SAHAARA will Help One Life at a Time

Office Bearers of SAHAARA at the inauguration. Left to right, Veera Mookerjee, treasurer; Dr. Tanzia Mustafa, President; Reshma Shah, Vice President; and Shahorin Manzoor, Secretary at SAHAARA clinic, Astoria, NY. Photo: courtesy Veera Mookerjee

South Asian Health Association and Resource Agency, SAHAARA, a not-for-profit organization, was inaugurated Sunday, October 31st in Astoria, Queens by Council Member-elect Shekhar Krishnan who emphasized the need for awareness of mental health issues in the community which can be addressed by organizations like SAHAARA, he said.  With a tag line, “Helping One Life at a Time”, SAHAARA aims to do just that.

The inaugural event was well attended by professionals and other organizations working in the field including Community Service Society, an important organization in New York, India Home, Resolveera, Premier Adult Daycare, Renew Therapy, Aaide Book, inc. and other individuals.  SAHAARA ( is located at 81-07 Astoria Boulevard, Astoria, NY 11370.

With a mission to provide both direct and referral services to medically underserved South Asian community, SAHAARA, will undertake mental health counseling, conduct educational and awareness workshops for people of all ages.  It will work with other organizations as a resource agency, forming an unofficial coalition with all who work in the field.

Attendees at the inauguration of SAHAARA. Photo:
Courtesy Reshma Shah

The brainchild of few licensed social workers, the organization leade rship, all women, have observed and experienced the need for counseling in the South Asian community and shared a deep desire to do something about it.  President Dr. Tanzia Mustafa, M.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine.  Vice President Reshma Shah, a New York State licensed Social Worker, has twenty years of experience in the field in the U.S..  She is currently working at the University Settlement Organization, one of the largest groups that teams up with neighborhoods to provide a variety of services, including mental health counseling.  Treasurer Veera Mookerjee is a licensed Social Worker and Therapist.  Holding a doctorate degree in Social Work, she heads Resolveera organization and runs her private consultancy.  Secretary Shahorin Manzoor holds a Masters degree in Social Work and has a long experience with children and families.

Council Member Shekhar Krishnan speaks at the inauguration of SAHAARA, as Veera Mookerjee looks on. Dr. Mustafa and Manzoor look on.
Courtesy: Veera Mookerjee

“Most of us had worked with Dr. Mustafa or Dr. Rahman,” Shah said, speaking to Desi Talk.  The organization was the dream of Dr. Rahman, who is no longer alive, Shah said.  “The good part of teamwork is that they have all worked together at some time or other,” Shah said. “We know each other. We have worked with each other. We know each other’s clinical and psychiatric skills and are comfortable with each other,” Shah said, adding they all are looking forward to being able to really do something in the community.  She said SAHAARA has come about because of the passion for sharing their knowledge and abilities with the community, to help and to provide support. “All of us are in other jobs. We are not doing this to earn money. This is what we want to do,” Shah said.

The eager team already started working before the certification process and conducted educational and awareness workshops at India Home, Premier Social Adult Day Care in Hempstead, Long Island, and Sanctuary for Families which works on domestic violence, and sharing their resources with other organizations.  One of the first important things SAHAARA has done is to educate people about vaccination, alerting them about the need for them and influencing their favorable decision.

Speaking of SAHAARA’s relevance, Shah said that mental health issues are still a stigma in the community. “There is a fear that exists due to gross misrepresentation of mental health issues and counselors in films and other media, keeping people away from seeking help,” Shah said.  Dr. Veera Mookerjee told Desi Talk, “South Asian community has many confusions and problems, but they need to open the door for help to come in and we are just knocking on the doors,” she said.

The ceremonial lighting of the lamp at the inauguration of SAHAARA. Photo:
Courtesy Veera Mookerjee.

Shah said the situation is a little better now.  “A few years back South Asians would not get help till the problem escalated and they ended up in the hospitals,” Shah said.  “Now people come in time for consultation seeking help.” “Now the primary care physicians refer them for counseling.  And they also get references from friends and family who have someone or other who sought help,” Shah said.  “It is at this point where we come in.  We want our community to feel trust and confidence that they will not be out for a ride, that there is help,” Shah said.

“SAHAARA is perfectly placed to provide this much needed service for the South Asian community. Very often these issues in our communities are not discussed and families and individuals are unaware that there is help available – and that is culturally competent and in their language,” said Ayaz Ahmed of the Community Service Society of New York to Desi Talk.

The team members of SAHAARA are all bi-lingual, or multi-lingual, speaking English, Bangla, Hindi, and Urdu, according to Shah.  “But we would like to reach out to the other language speakers, including Spanish, in the area,” Shah said.

SAHAARA is located in the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights, Woodside, Astoria and East Elmhurst in Queens. “It is close to LaGuardia airport, and is accessible by many buses from Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Woodside, and other areas in Queens,” Mookerjee informed Desi Talk. “There is also a parking lot nearby.  And unlike other areas in Queens, street parking can be found quite easily.  So the location and distance of our facility should not prove a deterrent to getting help,” she added.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here