Martha Maffei: Advocate for Long Island Latinas

Martha Maffei of Long Island's SEPA Mujer (Photo via El Diario La Prensa)

Martha Maffei of Long Island’s SEPA Mujer (Photo via El Diario La Prensa)

When Martha Maffei, 41, emigrated from Peru in May 2004, she hoped to work as a social worker with 12 years of experience in her home country under her belt, but language barriers and educational requirements compelled her to reconsider her goals.

A native of Piura, a place known as the city of eternal sunshine, Maffei worked on implementing social programs in different cities in the mountains, the forest, and the coast of Peru. However, her research and strategy development skills weren’t enough to get the job opportunity she wanted.

The challenge got bigger when she moved from Boston to Long Island in 2008. Without a driver’s license in an area with little public transportation, her professional development stagnated.

One year later, Maffei fought to land a position as the program coordinator at the organization SEPA Mujer (SEPA is an acronym for “services for the advancement of women”), driven to help other women who were facing similar obstacles.

Why did you persevere in being a social worker despite the difficulties?

Because it is my passion to guide other women toward their independence and a better life. My experience in Peru is crucial to my work helping the women immigrants of Suffolk County. When I came to Long Island, I could see the struggle Latinas go through to educate themselves and find a decent job despite the adverse conditions.

I understand the frustration of not being able to travel in search of better opportunities when you don’t have a driver’s license. Women immigrants in cities like Riverhead are isolated and dependent on their partners. Women in rural areas of Peru are in a similar situation.

When I was deprived of practicing my profession by a system that demands English proficiency, education and experience in this country, I became inspired to break new ground that would ease the process for other women.

Why did you choose SEPA Mujer as a medium for women immigrants’ struggle?

Because women need an organization that gives them a voice. Ninety percent of our clients face domestic violence and seek out services in times of crisis. They come with low self-esteem, depression, and even a tendency towards suicide. The healing process is painful, but in the end they manage to regain their self-confidence. We help them to acknowledge themselves, to feel their own strength and appreciate their intelligence. It’s wonderful to see them educating the community with their own stories, organizing a protest to stand up for their rights, or speaking into a microphone to persuade the residents. That transformation is what motivates me to give it my all.

What was your goal when you joined SEPA Mujer?

To make the organization grow and expand its services to the most vulnerable women. When I applied for the job they asked me how I would achieve results in a community that I didn’t know. I answered that in Peru I managed to implement successful programs in a similar environment. They trusted me and gave me the opportunity. You only need one chance to make a great dream come true.

I started my work with a research study to determine the women immigrants’ needs and therefore develop effective services. Around 500 women were interviewed.

They appointed me as the executive director three years after I joined SEPA Mujer, and one of my biggest achievements is keeping the organization economically stable. This project provides a lot of support to those women who are alone and seek to empower themselves. We’re a big family.

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