India Abroad March 12, 2010 M40
As the dire economic situation deepens, forcing many community organizations to confront budget and salary cuts, Sudha Acharya appeals to Indians across America to help organizations that offer services to struggling immigrants.
Among these organizations is New York’s South Asian
Council for Social Services, SACSS, which she co-founded a
A New York publication revealed last year, without mentioning what her salary was, that Acharya took a 50 percent
pay cut — along with a 15 percent cut imposed on her staff
— so that SACSS would continue to do its work.
“There is a lot of philanthropy in our community, but we
would like to see more money coming into organizations
here,” Acharya, Executive Director, SACSS, mused the
other day as she sat down for an interview in the canteen of
the Hindu Temple in Flushing, New York. “People tell me
that their dollar goes a long way across India. I understand
that. Give by all means to India but don’t forget there are
thousands of Indians and people from other countries in
the region who need help. These immigrants came to this
country with lot of disadvantages, unlike many of us who
migrated in the 1960s.”
SACSS, located on the ground floor of a brick building in
Flushing, Queens, offers free services not just for the poor.
Many middle class immigrants come to it to learn or practice their English. The organization also helped families of
9/11 victims cope with their tragedies and concomitant
emotional and physical problems by arranging counseling.
Some family members had visa problems too. One woman
with several children had to fight deportation because her
husband, who had perished in the attack on the Twin
Towers, had not received his green card.
“We are doing an important job, I believe,” she said in her
soft-spoken but resolute voice. “We are not helping just the
older immigrants by teaching them their responsibilities
and how they can get help for themselves and their children from the government and other organizations. By
doing so, we are helping families — and a new generation.”
There are organizations in New York like SAYA! (South
Asian Youth Action) to help children of South Asian and
Caribbean immigrants learn skills, leadership qualities and
deal with racial bias or hazing in the schools. “But we also
needed an organization to help the adults,” she said, adding
that there are a handful of South Asian organizations like
Sakhi which help immigrants with different needs.
“We work with some of them,” Acharya said. “But we have
our own specific programs and they are helping immigrants like taxi drivers, newspaper vendors, domestic help,
and retired people.” Helping the community also means
conducting surveys of immigrants’ needs or joining a
Acharya came to America from India about 40 years ago.
Even as she was raising her daughter and running a home
while earning an MBA, she was looking for service opportunities.
“I grew up in a very progressive home in India,” said
Acharya who studied English literature at a Karnataka uni-
‘Don’t forget there are thousands
of Indians who need help’
SUDHA ACHARYA, Executive Director, SACSS, explains to
ARTHUR J PAIS why we cannot afford to be bystanders anymore
versity. Her father was an engineer; her mother
Bharathibai Rao, an educator deeply interested in helping
“I used to accompany my mother to the villages, helping
the poorest children to read and write, and getting them to
learn the basics of hygiene,” she said. “When I arrived in
America, I wanted to continue similar work. But many
people, who had come here around the time we arrived,
were professionals, and they did not seem to want any
Of course, later she realized that many of them indeed
needed help in adjusting to a new culture, in taking care of
their older parents and in handling their children, who
were growing up knowing very little about the religion and
culture of their parents.
Her work in the past decade dealt mostly with empowering poorer and less-educated immigrants from India and
half a dozen countries in the subcontinent, not to forget
people of Indian origin from the Caribbean.
But even in the 1970s, she had started working with
Indian organizations that were creating awareness in
Indians to fight for their place in the larger American society and to network effectively with their political leaders.
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