- The Washington Times - Monday, October 3, 2005

GANDHINAGAR, India — Until recently, Madhavi Patel came to work each evening at a call center in western India, put on her headset and American accent and spent the night taking calls from Americans about their credit cards.

Then, Hurricane Rita hit.

The call center, run by Effective Teleservices of Lufkin, Texas, set up a hot line for victims of the hurricane, and Miss Patel and more than 240 of her colleagues began long days and nights fielding thousands of calls from frantic, scared people affected by the storm half a world away.

The employees at the call center in Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat state, are giving Texas residents information about relief operations and where to get food, gasoline and shelter, said center director Jim Iyoob, a former Texan.

The center was receiving 20 to 25 calls an hour, he said, adding that some workers had not gone home for days.

One call came from a couple who drove about 60 miles with their children to flee the oncoming hurricane but ran out of gasoline and were stuck for six hours.

The hot line directed them to a gas station a few miles away, Mr. Iyoob said.

The couple later called back to thank the call center operators, he said.

In recent years, hundreds of Western companies have cut costs by farming out software development, engineering design and call center work to countries where workers are paid considerably less than their counterparts in the United States and Europe.

India is the master of outsourcing, receiving about 40 percent of the business — a fact that has sown resentment in the United States and Western Europe.

Miss Patel, 23, insisted that helping others was more important than any public relations benefit to the call centers.

“We have taken up the responsibility to save people’s lives, but we are not here to see our names printed in newspapers,” she said.

Mr. Iyoob, a member of the company’s board, said employees were given two hours of training before the hot line opened.

“Once upon a time, years back, I used to live in Texas and never thought that being in Gujarat in India, I would be able to give it something in return,” he said.

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