Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa was co-founded in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2003 by Mira Yusef, currently the executive director of the organization, and Shashi Tenneti, a community activist, as a grassroots volunteer group to provide advocacy services to victims/survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities in Iowa. The group was formed after Ms. Yusef discovered that mainstream organizations were not sufficiently equipped to respond to the cultural and linguistic needs of the API population in the state. Ms. Yusef had a background of several years of volunteerism in the Bay Area of San Francisco, a bastion of social services, so along with Ms. Tenneti, she began to form a collective of women who were interested in learning more and raising awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault in API communities. Ms. Yusef was instrumental in bringing the Multilingual Access Model of training (MLAM), developed by the Asian Women’s Shelter in San Francisco, to Monsoon and thus establishing a strong foundation for advocates. The Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault (IowaCASA) was a bedrock of support for Monsoon in the early years as volunteers worked consistently and tirelessly on community outreach and education and collaborated with other organizations and agencies on numerous projects, all of which were related to the prevention of gender-based violence.
In 2007, Monsoon became a nonprofit organization and began to receive funds from the Iowa Crime Victim Assistance Division (CVAD). Ms. Yusef, who had left to pursue graduate studies in social work, returned to lead Monsoon, which officially opened on December 15, 2007. The organization also selected a board that was representative of the communities being served.
In 2003, Monsoon’s office space had consisted of a desk, chair and computer acquired through the generosity of IowaCASA and located in IowaCASA’s office in Des Moines. In 2008, Ms. Yusef hired the first advocate staffer and Monsoon subleased a one-room office in the same building. The same year, the organization developed its violence prevention program with middle and high school API students in Des Moines and hired eight youth interns, with the title of API Youth Advocate and Outreach, to work with a violence prevention coordinator on in-school and after-school programs.
In 2009, Monsoon received two grants from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) and hired three more advocates. One of the advocates was based in Iowa City, so Monsoon decided to locate an office in the Eastern Iowa university town that would serve the region. The University of Iowa’s Women’s Resource and Action Center rose to the occasion and offered office space at its site, resulting in a spurt in people seeking Monsoon’s services. In 2012, the office moved to its present location on the southern side of downtown Iowa City.
Also in 2012, Monsoon moved its Bayanihan Asian and African Community Resource Center, which it had been operating on weekends since 2008 at the organization’s office in Des Moines, to another site in the office’s building. The center is run by volunteers who provide information and resources on legal and human services, health and wellness, housing, education and employment for API residents in central Iowa. Such outreach is also intended to broaden information on Monsoon’s direct services. The site also houses the Youth Resource Space, which is used by students for studying, preparing projects, holding events and rehearsing.
In 2011, Monsoon helped formally establish Nisaa: African Women’s Project (“Nisaa”) to serve African immigrant and refugee communities. Monsoon shares space and resources with Nisaa and extends administrative and financial assistance to the project as well.
From 2012, the organization also has been extending technical assistance to other programs in providing services to API communities in Iowa and nationally.