Dr. Geetanjali Chopra on Hunches ‘n’ Punches

Dr. Geetanjali Chopra
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Wishes and Blessings, an NGO, launched in the year 2014 by Dr. Geetanjali Chopra, an academician, researcher, columnist, and philanthropist. 

Wishes and Blessings is a platform for connecting donors with beneficiaries, with the aim of spreading happiness and making dreams come true. 

The NGO works across age, gender, economic and social barriers and addresses more than nine pressing issues which include education, food, infrastructure, relief, skill development, and health. 

The NGO currently has more than 16 projects dedicated to aiding the underprivileged, fulfilling the ultimate goal of spreading happiness!

Dr. Geetanjali Chopra, Founder & President of Wishes and Blessings, who is a recipient of Rex Karamveer Silver Chakra and a TEDx Speaker.

In Current October 2020 Edition Hunches ‘n’ Punches we have Dr. Geetanjali Chopra, founder of NGO ‘Wishes & Blessings’.

Why did you start this organization? How has it grown or changed over time?       

Dr. Geetanjali Chopra: I believe that there are two kinds of people in this world- those who are blessed, and those who have wishes left unfulfilled. It is the blessed people who can help achieve those unfulfilled wishes, and they might receive blessings in return.

However, very often these two sections are unable to meet, and a wide gap exists that is difficult to fill. This was the driving philosophy behind setting up my NGO, “Wishes and Blessings”- to fill this gap, connect the blessed people with the lesser fortunate in order to spread smiles and make dreams come true.

It has been extremely heart-warming to see supporters and volunteers from across the world join us to facilitate change.

We started by working with visually impaired children and soon expanded to reach out to varied beneficiaries cutting across the spectrums of age, class, gender, and community; the organization grew from being a one-woman army to a team of 25 committed individuals determined to bring about change in the social sector.

Over the last 6 years, we have Currently, we have projects focusing on over 9 verticals including food, education, elderly care, infrastructure, skill development, and relief, over 20 centers set up across Delhi/NCR with a presence in 7 states in India.

Can you tell me about the work your organization does and the program or programs you run?

Dr. Geetanjali Chopra: We, at Wishes and Blessings, believe that happiness is not just an end, but a means to an end. Therefore, we do not focus on just one issue, and we formulate projects to meet the varied needs of the underprivileged. Some of our programs are:

  1. Sponsor a Childhood: Wishes and Blessings provides a platform through which those who wish to make a change can give what is denied to most underprivileged children- the basic right, the Right to Education. Beneficiaries come from diverse backgrounds including those who are underprivileged, HIV+, those with different abilities, children with visual impairment, and those who are orphaned.
  2. Daily Meals Programme: Wishes and Blessings believe that everyone has the right to 3 wholesome meals a day. In order to deal with problems of hunger and malnutrition, we serve hot and nutritious breakfast, lunch, and dinner to the homeless and underprivileged. Currently, we are serving meals to 700 people across Delhi/NCR and Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

The Daily Meals Programme was the foundation stone for our Covid Relief Project, wherein we expanded our feeding program overnight and evolved from serving meals only in Delhi/NCR to reaching out to the destitute and homeless across 7 states in India.

At our peak, we were serving 45,000 meals/day and distributing ration kits to 8,000 families across Assam, Delhi, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and West Bengal.

  1. Birthday Manao: We realized early on that our children have never experienced the joy and happiness that comes with celebrating a birthday. The “Birthday Manao” project is one of our flagship projects, wherein every month we celebrate our beneficiaries’ birthdays by hosting joint birthday parties for all children born in the same month.
  2. Care for Elders: In 2020, 71% of elders have testified to facing abuse in one form or the other. It is unfortunate that many families do not care for their elders, and end up neglecting them, and worse, abandoning them. Our old age home, Mann ka Tilak, provides the elderly abandoned a new place to call home, and a second family with which they may comfortably spend their last stages of life. All facilities are provided completely free of cost to ensure that the elders may receive all the love, care, and dignity they deserve.
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Dr. Geetanjali Chopra, Founder, Wishes & Blessings at Mann Ka Tilak-an old age home of Wishes and Blessings

How has your program improved over time?

Dr. Geetanjali Chopra: With time we have been able to modify our programs to keep up with the changing times as well as our ever-evolving beneficiaries. This includes modifying our menus under the Daily Meals Programme to meet the stipulated calorie and nutrient intake for growing children, as well as our aging elders.

Our education programs for street children are evaluated on a regular basis to ensure that the beneficiaries receive the best of quality education as well as exposure to extracurricular activities.

Over time, milestones and targets are refreshed to ensure that our overall efforts to aid the underprivileged are in line with our mission to fulfill the dreams of the lesser privileged. We have had several success stories, and these have only motivated us to persevere for the future.

What are your goals for the next three to five years? What priorities will help you achieve them? What barriers are in your way?

Dr. Geetanjali Chopra: My goals for Wishes and Blessings are to expand, not just geographically but in terms of projects and beneficiaries too. Through our Covid Relief Project, we were able to expand overnight to the innermost corners of the country.

The poverty in these areas is so shocking that it cannot be put into words. The residents of these areas are now my priority. I hope to set up sustainable eco-friendly projects here in the near future, to help make destitute families more self-reliant and financially stable.

The major barrier that I foresee at the moment is funding and accessibility. The current circumstances do not make traveling feasible, and due to the economy, there has been a drop in donations.

However, I am hopeful for the future and am determined to help these potential beneficiaries in whatever way possible.

How does the organization identify communities or individuals to work with? How have they worked to build trust and relationships in the field?

Dr. Geetanjali Chopra: One of the largest obstacles we have faced in this sector is the myths about the social world and the distrust that is prevalent.

There is a popular misconception that NGO’s are only used for money laundering, and actual beneficiaries are left in the lurch. When I set up Wishes and Blessings, I ensured that one of our main tenets was to remain completely accountable to all stakeholders and be transparent in all operations.

This has helped us build partnerships and equations of trust with all stakeholders involved- beneficiaries, donors, supporters, and volunteers.

In terms of identifying partners and communities, we always make sure to do our due diligence whether it be continuous and comprehensive fieldwork to ascertain real and actual needs on the ground or several meetings with potential collaborators.

Once we are sure that all those involved are on the same page and are ready to commit to the actual time it takes to bring about qualitative change, we form long-term, sustainable partnerships.

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What is the hardest decision the organization has had to make recently, and how did you evaluate the tradeoffs involved?

Dr. Geetanjali Chopra: Towards March of 2020, the team and I were very excited as we had several plans for the new financial year… and then Covid-19 struck. The crisis definitely took a toll on the organization, and we were forced to make several difficult decisions due to the bind the pandemic put on all of us.

The first hard decision that we took was to stop all new admissions into our old age home, Mann ka Tilak.

This home was meant to provide a safe space to the elderly abandoned in Delhi/NCR, and while the team did want to reach out to all those who needed our aid, we could not risk the health and well-being of the existing residents by welcoming new members.

While we did receive several applications, the team and I chose to direct them to other ashrams and charitable homes.

With the economy being harshly affected due to the initial cessation of all no-essential economic activities, our funding suffered as well. Unfortunately, a corporate-backed out from a project which was aimed at the education and overall development of street children.

We took the decision to shut the center down, and are hoping to re-open very soon, once it is safe enough for the beneficiaries to attend classes at the center. In the meantime, the teachers are still in contact with the children and are aiding and monitoring their education in all possible ways.

Perhaps one of the biggest and most difficult decisions the organization had to make was the tapering and overall withdrawal of support from the states we were actively providing Covid relief in by distributing ration and hygiene kits.

While there was and still is a dire need of basic essentials, we no longer have the resources and funds to continue our efforts to reach out to the needy in the innermost parts of the country.

We are still looking for alternate methods to reach out to the underprivileged families in those areas, and hope to initiate sustainable and eco-friendly projects to give financial security to these beneficiaries.

What are the Gray areas and complexities of completing the Organisation’s work?

Dr. Geetanjali Chopra: Working in an NGO is as difficult and complex as working in a corporate. What adds to the difficulties of the social sector is that we work with human beings, individuals who cannot be compartmentalized. They have their own quirks and can change their minds overnight.

Just one example of this is when we try to convince families to send their daughters to our daycare centers.

More often than not they are ready to send their sons, but due to traditions, they are hesitant with their girls. After days of interaction and awareness building, they agree to send their daughter, only for us to find out a few days later that they have forbidden the daughter to leave the home.

It takes several instances of sensitization and mobilization to create change in rigid mindsets.

These are the grey areas- some things are out of our hands, but nevertheless, we persevere and put our hearts and soul into everything we do. We leave no stone unturned in our mission to spread happiness to all those who are in need of it.

What do you, personally, spend most of your time on?

Dr. Geetanjali Chopra: I love photography, as I believe that is one of the best ways to capture memories permanently. Your own memory might fail, but you will always have photos look at and remember life-changing moments.

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Recently, with working from home I have developed a new passion- cooking! I now dedicate one day of the week to experimenting with recipes, and more often than not they come out as a success!

When I am not found in the kitchen or with a camera, I can be found writing. These days I am involved with sharing my journey of transformation from being a journalist, academic, researcher to being a social worker and activist on Instagram.

I am still learning the tricks of the trade, but it’s been very exciting and engaging so far!

India Ranks 94 Out Of 107 Nations In Global Hunger Index, what this means for us, and what is the basis of these ratings? How can we improve?

Dr. Geetanjali Chopra: The Global Hunger Index takes into account 4 factors, the components are given standardized scores which are then aggregated to form the GHI.

The higher the rank, the worse is the hunger situation. While India’s rating has improved from the ranking we received last year in the Global Hunger Index (GHI), we are still in the category that labels our hunger situation as serious.

There are horrifying statistics about those who go hungry on a daily basis-

According to the 2020 report published by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), 189.2 million people are undernourished in India. With the Covid-19 crisis, these numbers have gone up, and we are now facing another pandemic- a hunger pandemic.

We need to understand that real, sustainable, and effective change takes time. When it comes to reversing hunger, you do not have to just tackle the actual effects of hunger including undernourishment, poor immunities, and slow physical development, but also other aspects that come out of hunger- substance abuse, petty theft, etc.

It takes focused and concerted efforts to fight hunger, and ensure that the beneficiaries do not fall back into a situation of being hungry again.

However, all is not lost and we still have time to ensure that the hunger pandemic does not take over completely.

If each individual could take on the responsibility of ensuring that at least 1 underprivileged person has access to 3 hot and nutritious meals on a daily basis, we can improve the hunger situation in India.

Over the last 6 years, Dr. Geetanjali Chopra and her NGO ‘Wishes and Blessings’ have been able to reach out to more than 2,00,000 people and hopes to reach out to many more in the near future. We at ChaaiCoffee wishes and committed to bringing more personalities for upcoming editions of Hunches ‘n’ Punches.

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Jeet Dhimann

Studying Psychology, Just Another Poor Philosopher, Foodie, Netflix Fan, Food Reviewer on Zomato, Digital Marketer By Profession & Aspiring Entrepreneur. Went to Both for Studies ITI & IIT-D