Dr. Ali Khwaja: A Mental Health Expert Who Has Been Assisting People In Overcoming Their Struggles For The Last Three Decades
Dr. Ali Khawaja was born into a family whose seven generations had served in the government. His dad was in the civil services, and the same was expected from Dr. Khwaja. But life had other, more extensive plans for him.
He completed his B.Tech from IIT Bombay but confessed engineering wasn’t his passion. He later worked with his friend, who had set up his fertilizer factory for two years but left it too. He moved on to starting a printing press where he would write stories about people and their life in Hyderabad. He called the paper “Hyderabad- the City.” But that too soon was shut down due to low finances.
From there began the journey of being one of India’s best counselors, Dr. Ali Khwaja. He recalls being a good listener from childhood. How would his sister and her friends confide in their problems, tell him their secrets, and unload all their worries? This might have been the seed for him to be a counselor later. Then, in 1989, Dr. Lakshmi visited Hyderabad from Madras to conduct a workshop of three days for training volunteers and teaching them counseling skills. Dr. Khwaja recalls it being beneficial and giving him valuable skills in counseling.
Later in 1990, Dr. Khwaja shifted to Bangalore, where he met Alice Saldanha. She had initiated a free counseling center called “Helping Hand.” It was an informal counseling center where 12 volunteers would provide counseling. Among the 12, most of them were Alice’s friends. In 1992 she handed the center to Dr. Ali Khwaja as she was getting old and couldn’t manage. At that time, Dr. Ali Khwaja worked for a construction company named “Banjara.”
Dr. Khwaja and his friends began a counseling training course at Banjara after several people told him they wanted to learn counseling skills. At the start, it began as a three-day workshop. And later, it started turning into a longer duration of training with certification, and recently, even online training has been conducted.
Working for the Cause
Seeing the growing need for counseling in India and the lack of mental health awareness in India, he wanted to focus on the mission entirely. So, just three years later, in 1995, Dr. Ali Khwaja closed down his construction business to give everything to the counseling center. He completed his Ph.D. in Counselling and Behavioral Sciences in 1997.
He says life as a counselor may not bring any esteem or big awards, but it does not matter to him. He explains how our education system never teaches us how to deal with emotional turmoil and how it prepares us for everything but the ups and downs of life. And how some people take extreme steps to end their lives in such circumstances. His mission through Banjara is to let such people know that there is someone for them who is here to listen to them and help. He says they might be unable to help everyone with their problems, but they still try to give them direction.
This academy is now the sole mission of his life, and his love and compassion for others drive it. The academy has trained over 5000 counselors and guided thousands of people on their mental health. However, they have never kept any record to ensure 100% privacy for their clients.
The trained candidates by the academy work all over India in NGOs, government bodies, hospitals, and other counseling centers. He comments that an actual counselor is like a mental mirror. Who does not judge but only shows the truth as it is. A counselor might need to guide people through different problems, from depression and anxiety to their struggle with career expectations or sexual identity.
There are 25 counselors in the academy who work on a rotational basis. The free counseling services are extended to 9 public hospitals, which work with the help of 300 volunteers who work with the organization.
In recent years, mental health has emerged as a critical issue in India, with rising levels of stress, anxiety, and depression affecting people of all ages and backgrounds. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the need for mental health support, with many people struggling to cope with the challenges posed by the pandemic.
Dr. Khwaja’s work has never been more important than it is today. As the demand for mental health services continues to grow, his dedication to promoting mental health and well-being inspires us all.
In conclusion, Dr. Ali Khwaja’s journey from an ex-IITian to a mental health expert and founder of Banjara Academy is remarkable. His work has helped countless people cope with life’s challenges and achieve greater happiness and fulfillment. His compassionate and holistic approach to mental health has earned him the title of “unsung hero,” His dedication to promoting mental health and well-being continues to inspire us all.