Childhood Experience Prompts Guyanese Immigrant To Service

Like many advocates who take up causes, Annetta Seecharran was inspired by her own experiences.

“There was no place for me in this city,” she told the Queens Tribune. “I remember being so scared to go to school.”

But Seecharran didn’t let those early experiences alienate her from her new home. Today, she is the executive director at Chhaya CDC, an anti-poverty organization in Jackson Heights that advocates for the needs of New York City’s South Asian community. The group aims to address what Seecharran describes as a gap in services for immigrants.

But while Seecharran has become a champion of local policy, she started her career with her heart set on international development.

“I thought one day I was going to go back to Guyana and help fix that country,” she said.

But while pursuing her M.A. in international political economy and development at Fordham University, she became involved in local projects focused on youth development and ended up running a program on substance-abuse prevention in middle school.

“That was kind of totally mind- blowing to me,” she said. “It just gave me such insight into the problems of this country.”

Even after she got a job at the United Nations, she kept up with her involvement in New York City, working with young people from the Bronx. She had become increasingly aware and frustrated by the lack of support and integration services for immigrants, particularly in her own South Asian community.

She came on board as the executive director for South Asian Youth Action (SAYA). She knew nothing about running an organization, but had a deep understanding of the needs of young South Asian individuals. She stayed with the organization through the tumultuous post-9/11 period, when the South Asian community was uniquely targeted for a rise in hate crimes and, ultimately, came to see shortcomings in SAYA’s ability to provide for its community.

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