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January 17, 2000
Organization Offers New Lease Of Life to Indians
A P Kamath
When his wife walked out on him three years after their marriage, complaining Dave was not going making enough money, the 32-year-old immigrant went into a deep psychological shock.
"For a long time she had been scolding me that I was not getting a promotion," says Dave whose real name has been changed. "But I did not expect her to go away, and initiate divorce proceedings." His estranged wife has been in America for more than 15 years since the family migrated from Mumbai. As reconciliation efforts failed, Dave says he sunk into deeper depression, began smoking heavily and drinking every night.
"I knew I should not have done it," he continues. "I could hardly afford alcohol. And I could not afford what it was doing to my body."
When he was about to lose his job, a fellow immigrant, who is recovering from drug abuse, gently guided Dave to Nav Nirmaan.
Dave was reluctant to go. "It is not easy to give up self-pity," he says now, with a chuckle, as he is firmly on the road to self-recovery and has gained back his self-esteem. "There was no magic bullet, but the counseling which I received was great help."
To many people like Dave, who battle addiction, spousal problems and other related problems in New York and the neighboring states, Nav Nirmaan has, over the last decade, become a major source of recovery.
"What is very significant about an organization like this," Dave says, "is it is run by South Asian professionals. They understand our minds and hearts."
"There are certain things only a fellow Indian can understand."
Besides, the modest sliding-scale fee the organization charges is also a big consolation to many newer immigrants.
Nav Nirmaan Foundation is among 25 South Asian groups including Manavi and Maitri that have sprung up across America to provide culturally sensitive counseling to South Asian Americans. While Manavi and Maitri help women exclusively, NNF, which works with groups like Manavi, offers counseling to men and women.
In recent years, Afghan immigrants have also sought NNF's help. And so have people of Indian origin from South Africa, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad.
A young gay student said his American gay peers could not understand why he did not come out of the closet.
"When I tell them I have to think of my parents and grandparents, they laugh at me," he says, continuing to discuss his depression over his hidden sexual identity. He certainly needs counseling at Nav Nirmaan or a similar organization, he says. "Of course, I get a lot of support from Indian gay groups, but I also need help from outside sources."
When the NNF was started by Walter and Rosemary Picardo in 1991, it hardly had any resources, and a few volunteers. Today it has over a dozen advisors including psychiatrists who speak or understand nearly a dozen Indian languages including Hindi, Urdu and Bengali. Its programs include parenting skills, family counseling and marital counseling. In a few weeks it will offer free English classes on weekends.
Walter Picardo, who is a recovering alcoholic, got the help of a handful of fellow Catholics including Winston Brass, who was the police chief of a small Illinois city. But he was very clear from the first day of the organization's foundation that it would have no Christian evangelical agenda. Most of the people connected with the organization are non-Christians.
Picardo and his associates spent many hours reaching out to the community, and networking with other social agencies, to ensure that their services were made available to those who sought NNF's help. In 1993, NNF started working with the Queens Child Guidance Center through the Asian Outreach Project of New York City. In 1995, the Driving With Intoxication program was started to offer counseling in several Indian languages. Several Indian cabbies, who suspect they are developing dependency on alcohol, are seeking Nav Nirmaan's help.
Three years ago, NNF opened at its current location in Elmhurst, Queens and continued to serve an ever-widening population base through its programs. The organization has helped at least a thousand people. Counseling could vary from eight to 16 weeks.
Roy Tells, the NNF director, feels that immigrants often do not seek out help because they do not how to go about it. But because of the news items in the mainstream and ethnic publications and television programs, the Nav Nirmaan Foundation is known to many people in New York and other American states. It also spreads word about it through temples and churches, and has booths at cultural events.
Nav Nirmaan Foundation, Queens Medical Center, 87-08 Justice Ave., Suite #LA, Elmhurst, NY 11373-4575; (718) 478-4588, fax: 476-5959.
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