Dr. Geetanjali Chopra – Wishes and Blessings

I started my career 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 down this path

An ambiguous mix of excitement and nervousness is what I recall being the overwhelming sentiment when I first established Wishes and Blessings in April 2014. A decision taken completely from my heart at the cost of leaving a successful career and raised eyebrows from loved ones; this step was the foundation towards making a childhood dream come true. 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 lack of exposure to resources, they may suffer even greater losses. On the other end of the spectrum there are people 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.

Most NGOs focus only on a couple of focal areas – education or health and sanitation or environment, etc. Wishes & Blessings, on the other hand does not restrict itself to any single cause or beneficiary type. Anybody who needs help and who 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 to 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.

Recently, we have launched our first old age home for women, 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.

Dr. Geetanjali Chopra | Founder Wishes and Blessings

Chandrajeet Kumar Gupta-Slums to School

Change is difficult, no one wants it. So, we make ourselves believe that we are content and complete; ensconced in our illusionary world where we have a truce with the time that ‘changes’ should not pierce our walls. This was the case, with parents of the slum children in  Chankayapuri Bihar, even in the 21st century they still believed, that children are an extra earning hand and education is a luxury which they could not afford.

I am Chandrajeet Kumar Gupta, founder of a campaign called ‘Slums to School’. The program aims to sensitize the parents of slum children and make the tectonic shift in their mentality so that, their children could have their right which is ‘Education’.

It all started when I was conducting a research to assess the enrolment of slum children in the nearby government schools, which are plenty in number. I was disappointed with my results because out of 300 eligible age students, only 90 or 30% were attending the schools regularly. The enrolment ratio drops further in higher classes as the pressure of income requirement from parents and family mounts. After the research was completed, I was convinced that problem was not the lack of accessibility (plenty of government schools nearby), or affordability of education centers (under RTE, education is free till the age of fourteen) or even the motivation (mid-day meal schemes, free stationery, uniforms etc). The problem ran deeper, it was what we read in our textbooks – the backward ‘mentality’ of the parents. We were fighting the age-old monster of backward thinking which keeps the vicious cycle of poverty wheeling and I realized knight in shining armor is ‘awareness’; awareness that education is the only way out of poverty. I put in a team of four volunteers and three teachers and we campaigned in the slums to convince the parents to send their children to school and do not pressurize them into dropping out just to become an extra earning hand.

We organized discussion camps where parents of non-school going children engaged with the parents of school going children. This way they can understand the perspective and benefit of sending children to schools directly from their own people, who face the same difficulties, dilemmas and circumstances.

After two months of successful campaigning, we were able to convince 50% of parents to send their children to nearby schools. Now, 270 children up from 90 earlier are enrolled in nearby government schools. We also perform a routine attendance check to ensure the children are attending classes regularly and we arrange for extra help by tying up with various NGOs which can counsel and teach these students to secure good grades.

The success of this campaign has instilled confidence in me that yes change can happen, though only gradually and it needs continuous reinforcement. Now, I am teaming up volunteers from IIT Delhi and IIT Kanpur to take this campaign to other slum areas in Delhi and I plan to do the same for all colleges of Delhi University.

To scale up my project and convert it in a registered NGO, I decided to take up hands-on experience by working with other NGOs. So, I worked with NGO ‘Make a Difference’ for a complete year as the Academic support volunteer, post which I received fellowship wherein I work as City Manager for ‘Transition Readiness and Aftercare’ vertical. Till now, I have worked for many organizations like YES Foundation, SarthakPrayas, Their world and Commonwealth Youth Council.

We are lucky that we belong to a privileged class. We may not realize that, but there are people who with no fault of their own fall in the cracks of unjustified differences in the social system and never even know what it is like to have ‘privileges’. It is the time we all took a step and shared our privileges with them.

Chandrajeet Kumar Gupta| Founder- Slums to School

Akash Tandon- Pehchan School

My name is Akash Tandon, an engineer by education, a digital marketer by profession, a social worker by interest and an artist by heart. I am working on social issues since last five years and I am currently running a slum school with the name Pehchan, which works for underprivileged children in a small slum of Delhi.

After volunteering for a number of social causes like women empowerment, children education and working with organizations like India against Corruption for almost three years; I decided to dedicate all my energies for one cause in particular- ‘Education of underprivileged children’. One fine day, I received a call from my friend who was overwhelmed to do something for the same cause and we started to discuss when, where and how of making it happen. After some research, we decided on where! It was ‘Anna-Nagar’, an area which lacked access to even proper toilets back in the day and ironically happens to be right behind the most elite social world organization – World Health Organisation. Such inequality to exist, at the periphery of the righteous state, seemed unfair at so many levels. With curiosity and a bucket full of questions, we went inside that slum to see how one of the largest slums of Delhi is operating. We met many people and all our discussions further cemented our belief and idea that we were headed in the right direction.

The idea was to inspire people – people with access to high-quality education – to take it upon them and make education accessible to those who are denied it. We decided we should be the first one to give these children ‘Pehchan’ and we made our first engagement – teaching a batch of 5 students without any roof to cover our heads or any infrastructure except the roads to sit on. As the day went, people started recognizing our efforts and they appreciated our mission and realized how difficult it must be to manage a class on road. And like a Christmas miracle, the slum people gave us an empty temple as a haven to take this noble cause forward. Our journey started with less than 5 volunteers and 10 children but in last 2.5 years, we have grown to more than 200 students and 60 volunteers. The biggest highlight was a recent event organized by ‘Pehchan group’ on Diwali. The event saw the participation of 60+ active volunteers who helped in organizing and conducting a fun-filled event like dance and quiz competitions with children and saw the donation of stationary, clothes, school bags on a massive scale. Also, 25 students from ‘Pehchan’ school went to secure admission in good primary schools for the first time in their family’s history.

We are an unregistered group and it has been really difficult for us to find donors and volunteers. Despite this, we have been able to sustain a large group of 60+ volunteers and received recognition on social media and newspapers. We are in the process of completing our registration and I am confident that this 2.5 years of hard work will pay off.

The mission of ‘Pehchan’ is to inspire people around us that education is the birthright of every child and we take the onus on us to make it accessible to them. A volunteer from our team implemented this idea in personal space as well and now he teaches children of house-maids and security guards on weekends. I want each one of us to become that story, because we can only bring so many ‘Pehchan’ schools to every street of Delhi and world, if and only if, all of us decide to give ‘Pehchan’ to every child who deserves it. Come let us make education viral.

Akash Tandon| Pehchan, The Street School