SAYA aims to foster a strong sense of belonging in youth and provide them with tools to thrive academically, professionally and personally.
SAYA youth come from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. Our youth who identify as South Asian or belong to the region’s diasporas trace their ancestries to countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Guyana, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tibet, and Trinidad and Tobago.
SAYA has 20 years of experience designing and operating youth development programming in New York City. The organization was established in 1996 when a small afterschool program for South Asian youth was started in the basement of a church in Elmhurst, Queens. This space quickly became a culturally affirming place where young people from all over New York City explored issues of race, gender, class and ethnic identity through leadership building initiatives and the arts.
A few years later, SAYA began offering programming in schools. Having SAYA staff members in schools meant that South Asian youth had allies within the school system who understood their experiences and challenges and supported their growth. The aftermath of the 9/11 attacks proved to be a difficult time for South Asian communities. The need for our programs gained new urgency and became the impetus for widening our reach. SAYA provided youth with a safe space and tools for them to be advocates in their communities.
The 2000 Census data revealed a significant rise in the South Asian population, and SAYA broadened our vision to respond to the times. With the rise of the afterschool and youth development movement in New York City, we extended our programming to additional neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn. We also adapted our programs to provide youth with greater support to thrive in school and prepare for college. We will continue to evolve to ensure NYC’s South Asian youth as well as youth from other immigrant communities have access to opportunities for personal, academic and professional success.