SAHARA Empowers Victims, One Step at a Time

At SAHARA’s (South Asian Helpline And Referral Agency’s) annual fundraiser in September 2013, a ‘desi’ couple stood before the audience and shared their story of being on the brink of a divorce because of abuse and misunderstandings.  They shared how SAHARA’s therapist worked with them and now they are a happy, healthy family unit; their world is intact.  Another couple sent a card to SAHARA with a beautiful statement, “Thanks for fighting for our marriage harder than we were fighting for it!”

Twenty two years ago, the interactions of five licensed clinical social workers and two physicians with the South Asian diaspora at work and in the community, brought to surface the need for a culturally-sensitive support system. Sheer determination to provide a family-like support structure for the community led to the formation of SAHARA in 1991, which has grown from a kitchen-table to a garage, to a 10x12 office, and now to a 2400+ square feet office in the heart of Little India on Pioneer Boulevard, in Artesia, CA.

SAHARAserves the growing community of South Asians in Southern California by providing them with information, referrals, skills development and other culturally-sensitive support services needed to meet the unique challenges they face and also to deal with the personal crises of survivors of domestic violence.Under Project CARE (Counseling, Advocacy, Rehabilitation/Reintegration, Education) SAHARA provides a comprehensive array of services to help victims turn into survivors and lead a life free of fear and abuse.  The organization also works with couples willing to try to find a solution to improve their marital relationship. 

SAHARA established one of the first long-termshelter/transitional living homes in Southern California for South Asian survivors of domestic violence. NamedSAWIN (South Asian Women In Need), this home strives to provide a culturally-sensitive residential home for healing, recovery and making second attempts to find happiness in life as they take steps towards self-sufficiency.

A physician and her daughter shared their eloquent story recently at a SAHARA event, “I was at my wit’s end. I was a medical doctor in India and I gave it all up to get married. Little did I know that the man I was marrying was an abusive, sick man. He isolated us, controlled me financially, and physically, and abused me mentally, sexually and in every way possible. My life was a hell and one day I knew that I had to either escape or I would die. SAHARA made it possible for my daughter and me to live in a shelter and get the tender loving care, and the guidance and support that we needed to rebuild our lives. The details of my story are unimportant, but what is important is that an organization such as SAHARA exists and because of them today my daughter, a beautiful young lady now, and I live in a free, independent and joyous little world of our own. I work and support both of us.”


SAHARA served 183 victims of domestic violence last year, provided 383 hours of therapeutic counseling, 8,476 hours of client case management and addressed 152 legal issues such as restraining orders, child custody, child visitation, etc.

SAHARA’s SEWA (South Asian Elder Wellness Assistance) program aims at reducing barriers to care and to promote health and wellness for South Asian seniors.  It provides health benefits eligibility screening and enrollment, education classes such as computer literacy, financial training, conversational English, and psychotherapy to address issues such as social isolation and depression. 

A senior citizen shared this story at the SAHARA fundraiser, “I had no place to go. My wife was in a coma. The doctors did not understand my language or I theirs. I was shattered, but determined that the illness would not get the better of us. Then I met SAHARA and was just completely blown away by how they stepped in and walked this walk with me, translating, providing support, making phone calls and appointments, etc.  SAHARA is my family away from home; sometimes not even family does this much. Today my wife is better. She has help from Home Health and a doctor who understands our language and culture. Today all I can say to SAHARA is “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”


Another program YES (Youth Ensemble of SAHARA) offers a summer internship program that focuses on building healthy relationships to not only break the cycle of violence, but also sow seeds of awareness so that the initiation of this cycle does not take place.This six week summer internship program for ages 15 to 19 brings forth topics such as various types of abuse, recognizing signs of abuse, resources available for help, healthy vs. unhealthy relationships, etc. and aims at creating youth ambassadors against domestic violence.   During the program participants can choose to create a short film or artistic demonstration such as a dance, song or street-play to inform the general public about the significance of the community’s voice against violence in relationships.

SAHARA is a 501(c) (3) organization that provides all services free of charge.  An organization cannot survive without the community’s confidence in the impact it creates.  SAHARA remains immensely grateful to the community and numerous grantors who believe in its work and continue to support it year after year.

Rekha 	Bajaria
Rekha Bajaria
President, SAHARA
SAHARA serves the growing community of South Asians in Southern California by providing them with information, referrals, skills development and other culturally-sensitive support services needed to meet the unique challenges they face.