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Lending a Helping Hand

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Imam Abubakar Abdullahi
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“Helping Hand’s mission is to raise volunteers, not funds,” says Dr. Ali Khwaja. “We believe that empathy, compassion, reaching out, listening and understanding are the greatest gifts one human being can give to another.


By Yoginder Sikand

If you live in Bangalore and want to spend even just 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, it has grown into a network of some 300 Bangaloreans from different walks of life who take out a bit of 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 and previous experience. There is no compulsion, and any volunteer is free at any time to ask for a change or to drop out. However, once they get involved, most volunteers prefer to continue because of the deep inner satisfaction they get.
“Helping Hand was started by the late Alice Saldanha,” relates the Honorary Director of the organization, Dr. Ali Khwaja, who also heads the Banjara Academy, one of India’s topmost counseling training centres. “She started off the work in her garage, where people who wanted someone whom they could share their emotional pain with would drop in.” Over the years, the counseling became more professional, as Dr. Khwaja, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology and one of the country’s best-known counselors and author of repute, took over. Today, some 20 trained counselors volunteer for Helping Hand, offering free counseling 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 counseling at the

Banjara Academy.
Someone to Hear Them Out
“We get anything between 5 and 15 people coming to the centre every day seeking counseling. Often, all that they need is someone to hear them out. In many cases, the underlying issue is emotional, but people also come for career and educational counseling. Many come to discuss marital issues and difficult relationships. We do counseling over the phone and through email as well,’ explains Dr. Khwaja.
But you don’t have to be a trained counselor 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 counseling skills, and would also volunteer at the Baptist Hospital.”

Volunteers in Hospitals
Most Helping Hand volunteers volunteer at one or more hospitals across Bangalore, including NIMHANS, St. Johns’ 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 talk and discussion, open to the general public, on an issue related to human behavior. These talks help upgrade volunteers’ skills while providing an opportunity for them to interact with each other and to mobilize more volunteers.

Sense of Fulfillment and Satisfaction
Helping Hand does not get any government or non-government funding, foreign aid, or subscriptions, and nor does it sell any products or services. None of its services are charged. “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”, Dr. Khwaja explains. For Helping Hand volunteers, the time they give to help others provides them a tremendous sense of fulfillment 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.” n
(To know more about Helping Hand, contact Purnima Ganesh (co-ordinator) on [email protected] or call 080-23535787)