This Philanthropists' Altruistic Organization has Touched over 10,00,000 lives
By: WE Staff | Friday, 10 February 2023
Dr Geetanjali Chopra, Founder & President, Wishes and Blessings is an academician, researcher, columnist, and a philanthropist with over ten years of experience in research and administration.
We all aspire to find our life’s ‘calling’. But only a lucky few reach a stage where they truly know what fulfills one’s life purpose.
For Dr Geetanjali Chopra, one such moment of clarity arrived while celebrating holi at a school for visually impaired children. She believes “visually impaired children gave me the vision for life and that is the path defining event.”
Formerly an academician, Dr Geetanjali founded Wishes and Blessings, an NGO that works for causes such as Accessible Education, Food for All, Customisable Charity, SOS Relief, Overall Cause of Happiness, and Elderly Care.
What began in 2014 as a support organization that worked to assist individuals and existing organizations has today left a lasting impact on the lives of thousands of people.
Through Wishes and Blessings’ Daily Meals Programme, over 53,01,945 meals have been served across 8 states in the country. The organization has catered to abused, homeless and abandoned senior citizens at our charitable home Mann Ka Tilak. Elderly beneficiaries from all over India seeking shelter at the organization’s 2 homes in Delhi and Vrindavan.
Over the course of eight years, Wishes and Blessings has established 5 day care centres throughout Delhi NCR, reaching over 500 children through its education projects like Sponsor a Childhood Programme and Street to School Programme. Out of this, 300 children are officially enrolled in MCD/NDMC schools. Over 3000 people are reached out to on a yearly basis through the Winter Relief Project to provide warmth and relief to the underprivileged. The number of beneficiaries of the Covid Relief Project exceeded 50,000 people.
Our beneficiary base multiplies on a regular basis and till date, the organisation has impacted over 10,00,000 lives since inception.
We speak to Dr Geetanjali about her moment of reckoning and much more.
You were an academician before founding Wishes and Blessings. What led you to switch careers and embark on a journey towards philanthropy? Can you recount a specific incident that acted as the turning point in your professional journey?
Before I embarked on my journey as a social entrepreneur and worker, I had the privilege of working as a Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. As I pursued my academic and vocational aspirations, I became acutely aware of my calling towards helping the underprivileged.
Being brought up in a loving family with values deeply rooted in spirits of altruism and selflessness, I have always believed in doing my part to make this world a better place. As a little girl, I often visited the school for visually impaired children with my grandfather and even as I grew up, I continued to carry on the tradition of visiting them from time to time.
A pivotal moment that had a lasting impression on me was when I returned a year after my grandfather passed away to commemorate his birth anniversary. After spending time with the children there, I asked the little ones if there was anything I could do for them as my grandfather would always ask. They responded saying they wished they could play Holi. It made me wonder, how a seemingly trivial thing as playing with colours, despite the fact that they were visually impaired would be one of their biggest wishes. On sharing the incident with my colleagues, I received immense support. We went back and celebrated Holi with the kids. I remember feeling exuberant and perfect contentment witnessing the contagious happiness that radiated in the eyes and spirit of the children as they played with the colours.
That was a striking point that began to shape my vision and eventually drove me to embrace my calling for life. Despite having faced raised eyebrows by family and friends on my reckoning to leave my highly prestigious career in exchange for my service to the marginalized, I followed my heart and in 2014, eventually went on to establish Wishes and Blessings- an NGO committed to uplifting the lives of the underprivileged.
Take us through the early days of Wishes and Blessings. What was your initial vision while founding the organization?
When I first founded Wishes and Blessings after having embraced my life-long instincts of philanthropy, back in April 2014, the primary vision was to spread smiles and make dreams come true. I often say that visually impaired people gave me my vision for life because of the way the organisation was formed after celebrating Holi with the visually impaired children.
During the earlier days, Wishes and Blessings was essentially a support organization that worked to assist individuals and existing organizations in spreading blessings and making dreams come true. The idea was just to help as many people as I could and to spread smiles wherever I go.
Tell us about the various causes that Wishes and Blessings addresses through its work?
The various areas of focus the NGO is working on are- Accessible Education, Food for All, Customisable Charity, SOS Relief, Overall Cause of Happiness, and Elderly Care.
One of the flagship projects of the organisation is the Daily Meals Programme under which meals and ration kits are provided to the underprivileged across 6 states in India. What started with just 40 people, today the NGO has just completed its XXVIIIth Phase which fed 3 meals to 1700 people on a daily basis.
Another pilot project is Mann Ka Tilak which is a charitable home to aid abused, homeless and abandoned senior citizens. As of date, the NGO has 2 old age homes, one in Delhi and the other in Vrindavan.
We also work towards laying the educational foundation for an underprivileged child’s future. This is made possible by incorporating various education projects like Sponsor a Childhood Programme and Street to School Programme.
There are numerous initiatives like -Birthday Manao, Special Treats and Festive Celebrations to ensure the overall happiness of our beneficiaries. We also undertake various SOS relief operations like the Nepal earthquake operation, Kashmir floods operation, COVID relief drives, flood, and fire reliefs. The team also carries out a Winter Relief Drive where every winter, we go out in the streets of Delhi NCR, Jharkhand and West Bengal to distribute blankets, shawls, socks, sweaters, jackets etc in an effort to provide warmth and relief to the underprivileged.
Which of the many causes supported by Wishes and Blessings is closest to your heart and why?
All the causes initiated and supported by Wishes & Blessings are extremely close to my heart because each cause that we work with has a story that I have personally experienced. I would liken the question to that of asking a parent to choose one favorite child amongst many, so it would be extremely unfair for me to pick one.
But if I were to name 2 causes that stand out, one is the Mann Ka Tilak old age home because it is an institution founded in memory of my late grandparents, with whom I shared a very strong relationship. And the other is the Daily Meals Programme because it was founded after I witnessed what hunger can do to a young child.
Month after month, and year after year, I have personally tried to expand the reach, and today we feed 1700 people across 6 states in the country. I must also mention that this is the one programme in which I am most personally involved in, whether it is in terms of programme execution, fundraising or interacting with the beneficiaries.
Can you give us a glimpse of the overall impact created by Wishes and Blessings in the lives of people it has touched so far?
What started as an organisation that aided the visually impaired has now evolved a tenfold and expanded to include orphans, the homeless, the elderly abandoned, destitute and basically everyone in dire need of help.
Through the Daily Meals Programme, over 53,01,945 meals have been served across 8 states in the country. We have catered to abused, homeless and abandoned senior citizens at our charitable home Mann Ka Tilak. Our elderly beneficiaries are from all over India seeking shelter at our 2 homes in Delhi and Vrindavan.
Over the course of eight years, we have established 5 day care centres throughout Delhi NCR, reaching over 500 children through our education projects like Sponsor a Childhood Programme and Street to School Programme. Out of this, 300 children are officially enrolled in MCD/NDMC schools. Over 3000 people are reached out to on a yearly basis through the Winter Relief Project to provide warmth and relief to the underprivileged. The number of beneficiaries of the Covid Relief Project exceeded 50,000 people. Our beneficiary base multiplies on a regular basis and till date, the organisation has impacted over 10,00,000 lives since inception.
As our beneficiaries have been safeguarded from hunger and starvation, and education has been made accessible to the underprivileged children, our support has prevented the beneficiaries from resorting to petty theft, beggary, and other social evils to survive. It has acted as a catalyst for social upliftment. They are enabled to focus on larger goals of building bright, stable futures.
Among several positive results, tremendous improvement in the Body Mass Index of children and contribution to their mental growth are seen. We have observed improved concentration levels and better performance in our informal education programme centres. Over 86% of the beneficiaries have shown a marked improvement in their overall BMI.
Working in the development sector comes with its own set of challenges. From where do you find the strength and inspiration to tread ahead in your journey towards creating a positive impact on the lives of others?
Yes, the challenges in the development sector are humongous to say the least and ironically, a new issue is presented every single day, and no two challenges are ever the same. Interestingly, the very place which brings forth the obstacles is also the place which also gives us inspiration and motivation. The biggest challenge in this sector is that of trust deficit where both beneficiaries and donors do not trust NGOs and the fact is that while we are dealing with this whole trust deficit, these are very people who inspire us and motivate us to work harder because we believe that their mindsets have arisen because of the kinds of experiences they’ve had.
More generally, it is the smiles that we spread, the blessings that we receive, the results that we witness firsthand, and the change that we bring about in the lives of the beneficiaries that motivates us the most.
How do you intend to take Wishes and Blessings’ growth journey forward? Which initiatives will the organization focus on more in the near future?
It might sound strange, but I am not the one driving the growth of the organization. Wishes and Blessings is growing leaps and bounds by itself. In fact, every time I feel that we should try and focus on certain areas and taper down other areas of engagement, something new crops up and we engulf it within the Wishes and Blessings family. Thus, the family is expanding on its own. We intend to add more and more people to the family, be it the beneficiaries, the managing team members or donors and spread our focus wherever we are needed because there is no limit to fulfilling wishes, spreading smiles and making dreams come true.
One hallmark vision is to expand the Mann Ka Tilak old age home initiative across all states in India so that no elderly person is abandoned, abused or neglected. They deserve the life and dignity we all deserve. Another is to expand the Daily Meals Programme pan India so that no one goes to bed hungry.
Can you recount one specific moment in your journey with Wishes and Blessings where you felt immense happiness? What led to the moment?
As mentioned before, the most defining moment of the Wishes and Blessings journey has been playing Holi with visually impaired children in March 2014 and the impact was that it led to was the foundation and establishment of the organization. Visually impaired children gave me the vision for life and that is the path defining event.