Meet the IIT Graduate Who Runs a Free Counselling Centre for the Needy

Modern urban life, exciting and rewarding as it may be for many, brings its own share of problems. People feel isolated on being away from family, don’t have time to make lasting friends, and often feel depressed. Helping Hand volunteers counsel those who have no one else to turn to and provide support to mental health professionals as well. Read more about this unique organization.

If you live in Bangalore and want to spend even two or three hours a week doing something socially meaningful, Helping Hand might be just the place for you.

Started in the mid-1980s with a dozen or so volunteers, this organization has grown into a network of 300 odd Bangaloreans from different walks of life, who take out some time one day or more every week to lend a helping hand to others.

Anyone can be a Helping Hand volunteer, regardless of age, educational and social background, profession or previous experience. Volunteers work without compulsion and with a lot of flexibility — they are free to take up whatever work they like within the organization and are also free to drop out when and if they want.

However, once they get involved, most volunteers prefer to continue because of the deep inner satisfaction they get.

The organization provides counselling services to the needy for free.

The organization provides counselling services to the needy for free.

Helping Hand was started by the late Alice Saldanha,” recounts the honorary director of the organization, Dr. Ali Khwaja, who also heads Banjara Academy, a reputable counselling training centre. “She started the work in her garage, where people who wanted to meet someone whom they could share their emotional pain with would drop in.

Over the years, the counselling became more professional, as Dr. Khwaja, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology and one of the country’s best-known counsellors and authors of repute, took over.

Dr. Khwaja has taken the project to new heights.

Dr. Khwaja has taken the project to new heights.

Today, some 20 trained counsellors volunteer for Helping Hand, offering free counselling services at the organisation’s office in RT Nagar, located in the premises of the Banjara Academy.

Most of them have done one or more courses in counselling at the Banjara Academy.

“We get anywhere between 5 and 15 people at the centre every day seeking counselling. Often, all they need is someone to hear them out. In many cases, the underlying issue is emotional, but people also come for career and educational counselling. Many come to discuss marital issues and difficult relationships. We do counselling over the phone and through email as well,” explains Dr. Khwaja.

But you don’t have to be a trained counsellor to be a Helping Hand volunteer, even though several of the volunteers are. If you have a passion for helping people in need and for reaching out to others, that’s all the ‘qualification’ that you require to be part of the network.

Many Helping Hand volunteers are housewives or retired people. “Sadly, there are only a few youngsters. Some of our volunteers are in their 80s,” says Dr. Khwaja.

“We recently lost our eldest volunteer, S.R. Krishnamurthy, at the age of 91! Till a year or two ago, SRK would come every Monday to the centre to offer his counselling skills, and would also volunteer at the Baptist Hospital.”

The team is not looking for funds. They want to generate a huge network of volunteers.

The team is not looking for funds. They want to generate a huge network of volunteers.

Most Helping Hand volunteers spend time at one or more hospitals across Bangalore, including NIMHANS, St. John’s Hospital, St. Martha’s Hospital, Baptist Hospital, Mallya Hospital, Victoria Hospital, Bowring Hospital, MS Ramaiah Hospital, and Kidwai Institute of Oncology.

Some spend two or three hours one day a week at a hospital. Others spend up to five hours a day, five days a week at three or four different hospitals.

Volunteers play various roles in the hospitals. Some sit at the OPD front desk, helping patients fill in registration forms and providing information about doctors and visiting hours. Others visit patients in the wards, chatting with them and trying to cheer them up.

Yet others help out in the hospitals’ blood banks. Volunteers don’t receive any payment and they cover their own travel expenses. But they receive immense rewards in return — in the form of blessings, thanks, smiles, and acknowledgement every time they volunteer.

Once or more every month, Helping Hand arranges for talks and discussions, open to the general public, on an issue related to human behaviour. These talks help upgrade volunteers’ skills, while providing an opportunity for them to interact with each other and to mobilize more volunteers.

Helping Hand does not get any government or non-government funding, foreign aid, or subscriptions, and nor does it sell any products or services. All its services are free.

There is no professional quaification required to become a volunteer at Helping Hand. Anyone can become part of the journey.

There is no professional quaification required to become a volunteer at Helping Hand. Anyone can become part of the journey.

“Helping Hand’s mission is to raise volunteers, not funds,” says Dr. Khwaja.

“We believe that empathy, compassion, reaching out, listening, and understanding are the greatest gifts one human being can give to another, and we are proud to be humble conduits in this process.”

Many people are looking to give a meaning to their lives by really giving of themselves”, says Dr. Khwaja. For Helping Hand volunteers, the time they give to help others provides them a tremendous sense of fulfilment and satisfaction.

“Being a helping hand is my way of helping to heal myself, rather than others,” chips in a Helping Hand volunteer. “Sometimes, we wallow in self-pity, but when we interact with people whose problems are far more acute than our own, we are led to realize how fortunate we actually are and how small our problems really are.”

To know more about Helping Hand, contact Purnima Ganesh (co-ordinator) on [email protected] or call 080-23535787

Featured image source: sify.com, www.chhny.org

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Yoginder Sikand is a freelance writer.

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