Linking Donors With Beneficiaries, Dr. Geetanjali Grants The Underprivileged Wishes & Blessings
- IWB Post
- May 7, 2018
Wishes & Blessings started by helping visually impaired children and from there they have moved on to working with orphans and gradually old age homes. In a conversation with Indian Women Blog, Dr. Geetanjali Chopra, founder of the Wishes and Blessings foundation, talks about her unique platform that helps the underprivileged by linking donors with beneficiaries.
She talks about all the innovative programs that she has designed keeping in mind the requirements of the beneficiaries as well as those of the donors. She also shares about what she is most passionate about these days, working on improving the quality of life for the abandoned elderls in our society. Excerpts from the conversation:
Wishes and Blessings is a unique platform that helps the underprivileged by linking donors with beneficiaries. Do tell us more about this?
Wishes and Blessings is based on a very simple philosophy. Many of us have some unfulfilled wishes in our life, and some of us are more blessed in terms of helping others fulfill their wishes and what we get in return are blessings; hence the name Wishes & Blessings. The world is divided into people who need help and people who can help. This help could be of any kind – medical assistance, financial aid, nutritional support, rehabilitation, etc. but in times of emergencies, these people may not really know where to go or whom to approach for assistance.
Many times because of this lack of knowledge on their part and exposure to resources, they may suffer even greater losses. On the other end of the spectrum are people who are competent and blessed enough to help others, and often these people do not know how to connect with those who genuinely need assistance. They may also be a bit averse because they aren’t sure if the money is going to the right hands. So this is where Wishes & Blessings as a platform connects the help seekers with the help givers. We are a forum to oversee the connection between the donors and beneficiaries and makes sure that this connection is sustainable.
What was your inspiration or story behind your decision to leave your career to start your own NGO?
Talking about my career, I started in the field of journalism and then I took on to academics and finished my Ph.D. in International Politics from JNU. I’ve written a couple of books, used to travel the world attending conferences and basically did what I enjoyed doing. But I felt that little streak of satisfaction missing in my endeavor, which you get while doing something for others. The seed for social work was planted in early childhood when I used to visit schools for the visually impaired with my family during my birthday.
During one such visit, a child asked me a question regarding his birthday, and for some reason, the feelings exchanged during that conversation stuck with me for many years. We realized that we as privileged individuals take our birthdays for granted. Years later, in 2014 when I went back to the same school, the children wanted to play Holi. I pooled in some money with a few of my colleagues and arranged a holiday party for the children. The happiness that I experienced then was life-altering, and that was my first tryst with social work, and since then I have continued on this path.
Tell us about the different programs that your NGO has undertaken and the beneficiaries of Wishes and Blessings?
Most NGOs focus only on a couple of focal areas – education or health and sanitation or environment, etc. Wishes & Blessings, on the other hand, based on the philosophy that we work on, does not restrict itself to any particular causes or beneficiary type. Anybody who needs and can help is a member of the Wishes & Blessings family. We have never said no to anybody who has come to us for any aid and also people who want to help others. We also keep on designing new projects and customize bespoke projects depending on the wishes of both the beneficiaries and the donors. Going by this mode, we currently work on 9 causes – education, vocational training, health and hygiene, food program, a unique infrastructural program called Build A Dream, customization of bespoke projects and finally we have a very interesting cause that we work on called happiness.
A lot of people say that it cannot be a cause, it can be an end, but for us, happiness is something that we work for. Our flagship project is called Birthday Manao, which is a monthly celebration with visually impaired children. Apart from this we have the Daily Meal Initiative, Sponsor a childhood program, Journey to a New Class, etc.
Like your innovative projects for the beneficiaries, how do you keep your donors engaged?
In addition to what we do for our beneficiaries, we also have specific programs and initiatives for our donors. One of our most interesting projects is the Lady’s Charity Group where women who usually do not find much time to experience immersive social work, collectively donate money on a monthly basis. Another project which deserves mention is our bespoke project where we customize initiatives to fulfill the donation needs of our donors as well as meet the requirements of the beneficiaries. For instance, we connected a family who lost their mother to diabetes with a highly diabetic orphan child requiring medical and financial aid. So we were able to facilitate this connection.
Due to poor management and untrained staff, an old age home is a dreaded place. What was your experience in this area?
We started working with an NGO called Gurukul, which is a home for destitute people. We came in contact with Ravi Kalra, who now runs this institution when he was forced to vacate his home which had caught fire, and he was living in a farmland. Our institution joined hands and did everything we could to work for the people he was working for. We constructed a Wishes & Blessings shed within the farmland. Slowly Ravi started bringing in a lot of abandoned people into the premises, and the management went for a toss because people who are psychologically disturbed as they were abandoned were kept in the same room as a people who were suffering from infections and that is when I realized that something more meaningful needs to be done. So we continued supporting Ravi for about 3 years, but you see charity is a noble deed until a seed of suspicion is planted towards somebody’s intentions, so then we disassociated with Gurukul.
Post which we did some extensive research for about a year and the findings were absolutely shocking. That’s when we started our old age home called Mann ka Tilak, which we want to make into a home away from home and not an ashram. We aim to give people who come there a life full of dignity and respect. We plan to accommodate 15 people right now, gain experience in this area and then expand to a chain of homes pan-India.
We have heard about “Sponsor a child” programs, but Wishes and Blessings has a “Sponsor a Teacher” project too. Could you tell us more about this?
When we talk about Sponsor, a Teacher, it gives an opportunity for a person to get employed and for a child to get a teacher. So we try and hire people from a lower economic background who need help, people who we have trained in vocational training and people who have proved themselves to be good teachers, to come and teach our children. So when someone is sponsoring a teacher, all that the person does is give the monthly salary and that one salary can end up benefiting 15 to 20 students.
Do you think NGOs such as yours are getting enough support from the Government? If not what changes would you like to see?
Personally we haven’t approached the government for any support, so I haven’t experienced anything firsthand, but generally speaking, I think a little more empathy from the departments towards NGOs is definitely required. The general outlook towards NGOs needs to change, though there is a certain level of skepticism considering that a few NGOs have been associated with fraudulent activities, all are not that way. I feel the government should be receptive towards that fact that some NGOs are doing excellent work and they do deserve a chance.
There are a lot of cases of illegal shelter homes and child trafficking. How do you think can this problem be addressed/solved?
Apart from this, there are also cases of drug abuse, robbery, etc. There is no single solution, but the root of it I think is education and it needs to go hand in hand with complementary initiatives such as health and nutrition. We have been able to do our little bit in this sector. We started working in Nizamuddin, which is a drug-infested region, we took street children from the vicinity and put them in a home with one of our partners.
We brought in a TV, installed some swings, got a water cooler, painted the entire premises. So these children got a safe home to live in and along with that got food and introduced education. We started with around 30 children, and now we have 70 children out of which close to 60 go to school. In this way, with proper management, we helped this child find a life away from the world of drug that their previous surroundings were immersed in.
There are roughly 3.7 million NGOs worldwide with an estimated 2 million of them in India. Despite having so many organizations to help the underprivileged, why do you think the state of India is still so pitiful?
The primary reason is that not all NGOs are entirely functional. Many times we see corporates making their own foundations to cater to their CSR needs and sometimes using it as a farce. Many times people just register a society or trust to evade taxes. On the other hand there are really sincere NGOs which have helped transform the lives of the needy. So I wouldn’t say that NGOs don’t work, but it definitely is a slow journey, and that is how it should be, to ensure the best possible outcome.
In conclusion, what are your future plans for Wishes and Blessings?
Yes, like any other organizations, we do have huge aspirations to touch more lives. When we started out, I did everything almost single-handedly, today we have over 10 full-time people, 10 staff members and scores and scores of volunteers, so yes we are growing in numbers. Work-wise, we want to continue our association in all these various fields. But our agenda nowadays is to work in the field of geriatrics. We just launched Mann Ka Tilak, and we aim to start a chain of old age homes across India because I sincerely believe that they do deserve a life of dignity and respect.