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.“
Accolades did not stop there! Dr. Manju Seth applauded Usha as “a very special trail blazer”. Upendra Mishra, congratulated her for the “out standing contribution she and her Saheli team have made to the community.” Earlier this year, Kaplesh Kumar, IAGB President in 1996, under whose umbrella Saheli started its work as an anti-domestic violence agency, talked about the “seed” he had handed to Usha and her team and how she grew it into the strong and vibrant organization it is today.
Usha’s path has not been an easy one. While wearing the mantle of leadership in an organization whose mission creates so much controversy in the community, Usha, has not only devoted time to finding solutions to effectively help immigrant domestic violence survivors, she has continued to dedicate herself to providing direct service to individual survivors. Over the past two decades, she has spent a lot of time working with women who are in complicated, heartbreaking situations. She does this work at some risk to her own personal safety. This is not comfortable, glamorous work – it takes dedication, hard work and nerves of steel!
Usha steps down as the Board President of Saheli, 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!