Saheli August Newsletter 2015
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From The Editor's Desk

On Friday September 18th Saheli invites you to attend our gala fundraiser Nirbhaya: Life Free of Violence. Named after the young rape victim in New Delhi, the theme embodies Saheli's mission to empower women to be free from violence. All proceeds will go toward funding Saheli’s programs designed to put domestic violence survivors on a path of independence and dignity, and to live safe and healthy lives. 

Rabindranath Tagore immortalized freedom from fear as a pre-cursor to leading a life of dignity and productivity. He equated “freedom” with heaven. Saheli and its newly elected Board headed by Gouri Banerjee remain committed to these tenets for all survivors of domestic violence. 

The organization has grown significantly in the last year to provide a multi-faceted approach to empower survivors of domestic violence.  From opening a new office, enhancing services for rescue and counseling, to education, training, and job-search, the focus has been expanded to include assistance toward economic independence. 

Along with its well-known core services and resources, Saheli has increased its footprint in the greater Boston area and has made inroads into New Hampshire. The South Shore Saheli Sabha has become a monthly feature, recognized by local residents and attended by many. Emotional Well-being Program has provided both participants and the organization with valuable insight into how to inspire and help South Asian women develop self-esteem. 

The community at large has also come forward to spread the word about our cause and share its bounty. Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation has partnered to raise awareness of domestic violence and health. The producers of Badshah-E-Romance: A Musical Extravaganza donated a significant part of their proceeds from ticket sales to us. Our website and our blog have more on these and other events.

Sreemoti Mukerjee-Roy
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Upcoming Events

Saheli Gala Fundraiser

Buy your tickets before we're sold out! September 18th at the Waltham Westin Hotel.

Annual Walk to End Violence Against Women

We hope to see you this year at Saheli’s Annual Walk to End Violence Against Women! 10am-2pm, 3 October, Burlington, MA.

Saheli relies on your support to provide crucial services to South Asian women and families in need. 

Meet Saheli’s New Program Coordinator, Mariya Taher

Mariya comes to Saheli with a wide range of experience. She moved from San Francisco to Cambridge in December to pursue a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Creative Writing at Lesley University. Prior to her move, she was working in the gender violence field for 7 years, working with W.O.M.A.N., Inc.The Women’s Foundation of California, and San Francisco State University. She received her Master in Social Work from San Francisco State University and her B.A. from the University of California Santa Barbara, where she majored in Religious Studies and double-minored in Global, Peace, and Security & Socio-cultural Linguistics.

In pursuing her MFA degree, Mariya hopes to combine both her passion for social justice with her passion for writing. She has contributed articles to Brown Girl Magazine, Solstice Literary Magazine, Global Voices, The Express Tribune, The San Francisco Examiner, BayWoof, and the Imagining Equality Project. Her short story, “American Daughters” has appeared in Prism Review, Pulse Online Literary Journal, The Blue Minaret, and was a finalist for the 2015 Editor’s Reprint Award at Sequestrum Literary Magazine. In June 2015, her short story “An Addict’s Tale was published in The Flexible Persona. Her third short story, “Stung”, will be published in Cecile's Writers Magazine in September. 

We welcome Mariya to Saheli with excitement, and look forward to all the ways she will be able to help our organization grow in the years to come. She can be reached at

You're Invited – The 2015 Nirbhaya Gala Fundraiser! 

By Gouri Banerjee, Saheli Board President 

This year’s Nirbhaya, Saheli’s Annual Gala Fundraiser, will be on Friday, September 18th at 6:30 pm at the Westin Hotel in Waltham. We are thrilled to inform you that the program will feature a distinguished keynote speaker, Women of the World Performers, and an exquisite dinner. We welcome all our Saheli friends to show their support by becoming sponsors, making donations and buying tickets to attend the event. In 2013, your support allowed us to start an economic empowerment fund for women, hire additional staff, and jumpstart a program that asks men to join the campaign to stop gender based violence. We look to your generosity once again to support the economic empowerment fund, help us sustain our brand new office space, and support free, direct services to women in crises. Additional Gala details, including how to buy tickets, can be found at . We hope to see you there! 

Saheli Opens New Office in Burlington

By Mariya Taher, Saheli Program Coordinator

Home is where the heart is. I’m not sure who said that first, but for Saheli, this expression couldn’t be truer, as the organization welcomes the opening of Saheli’s new office in Burlington this May. There is still some work to be done, making sure furniture arrives, a private room for domestic violence advocates to meet with survivors of domestic violence is set up, resource materials for those seeking support are properly placed throughout the office, and much more. But for those amazing Saheli Board members, staff, and volunteers who couldn’t be more excited to have a beautiful location across from Burlington Common to be able to meet with survivors, host monthly board meetings and public general meetings, the heart is there, and they are eager to set-up the office.

The 900 sq. foot new office is located on the first floor at 11 Bedford Street, right next to the Burlington Recreation Center, and on the other side of the Burlington Commons, can be found the Burlington Public Library, and the Burlington Police Department, organizations Saheli partners with often. The Saheli office will be covered by a domestic violence advocate and a staff or board member on Monday -Thursday from 10 am to 3 pm daily starting in August. All those seeking services will be encouraged to come into the office to meet with our trained advocates.

Saheli is truly lucky to have supporters in the community, who without their generous donations, we would not be able to afford this safe place to work with South Asian Families in need of support. To learn more about the new office, check out the article that was published in India New England News.

Exciting Organizational Changes Occurring at Saheli

By Gouri Banerjee, By Saheli Board President 

Saheli is galloping into the future. One way you can tell change is coming is by the appointment of four new people to the governing board in April 2015 and a new staff member. We welcome our dynamic new board members who bring youth, great ideas, and a collaborative spirit to Saheli. Pradip Tandon will assume the role of Saheli Secretary, Kumkum Pareek Malik will head up the Emotional Wellbeing program, Lata Parwani will be the grant writing associate, and Tanvi Devimane will bring new energy to the volunteer recruitment and retention program.  Saheli also has a new Program Coordinator — Mariya Taher is replacing Bonie Bagchi-Williamson who has moved on to a new position at Northern Essex Community College. As organizations grown, they must change, they must continue to meet the needs of the changing community as well. Thus, we welcome all of our new board members and program coordinator and look forward to working together to make Saheli a stronger organization in the community. 

Usha Vakil Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

By Salita Mehta

On June 4, 2015, Usha Vakil received the Lifetime Achievement award at the Woman of the Year annual banquet, to a standing ovation from a roomful of “strong and influential women” who make “important contributions in business, politics and community service”. It was a glittering event, filled with winners and honorees from past events as well as this year’s awesome entries, including 2015 Woman of the Year awardee Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, the frontline physician providing care to Ebola victims in Sierra Leone. 

In his speech while presenting the award to Usha, Sushil Tulii, President of Leader Bank, who sponsored the award said, “Leader Bank is honored to recognize Usha Vakil as this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner. Her “work with Saheli to help encourage and support South Asian women across New England, and particularly her efforts to combat and end domestic violence has been nothing short of exemplary.” Adding, “Our entire community has been fortunate to have such a tireless advocate for this critical mission.”

Usha steps down, after a decade of leadership, to be followed by Gouri Banerjee, also a Founding Mother and winner of the 2005 Woman of the Year award.  Congratulations to Saheli as the organization’s leaders continue to be honored for their dedication to social justice and their service to the South Asian community!

Read the full article on the Saheli Blog

Honoring a Saheli Volunteer: Jonjy Ananth

Written by Salita Mehta

In 2015, Saheli made a really innovative move, the organization hired male volunteers and arranged state-mandated DV training for them! Kudos to Saheli for taking this step! 

The young man in the picture above is Jonjy Ananth MD, MBA.  He was the second young man to join the organization in this capacity. 

In answer to the question, “What inspires you to volunteer?”

He responded “Volunteering is in my blood and helping people is my passion. Some time back, I started volunteering as a doctor at free clinics in the Shrewsbury/Worcester area. I also joined ISW’s Crisis Committee. Additional volunteer activities include Deputy Sheriff (reserve), Notary Public and WCUW 91.3FM (VP, Board of Directors”.

Since joining Saheli as a volunteer, he has worked with survivors doing safety planning and conducting risk assessment of their situations. His familiarity with government resources around Worcester has been of invaluable service to the survivors who need to access resources: such as financial assistance; social support; healthcare services; and legal aid including U visas, and other immigration issues. He is also well versed in the functioning of police departments around his area and is able to reduce the fear of law enforcement prevalent amongst most immigrant women. 

We’re so proud to have him as a Saheli Volunteer! If you would like to volunteer for Saheli, please contact for more information. To read the full article on Jonjy, visit the Saheli Blog. 


Beyond Domestic Abuse: A Survivor's Story 

By Salita Mehta

Malti, a South Asian woman in her 40s, approached Saheli for help several years back. Through her own strength and courage and help from Saheli advocates she is in a physically and emotionally safe place today. A survivor of domestic abuse, she shared her story with Saheli so that other women could learn to ‘break the silence’, stop living in fear and make changes in their own lives. In Malti’s own words: 

I was a young, naïve girl when I got married at 18. I was shocked when my husband started abusing me almost immediately. My happiness was replaced with constant fear. I spent several nights the first few years sobbing into my pillow.

I learned about Saheli from a girl at work and called them. The next day, two Saheli advocates picked me up and drove me to the local district court to obtain a 10 day Restraining Order against my husband. I could not have done this alone as I was scared of law enforcement officers and my inability to speak fluent English made me even more scared. Later, the advocates accompanied me to the police station. With the help of the police and the advocates, I was able to go back to my apartment for a few minutes to pick up my possessions. 

Within a week, Sahelis had found an affordable apartment for me as well as a roommate to share the rent. Once I was settled and more relaxed I found an additional job. Slowly, at the suggestion of my Saheli, I started taking ESL classes. Soon, I was reading and writing English. This helped me to start working towards getting a Driver’s License. Saheli paid for driver training when I was ready. With legal assistance, introduced to me by Saheli support and friendship, I was successful in obtaining a divorce.

As I look back over the past few years I am content with the decisions I made. I have regained my self-esteem and belief in myself. I am now living a stress free life.

I could not have done any of this without the help of Sahelis who were always there to listen, advise and encourage. I want to tell all women - If you are in a scary situation, empower yourselves by reaching out for support to Saheli at 866-472-4354, they speak your language. 

To read the full article on Malti, visit the Saheli Blog.

Saheli Awarded New Funding for Domestic Violence Work

In May, Saheli was pleased to receive a Targeted Grant for Violence Prevention, from the Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation ($10,000). The category of Violence Prevention is an area that has implications across the board, including but not limited to issues associated with violence at home, school, in the workplace and in our neighborhoods. With this grant, Saheli will be able to support much-needed relevant trainings for domestic violence advocates.  

In June, Saheli was a proud recipient of a CHNA 15 2015-16 Mini-Grant ($6,000). With these grant funds Saheli is working towards developing innovative means of connecting survivors of domestic violence with appropriate mental healthcare providers. 

Also in June, Saheli's efforts were recognized with a $500 check from the Burlington Muslim group, thanking the organization for making a difference in the community.



The Happenings of Saheli Sabha on the South Shore 

By Aruna Krishnamurthy

In the last year, the South shore chapter has held a number of Sabhas during the course of the year that offered a platform for families to connect with each other. Each Sabha saw a new set of members, and the big Halloween get together in October, and small meetings with more community members in November and January, sparked off a great interest among members to continue meetings and build on friendship, support, and sharing of information.

During April, the group implemented an art project with children and mothers that ended up in a large poster board for Mother's Day, and was donated to Father Bills Shelter. The most recent guest at Saheli Sabha was Vaidya Pratibha Shah who spoke to a roomful of women about common home remedies using Ayurvedic products in June.

The South Shore chapter has also worked with experts in the field of mental health and child development to bring new ideas and experiences to its group. For example, Nisha Kagal and Zerui Yu from South Shore Mental Health gave a presentation on child development, parent-child interactions and child mental health. The guest speaker took the audience through the various stages in a child's growth year by year, what to expect during each year, how to solve the problems that parents face with their children and how to take care of their mental health. 

The response of members and the community at large has been overwhelmingly positive. If fact, in response to some member’s feedback, South Shore Coordinator, Vandana is working with Saheli Board Member, Deepika Madan, to create a Computer Literacy program based on Sahel’s existing Computer Literacy program in Waltham. 

To read the full article on South Shore Activities, visit the Saheli Blog

Lenny Zakim Provides Training to Sahelis

Saheli is fortunate to have received the support of the Lenny Zakim Fund forthree years in a row. Not only did Sahelis benefit from their generous funding, but we also participated in their wonderful educational seminars andlearned how to manage non-profit organizations more effectively. For example, we attended Making Budgets in Non-Profit Organizations, Rewards and Recognition of People, how to decide who is a Volunteer, Intern and Independent Contractor. 

The mission of The Lenny Zakim Fund is to identify, listen to, support and connect grassroots community organizations and programs operating "below the radar screen" of large charitable groups and government grants. They provide assistance to those who demonstrate the will and potential to make a difference, but lack the necessary resources. Saheli thanks the Lenny Zakim Fund for their support.   


Saheli Keeps Up to Date on Domestic Violence Information 

Saheli strives to keep informed on the latest research and interventions regarding working with domestic violence survivors. On April 18th and April 25th, a team of Saheli members, including a diverse group of students, men and women volunteers, Saheli President Gouri Banerjee and Saheli Board Member Mala Krishnamurthy, attended Domestic Violence Workshop. The workshop sessions were conducted by Lory Santoro, Daybreak Program Director, and the Central Massachusetts YWCA. In specific, the workshops focused on introducing concepts of Domestic Violence focusing on Definition of Abuse, Effects on Victims and Survivors, Dispelling Myths, Introduction to Advocacy, Safety Planning and Risk Assessment, Tips on How to Identify, How To Ask and How to Respond. All during the workshop sessions, lively discussion were held on the advantages and disadvantages of Domestic Violence Advocacy measure. At the end, our group was even given a listing of Community Resources and Domestic Violence Services offered in Worcester County, so that we can pass on the information to the survivors we work with everyday who are in need of them. 

Saheli Wraps Up Spring Computer Literacy Classes

By Tanvi Devimane & Deepika Madan 

Saheli Board Members, Deepika Madan and Tanvi Devimane runs free computer literacy class at the Waltham Public Library two times a year in Spring and Fall. She is assisted by Saheli Volunteers, Tanvi, John and Owen and Library Staff, Laura and Todd. This year the Spring Session ran from March 4th to May 20th. As we all know, the best way to learn computer technologies is actually practicing it. Hence the curriculum for the class is designed with a significant amount of hands-on activities. Due to a generous donation of laptops by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care earlier in the year, we were able to offer each student an individual laptop to use during class. Within a short twelve weeks, we saw our students, who had very little computer skills at the start, end the course with the knowledge on how to use the Internet, Email, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. At the end of the sessions, our six students thanked Saheli by giving VERY generous donations. 

The Fall session will start mid-late September. If you’re interested in attending the session, please register with the Waltham Public Library starting in August. If you’re interested in volunteering to help teach the classes, please write to Deepika Madan at and visit our website.

Emotional Well-Being Sabha - Resilient Teenager: Navigating two cultures 

By Manisha Jain

Saheli partnered with ISW on Sunday, June 14, 2015 to host an Emotional Well Being Sabha titled, Resilient Teenagers: Navigating two cultures. Held at the India Center in Shrewsbury, MA, the Sabha was very well attended by moms, dads, and teenagers alike. In a unique, one of a kind format of round table discussions, Saheli Board member and facilitator Dr. Kumkum Pareek Malik was able to literally break barriers and open doors that started key conversations between different generations, relating to the challenges of parenting as well as growing up in two different cultures. It was eye-opening to hear the perspectives of our youth who unanimously voiced that they would like to be heard and respected by their parents. At the same time it was heartwarming for the parents to hear that despite the incessant whining about Hindi school and dance classes, our kids immensely valued these classes as a bonding experience. Eye opening, and generally, taboo topics around sexuality, parental pressure, and lack of inter-generational communication were brought up, and helped to build bridges in understanding value based relations across a cultural and age spectrum. Saheli thanks ISW for their active role in launching the Sabha series in Shrewsbury and looks forward to a continued discussion within the community.

Board & Staff Happenings 

By Gouri Banerjee, Saheli Board President

Usha Vakil, past president of Saheli, is leading a dynamic team of women in organizing the Nirbhaya fundraiser that includes Anu Chitrapu, Manju Sheth, Upendra Mishra, Lata Rao, Neelam Wali and Sweta Mepani. They were successful in getting the sponsorship of Harvard Pilgrim Health Plan Foundation for the Nirbhaya event and continue to seek support from the community to make Nirbhaya a wonderful evening.

Rita Shah, Gouri Banerjee and Salita Mehta did phenomenal work in finding an office space for Saheli, finalizing the lease and setting up the new Saheli headquarters at 11 Bedford Street in Burlington.

Vandana Sharma organized a Wholistic Health workshop at the Faxon Commons in Quincy with Vaidya Pratibha Shah. In June she organized a workshop on the Emotional Development of Children with South Shore Mental Health clinicians Nisha Kagal and Zerui Yu.

Lata Parwani is making plans to launch a new Saheli presence in Norwood in the fall and seeks volunteers to help her with this initiative.

Ramesh Advani has secured a license from Phallacies to perform their skits at South Asian events. Also, with Rohit Chandra's help he is organizing cricket and other sports activities on the South Shore in August to have families participate in talking about how violence against women can be reduced.

The Walk/Run Against Violence will be held on October 3rd and Mariya is seeking volunteers to help with this event. October is Domestic Violence Prevention Month and we look forward to your participation in the Walk.

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 1345
Burlington, MA 01803

Meeting Group Location:
Saheli Boston
11 Bedford Street
Burlington MA 01803

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