Saba Kazi is somewhat of a polyglot – in addition to being fluent in English, Hindi and Urdu, she is also conversant in Gujarati and Punjabi, and has become an asset to the South Asian diaspora residing in Chicago’s northside Rogers Park and West Ridge corridor. As program supervisor for the Community Care Program at Metropolitan Asian Family Services (MAFS), Saba is responsible for over 150 homecare workers (also commonly known as homemakers) who serve several hundred homebound and elderly South Asian individuals with their daily routines. In addition to this, Saba has also been a key partner with the Asian Health Coalition on the Pink Pashmina Project, a community-based program funded by the Susan G. Komen Foundation of Chicago to provide culturally tailored health education, and increase breast cancer screening for limited English-speaking, economically disadvantaged immigrant and refugee women from India, Pakistan and Nepal.
Born in India, Saba graduated with a degree in psychology and migrated to Chicago in the early 1990s. Her experience working in her family’s retail clothing business has given her the ability to strike up a conversation with just about anyone, making it look almost effortless! This unique skill has been instrumental in her work on the Pink Pashmina Project. She is the main contact person for the South Asian women at MAFS, a local non-profit social serving agency, in helping to make sure they get educated on the importance of breast and cervical health. Her work entails communicating with individuals in either group or one-on-one workshops, assisting clients with concerns about health insurance, transportation and interpretation at clinic visits. Her interest in community health stems from the need she saw in the South Asian community through lived experiences. “I’ve seen many people in my community who need help because of the language barrier,” she said. “In addition, many women in the South Asian community are not aware of health services available and are not familiar with how to access them,” she explained. For newly arrived immigrants, the language barrier is one of the biggest obstacles, but cultural issues are important too. “When we are immigrants and come here, we do not know what to do, we do not know the paperwork because of the language barrier, and that is difficult,” Saba explained.
Understanding the cultural and religious traditions and taboos in the South Asian community has been key to be a bridging agent between her community and the health care system. As a mother to 3 girls, Saba is also a strong advocate for the educational advancement of young women. “Getting an education is the single most powerful way to break gender inequality and lift women and girls to new dreams and goals. I’m so thankful to my mother who always told me encouraged me to get my degree and I want to do the same for my daughters.”
We at the Asian Health Coalition are honored to have Saba as an integral part of our community health partnership and champion for change to improve the lives of Asian women in Chicago.