Imagine being a young mother, married as an early teen, whose husband was not working regularly, and whose children were beginning to starve. Imagine taking matters into your own hands and getting a job at a retail store, and being beaten for taking the initiative to provide for your family because it was “against your culture.”

This was the reality facing a woman aided by Kiran shortly after her husband was arrested, a bystander having called 911 after witnessing the beating. She was left vulnerable to various crises, yet Kiran reminded her of her strength and abilities, helping fill the gaps caused by the abusive relationship.  From assisting with driving lessons to obtain her license to providing a car and gas gift cards, Kiran helped her achieve a level of stability to feel empowered, connecting her with housing accommodations, including furniture, and child care while she worked. Helping her develop independence took approximately three years, highlighting the strong commitment Kiran makes in this powerful work.

How it All Began

In the late 1990s, the South Asian community began increasing in the Triangle. Alongside this population increase came domestic violence issues, a topic often kept quiet in the community. A small group of advocates began meeting wherever they could - sharing advice, navigating solutions, and providing resources to individuals in need of help. Though meeting in homes or local parks worked temporarily, they quickly learned the need was escalating.

The number of individuals in need of help continued to increase and in 2008 Kiran (which in Hindi means “ray of light”) was founded, with one staff person well versed in grant writing, allowing them to apply for their first grant, and many volunteers. By 2013, Kiran had the financial stability to provide legal and mental health support to their clients, but expanded services and capacity was necessary as word continued to spread.

The Rising Need

Over the last six years, the need for services has grown exponentially. In 2021, Kiran served over 119 clients, each with a unique story and set of circumstances. While Kiran assists with crisis situations as well, the majority of cases are established clients. The ability to empathize is of tantamount importance for the team at Kiran, as breaking down and understanding the cultural factors that come along with many of the cases is a major challenge. Arranged marriages are still prevalent in the South Asian community, with the wife expected to be subservient. Abuse can range from sexual to mental, emotional, or physical, and is sometimes perpetuated by the abuser’s family.

To complicate matters, many cases have immigration factors involved, with most clients here on dependent visas, exacerbating powerlessness as they cannot work with these types of visas. Women with children face a different kind of fear, as many are too afraid to reach out for help to avoid the risk of being deported and separated from their children. Shaifali Kaul, Client Services Coordinator, describes the importance of developing trust with their clients to create the best plan of help for them. “If they decide to take the step to get away from the abuser, there is fear of the unknown as well as the thought that nobody is going to believe them,” she says. “The community is quite closed, with everyone in similar social circles, so where is the help coming from and what exactly is the help that they will need?” The process involved in helping clients is very intentional and in-depth, to ensure Kiran understands where clients are coming from in order to provide the right support without telling them what to do.

Overcoming Outreach Challenges and Reaching a New Generation

While no one could have prepared for the pandemic, Kiran was able to quickly shift their strategy to fulfill client’s needs. However, with the shifted reliance on digital communication, the team has had to navigate methods to assure their information is reaching those who need help, as abusive partners might be monitoring communication channels, a challenge described by Outreach Coordinator, Julia Charles. Kiran has also begun increasing their youth outreach, highlighting the importance of young people having plentiful examples of healthy relationships in their lives. Julia explains a variety of virtual opportunities facilitated by Kiran during the height of the pandemic when it was unsafe to gather in-person. They hosted cooking classes streamed through Facebook and Zoom yoga and art classes that provided connection to the community and an outlet to their clients.

Kiran has been able to creatively shift many of their outreach tactics, but specifically with the younger generation, they have seen greater student engagement, especially with the return of in-person events marketed towards teenagers. Seema Kak, Executive Director of Kiran, describes the gratitude toward the strengthened relationships with nearby colleges and universities and highlights the increase in student donations. “Even if it’s $20, that means it made a difference to them with what they saw or heard, and it’s very heartening to know that young people are listening to and actually seeking us.”

Looking Towards the Future

As their client base continues to grow, Kiran hopes to find more shelter space, which is a dire gap that needs to be filled. Taking their goals a step further, they aim to one day build a transitional home for clients in need of temporary living space to provide a more comfortable living experience. Additionally, since the organization relies primarily on federal and state funding, which can fluctuate, greater financial stability is needed. Kiran aims to become more financially independent, not having to depend on government grants so heavily.

Janhvi Kulkarni, Program Coordinator at Kiran, has only been a part of the team for a short time, but she says the ability to connect with the community and interact with clients to see their progress has been so inspiring. She says, "Despite everything that they have been through, they are standing strong. That’s what keeps me going.”


Mission: Kiran's mission is to end the cycle of abuse and to serve and empower South Asian victims of domestic violence in North Carolina by providing culturally specific services and comprehensive economic, social and community resources.

Since 2008, Kiran has empowered victims/survivors by providing access to information, education, and other necessary social and economic support that best reflects each person's interests and needs.

To learn more about how you can get involved with Kiran, click the button below.