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Monday, May 19, 2014

Article on Aasra in Moneylife magazine, may 2014 issue

Despite the erroneous spelling of Aasra (Asra and Aasara in body copy) and origin story this is a decent enough article

Moneylife » NGO that helps the depressed, lonely, in despair, or prone to suicide
NGO that helps the depressed, lonely, in despair, or prone to suicide
QUEENCY RAICHADA | 15/05/2014 02:24 PM |   
Helping the depressed, lonely and people prone to suicides, by providing confidential care is what Aasara does 

Aasara means support or shelter in Hindi. It is also the name of a crisis-interventioncentre which works at “preventing and managingmental illness by providing voluntary, professional and essentially confidential care and support to the depressed & the suicidal.” Aasara was started in 1998 when the number of suicides was rising inexplicably. This not-for-profit organisation located at Koparkhairane (Navi Mumbai) has been acting as a pillar of support for the depressed, lonely, in despair, or prone to self-destruction.
Aasara believes that every life is precious and worth saving. So it helps people fight depression and destructive tendencies in multiple ways—it has a listening service and a free 24X7 phone service. It is accessible by email or even face-to-face meetings. Since Aasara is a unit of Befrienders Worldwide/Samaritans, a UK-based charity, it has access to an international network that includes Volunteer Emotional Support Helplines (VESH), LifelineInternational and the International Federation of Telephone Emergency Services (IFOTES); these help in increasing Aasra’s reach and efficiency.
Back in the 1990s, people staying in the far away suburbs of Mumbai required to make a long-distance call, which was expensive and a deterrent for those in emotional distress. This prompted Johnson Thomas, director of Aasara and a writer to set up Aasara as a crisis intervention centre with 36 passionate volunteers.
Apart from helplines, Aasara conducts street plays to spread the message that suicide is an irreversible response to a reversible condition and that prevention of suicide is everybody’s responsibility. It also conducts workshops in schools, because over-burdened 

students are often under family pressure to perform, especially during exams, making 
them more susceptible to drastic actions. Aasara has joined hands with Satya Sai Baba 
Trust to provide emotional support to farmers and Antara NGO empowering and providing skill training to young adults. Along with the Navi Mumbai NGO Forum, it is involved in conducting seminars for women, anti-tobacco campaigns, HIV/AIDS awareness programmes and health melas in colleges. These activities have helped increase its geographical spread to reach out to many more people for its life-saving activities.
Over the years, it has expanded—from being available for just six to seven hours, to working round the clock. The number of calls received by the helpline has also increased 10-fold—from six or seven to around 60 to 70 a day—from India as well as abroad sometimes.
Mr Thomas says, “It feels great to have Aasara as the first listing when anything related to suicide is searched on the Internet. This Search engine optimisation (SEO) rating assures us that all the hard work has been worth it!” Moreover, famous TV shows and news channels, such as Crime Patrol, CNN-IBN7, NDTV and now Moneylife magazine, have reached out helping it serve the society better. Aasara was awarded the Maharashtra Ratna Gaurav Puraskar (in the NGO’s/activist category) in 2006 in recognition for its contribution to the society.
Like most NGOs, one of the main challenges Aasara faces is the lack of volunteers and donations. Mr Thomas says, “It is disappointing to see only 3-4 volunteers turn up for orientation sessions conducted on Sundays to attract potential volunteers. We all go through pain; some of us have people to help us and some don’t.” He feels that, as a society, we are unwilling to donate time or money. Hence, people doing genuine work struggle to make ends meet. Students and youngsters are not encouraged to volunteer, because studies are of primary importance, but our tragedy is that very few senior citizens and retirees are also willing to devote time in a consistent manner to good causes. Mr Thomas makes a strong pitch for volunteering.
Donations to Aasara are tax-exempt under Section 80-G.

104, Sunrise Arcade
Plot No. 100, Sector 16 
Navi Mumbai - 400709
Tel: 022-27546667

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