Ordinary lives, extraordinary commitment
The early 1980s brought together five women professionals of Indian and Bangladeshi origin. Meeting at group events across Washington DC, discussions invariably focused on domestic abuse in their community. Soon they were meeting at each other’s homes, across the kitchen table, and with each cup of coffee the idea of a support group grew stronger.
ASHA Inc was formed. The word started going around. The community was a small one and the founders had apprehension about how their initiative would be received, but the response was positive. A loose organizational structure evolved as more women pitched in. A work methodology evolved with the board members forming the peer counseling group and women volunteers making calls.
Flyers were distributed at various events and grocery stores. Once every month the group would hold an ‘open’ meeting at a public venue. Women from the South Asian community who felt motivated would join up as member volunteers.
This volunteer group gave the board members much needed relief from client work, enabling them to focus on other issues such as building up a support network of legal, medical and other professionals and, most importantly, raising funds.
Growing sphere of influence
Soon it wasn’t just women from India and Bangladesh who were turning to ASHA for help, but also from Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. With ASHA’s positioning as an organization by South Asians for South Asians, women survivors felt more confident of their culture, fears and dilemmas being understood.
In the early days, the survivors were mainly home makers, many on H4 (dependent) visas, and very much at sea in a new country. Now the profile has changed, but violence has not.
Surprisingly, most of the abused women are young professionals. Many hold H1B visas, having either come to United States as students and taking employment on completion of studies, or as contract employees. There are also green card holders who enjoy complete US citizenship rights.
These educated women are more self assured and accordingly ASHA’s support methodology has also been modified. Use of legal resources has increased as many more women want to get out of their situations and move on with their lives, putting greater pressure on ASHA for legal funding and assistance.
Simultaneously, the profile of the volunteer has changed, from home makers in the 1980s to young professionals who want to make a difference. The majority of them work, some manage families, and some are students from local universities.
We are very proud to have motivated so many committed people.