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July 6, 1999


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Bay Area Womens' Group Seeks Volunteers

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A P Kamath in San Francisco

From its very inception, the founders of Maitri wanted the group to do more than just help battered and abused South Asian women find shelters.

"We had two distinct goals," says Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, one of the founders of Maitri, the first South Asian women's support group on the West Coast. Today Divakaruni lives and works in Houston but she is still connected to Maitri.

"On one hand, we wanted to help the abused women stand on their own feet, and on the other hand, we wanted to help any South Asian woman who wanted to empower herself -- learn about immigration matters, learn English, find resources to study -- learn driving.

"To teach an immigrant woman to drive is an act of empowering her, for many of these women were nothing but domestic slaves to their husbands who would not even teach them to use a telephone," she adds. "To teach her open a bank account and maintain it, to help her read maps, understand the simple announcements at train stations or airports... all these 'small' things get big results.

"Most important, we want them to learn critically and be their own problem-solvers," she says, adding that a number of women who have received help through Maitri have returned to the organization as volunteers.

Maitri volunteers have helped many women in adjusting to the new culture they are suddenly thrown into. Maitri would not have blossomed into one of the most respected and popular resource centers in San Francisco Bay Area but for the work of hundreds of volunteers during the nine years of its existence, Divakaruni and others associated with the organization say.

There is always a need for more volunteers, Maitri leaders say. They are looking for volunteers to operate the help line, doctors and counselors, teachers and journalists. Maitri also wants accountants and fund-raiser volunteers.

Maitri organizers are often befuddled -- like other South Asian service groups -- when they are posed with the following question: The South Asian community prides itself on its economic prosperity, family stability, and educational attainments. Can domestic violence really be a problem among such people?

"Often the question is asked by our own community leaders, who think that we are wasting our times by raising these 'non-existent' issues," says activist Anju Bhargava. "Some of them do not even want us to march with the annual India Day parades. They think we bring bad publicity to the Indian community.

"Domestic violence knows no boundaries of class, creed, religion, educational, or economic level," the Maitri website informs. "Our clients have included members of every region, culture, and community found in the south Asian subcontinent.

"The educational and employment level of the abused and the abusers range from the unschooled to professionals, such as physicians, engineers, and academicians. The problem cannot be solved by neglect, denial, or wishful thinking."

Often the organizers at Maitri, Apna Ghar, Sakhi and other groups are asked the need for a South Asian group since many legal protections and support services are available, through local and state governments, private agencies, and charity organizations, for those experiencing domestic violence.

"However, many South Asian women are unaware of, or reluctant to use such services due to concerns about communication problems, cultural misunderstandings, or uncertainty about their rights," Banerjee says.

Maitri volunteers are all South Asian, and understand the cultural nuances of South Asian family dynamics, she points out, adding that this is true for other groups too. In addition to English, the volunteers speak Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Konkani, Malayalam, Marathi, Marwari, Oriya, Punjabi, Sindhi, Sinhalese, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu.

All cash donations to Maitri are tax-deductible. Maitri's tax ID is 94-3132087.

The organization is seeking sponsors for its newsletter, 'Between Friends' (Each issue costs $ 150 to photocopy and mail), a car or computer (must be in good working condition).

It is asking well-wishers to join the AT&T Association Rewards Program -- call (800) 426-0015 and at no cost to them, AT&T will donate 5 per cent of their bill to Maitri. Please mention its ARP code -- 9767.

Maitri T-shirts ($12) and greeting cards ($1) also generate resources for the group.

How to reach Maitri

Use the email form or the following contact info:
PO Box 60111
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
(408) 730-4049.
National hotline for women, 1-800-333-SAFE.

Resources For South Asian Women

Aasra Fremont (510) 505-7503, (800) 313-ASRA Daya, (Covers areas of Houston, Dallas and San Antonio) Texas (713) 914-1333
Narika Berkeley (800) 215-7308, (510) 540-0754.
Center for Pacific-Asian Family Inc L.A (213) 653-4042, (213) 653-4045, (800) 339-3950.
Human Options South Laguna (714) 497-7017, (714) 497-5367.
Casa de Esperanza Yuba City (916) 674-5400, (916) 674-2040.
Abused Women Coalition Chicago (312) 489-9018, (312) 278-4566.
Asian Shelter & Adv Project Boston (617) 338-2350, (617) 338-2355.
Asian Task Force Boston (617) 739-6696, (617) 277-3648.
Resource Center for Women & Their Families New Jersey (908) 302-2545, (908) 685-1122.
Women's Crisis Services Flemington (908) 788-7666, (908) 788-4044.
AMICAE, Inc New York (716) 672-8423, (800) 836-5940.
Apna Ghar Inc Chicago (312) 334-4663.
ASHA DC, VA, MD (202) 783-5102, (703) 821-3743, (301) 279-9194.
Asian Indian Women's Network New York (714) 894-2608.
Club of Indian Women IL (708) 968-3793.
Helping Prof Of American Asso of Psych's from Indi New York (718) 353-9206,
IBPW Milpitas (408) 956-9115, (415) 926-6652.
Indian Community Outreach Hayward (510) 648-5840.
Indian Subcontinent Womens Assoc for Action Boston (617) 981-2888.
Manavi New Jersey (908) 687-2662.
Massachusetts Area Muslim Women's Committee of NY New York (212) 316-6446.
Nav Nirmaan Foundation New York (718) 441-5852, (718) 478-4588.
Raksha Atlanta (404) 841-0725.
Sahara Los Angeles (888) 724-2722.
Saheli Austin (512) 703-8745.
Sakhi for SA Women New York (212) 695-5447.
Salga (Lesbian & Gay Asso) New York (212) 294-2555.
Samhati MD (301) 229-6597.
SEWAA PA (215) 328-4772.
Sikh Women's International New York (212) 246-3381.
Sneha CT (800) 58 Sneha, (860) 233-5684, (860) 272-8624.
South Asian AIDS Action New York (212) 239-1451 ext 6126.
South Asian-American Women's Asso New York (607) 962-3277.
South Asian Women For Action MA (617) 265-5405, (617) 731-3416, (617) 666-5080.
Trikone San Jose (408) 270-8776.
Women of the Indian Subcontinent Support Group Ohio (614) 486-0650.
South Asian Women's Centres 8163 Main Street, Vancouver, BC V5X 3L2 (604) 325-6637.
South Asian Women's Community Centre (SAWCC) Toronto (416) 537-2276.
SAWGroup Montreal (514) 398-7142.
Vancouver Status of Women (VSW) e-mail: Vancouver (604) 255-5511.

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