internship last year at Lower Eastside Service Center in New York City, I provided counseling services to low-income and minority drug and alcohol abusers with co-occurring disorders. I also worked with an NGO in Cape Coast, Ghana providing education and outreach to several hundred African students and community members regarding prevention and treatment methods for HIV/AIDS, which is considered a general epidemic in Ghana, along with malaria, yellow fever, Hepatitis B, and sanitation. I am currently working as a clinical social work intern at Bronx Community College Psychological Services providing psychotherapy and case management services to marginalized communities.
After I graduate from the MSW program at NYU in May, I wish to engage in political and social advocacy for education, equitable mental health programs, and services for vulnerable international communities in my native country of India. My interest in India stems from many childhood trips there with my family, when I was exposed to its rich religious and cultural traditions as well as endemic over-population and poverty. I have been in touch with various community leaders who work for NGOs in India regarding efforts to combat child labor, homelessness and sanitation issues. I am most interested in working with an NGO, such as The Banyan, based in Chennai, India. With The Banyan, I would be able to assist homeless women suffering from mental illness by providing them with psychological therapy, vocational training, and occupational therapy services. The organization recognizes and addresses a wide range of political and social issues that restrict community access to mental health care: a lack of understanding, awareness, and education about mental illness, and often poverty and a dearth of resources that limits the ability for families to obtain services for their ill family members.
According to Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” I am proud of my efforts to promote political and social justice, and equity for underrepresented populations. I have also been touched by the resilience of people who, despite social, political, economic, and cultural obstacles have demonstrated the strength and willingness to advocate for themselves. With this assistance of this scholarship, I will be able to continue to advocate for education, equitable programs, and services for vulnerable communities.