Interview by Pankhuri Kumar
The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Dr Geetanjali Chopra, the founder of the NGO, Wishes and Blessings is here to inspire us and give an insight into her life, which is filled with empathy, commitment and a desire to serve the underprivileged. Let’s learn how to achieve inner satisfaction and become a happy person in the true sense from her. She shares her first hand experience in figuring out her passion and spreading smiles . Through her work, Dr Geetanjali conveys the message that if you are able to transform other lives, only then you can call your existence meaningful. So now, let’s dive into her journey and promise ourselves to help her in accomplishing her dream.
Hello Dr Geetanjali. Would you like to share with our readers a brief introduction of your NGO, Wishes and Blessings?
The idea behind the organization is simple- some of us are more blessed in terms of access to resources, and there are some who are less privileged, who have unfulfilled ‘wishes’. Wishes and Blessings brings these two categories together, so that those who are blessed can help fulfil the wishes of the less fortunate. Wishes and Blessings was started by me in 2014 and the NGO cuts across barriers of age and gender to help those who need it the most. The organization is a unique platform that connects donors and beneficiaries. Our motto is, ‘inspire and empower dreams’, and therefore we do not have a single focus area but 9 causes among which are infrastructure, education and hygienic food. As we grow we are adding to our causes. One of our most recent additions to the causes is care for the abandoned elderly of Delhi/NCR.
Academia to Journalism and back to Academia and then finally, your childhood dream of doing Social Work. What pushed you to achieve your childhood dream?
The seeds of doing social work were sown in me at a very young age. Philanthropy runs in my family, and my grandfather played a large role in encouraging me and my brother to give back to society. It was a specific incident that finally pushed me to take that plunge. As a child I used to go to a school for the visually impaired with my grandfather on special occasions. On one such occasion, one child asked me a very specific question, which has haunted me to this day. It was a very innocent question- When is my birthday? This shook me to my core. 9-year-old me could not understand how someone did not know when their birthday was! I then realized that most of us take birthday celebrations for granted but many children do not even know their birth dates. I think it was then that I made the decision to do my best to spread smiles, that whatever I would do in life, I would always try to help those who need it the most.
I did finish my bachelors from Lady Shri Ram College, and went on to get my Masters, M.Phil. and PhD. from Jawaharlal Nehru University. My education was based in journalism, international relations and political science. I travelled the world, studied in Italy and Netherlands, taught in India and abroad and published a book. I went on to work at Centre for Policy Research, a think-tank, for about 5 years. As a fellow my job was well-cushioned, came with its own privileges. It was considered an elite job and I travelled the world and participated in multiple conferences and seminars through the job. It was a happy life, but it felt mechanical after a point. There was something in me that longed for more; I lacked inner satisfaction.
I carried on this tradition of going to the school to celebrate festivals and special occasions with these children as I grew older. In 2014, another question was put to me that again changed my life. The visually impaired children asked me if I could help them play Holi! Again, I was left shaken- how could children who have difficulty seeing play such a visual festival like Holi? But I resolved to fulfil this wish of theirs, and the Holi of 2014 was a one that I will never forget. I gathered funds with the help of my colleagues at Centre for Policy Research and played Holi with about a 100 visually impaired children. The happiness that I felt, the joy that exuded from the children’s’ faces was incomparable. This pushed me to take a leap of faith and formally start something that would spread smiles and make dreams come true.
I finally found my calling in 2014, when Wishes and Blessings was instituted. The decision to leave Centre for Policy Research wasn’t easy. It did take two years to leave. From 2014-2016 I juggled working at CPR and Wishes and Blessings. It was in 2016 I chose to leave and devote all my time to Wishes and Blessings.
It is with this decision that I finally felt that I had found a way to meld my passion and my career.
Currently, you work with ‘orphanages, old age homes and shelters for the homeless’. Can you share the nature of your work and how it has impacted the beneficiaries?
We primarily work with linking donors and beneficiaries. We collect funds and these are used to further the nine causes. We never refuse help to anyone who needs it. One child at a time, one shelter at a time, and one of the most important goals is to bring about a change in people’s thinking.
Through our work we have impacted over 50,000 lives till date. Some of our other major accomplishments are:
- Successfully enrolled over 150 homeless children into MCD/NDMC schools through a programme called “Street to School” from 2015.
- Built public toilets for 300 people and 6 toilet units for Gurukul, an old age home in Gurgaon.
- Served over 4,50,000 freshly cooked nutritious meals to the homeless in Delhi/NCR since December 2015.
- Held a mass wedding for 14 underprivileged girls belonging to different communities in November 2016.
- Sponsored the education of more than 250 underprivileged, visually impaired children in private and semi-private schools of which 7 are rank holders.
- Fed 3 wholesome meals daily to more than 350 homeless people.
- Every winter we also hold a programme called “Ten Fridays Ten Drives” wherein every Friday starting December we hold a winter drive wherein we feed and clothe about 3000-4000 homeless in Delhi/NCR. We also supply any other form of aid that might be needed.
Your work is indeed very impactful and significant. However, like any other line of work, you must have your own set of challenges. What are the current challenges you are facing?
As it is with other NGOs, we are constantly on the lookout for ways to raise funds and to find sustainable donors. It is easy to find donors, but it is more difficult to find people with whom we can form sustainable relationships with and make them a part of the Wishes and Blessing family.
One of the more common challenges we face is the lack of trust that people have when it comes to dealing with NGOs. Very often NGOs are viewed as a front for money laundering, or are accused of not using funds appropriately. To tackle this, we have worked with complete transparency from day 1, and hold ourselves completely accountable.
Are you looking to associate with volunteers ? How can our readers reach out and apply to work with you?
We love having new volunteers, and they are treated equally as our employees. Each volunteer is encouraged to come up with an idea- whether it is for fundraising or a project that involves the children they work with, and they are in charge of the entire implementation.
We have school and college-going children as volunteers. Each person who is associated with the organization becomes a part of the Wishes and Blessings family. People who are interested in volunteering can reach out by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Where do you see Wishes and Blessings five years from now?
While we, as an organization, are growing in numbers, we are also growing in terms of causes. In the four years since we’ve been established, we have grown in leaps and bounds, and we aim to continue this growth in terms of our donor base as well as the number of beneficiaries we impact.
In April 2018 we launched our first home for the elderly called “Mann Ka Tilak”. Under this initiative we plan to house 15 old and destitute women, and all facilities will be provided free of charge.
This is the start of what we want to be a chain of old age homes across India.
As you are already pursuing your childhood dream, what advice do you have for our readers, who also want to do what they love?
I have a very simple philosophy- follow your heart, but make sure to bring your brain along. The balance and combination of the two makes you invincible. If you are passionate and ready to commit to your dream with complete dedication and transparency, the sky is your limit. The happiness and satisfaction you will experience will be next to none.
If you liked this interview, and would like to know about the lives of more awesome and inspiring folks, then head on over to our section on Inspiring Interviews! Share this interview with your friends and help the people at Wishes & Blessings get the recognition they deserve 🙂