(January 25, 2022) Journalist, researcher, academician now philanthropist – Dr Geetanjali Chopra’s multi-faceted personality is awe-inspiring. After years of juggling diverse careers, Dr Chopra’s started her NGO – Wishes and Blessings in 2014 thus transforming her life, and the lives of lakhs of marginalised people. She wanted to fight the hunger crisis in India and also help in relief work, especially during the pandemic. Today, her NGO has clocked 30,00,000 meals, and continues its efforts to feed the hungry.
Through the pandemic, Chopra galvanised a team to help with food, hygiene and shelter, and also launched ambulances for emergency assistance. “During the second wave, we reached across seven Indian states – Assam, Bihar, Delhi/NCR, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. We have served over 30 lakh meals, distributed over 80,000 ration kits and provided over 30,000 hygiene kits to 50,000+ beneficiaries. Through our initiative Dabba Bhara Hai, we also provide food resources to underprivileged. Additionally, we are launching our vaccination camps for underprivileged children,” reveals the 40-year-old.
The path to charity
“I felt enthusiasm and nervousness when I first established Wishes and Blessings in 2014. I was stepping into a completely new realm with zero experience. My life experiences and patience were my two mentors. We started by working with visually-impaired children, and over time, Wishes and Blessings grew to include orphanages, old-age homes, and shelters for the homeless – operating across eight states of India,” says Geetanjali Chopra in an interview with Global Indian. Wishes and Blessing is seven years strong today with a core focused on spreading happiness. “My team and I constantly look out to help people in need across demographics, providing them with food, education, shelter, relief, etc,” the philanthropist adds.
Geetanjali’s work was honoured with Dettol India’s recognition under the “Our Protectors” segment, and she received the Global WOW Achievers Award by World Women Leadership Congress. As the Womennovator 100 Women Faces 2018 Award, the recognition by NITI Aayog, among many others motivate her to keep up her charitable initiatives.
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Life before philanthropy
Born and bought up in a Punjabi family in Delhi, empathy and affection were qualities she embraced early on. “I would accompany my grandfather to a school for visually-impaired children, to celebrate birthdays and special occasions. On one such occasion, a little girl tugged at my arm, asking, “When is my birthday?” Her innocent, yet intriguing words left a permanent impression.” Little did Chopra know that the question would soon influence her life’s mission.
Before turning philanthropist Chopra played many roles – as academician, columnist and more. “A decade of my life has gone into the media world, research, and teaching,” shares the woman who did journalism (Lady Sriram College), masters international relations (Jawahar Lal Nehru University), and humanitarian law.
It was when humanities entered her life after tenth that she found her calling. A career in academics, and she was on her way. Her insatiable desire to learn saw her study at Utrecht University (Netherlands) for a PGDP in international human rights law. To enhance her academic foundation further, Geetanjali pursued another diploma programme – this time from the International Institute of Humanitarian Law (Italy) where she studied refugee law and human rights law.
These diverse educational qualifications reflect how life’s changed, and her priorities too. “I worked both in print and broadcast journalism,” she adds.
The desire to help the needy
Wishes and Blessings accepted the humungous task of fighting the horrifying hunger crisis that the underprivileged in India experience. “Hunger crisis is one of the greatest threats to societies across the world. We launched the daily meals programme in December 2015. Our vision behind this project was simple – nobody should go to sleep on an empty stomach. We started serving hot and nutritious meals three times a day – daily. Ration kits are also given in areas where cooked food cannot be served. As of 2022, the programme is active in eight states across India. With this programme, we have been able to serve over 30,00,000 meals,” the philanthropist shares.
The NGO also runs the winter relief drive to distribute warm clothing to children, women, men, marginalised communities and the elderly across Delhi NCR, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
Another of Chopra’s noble initiatives is starting an elderly care home in Delhi. “I was fortunate to have all four grandparents in my life for a significant period. They played an instrumental role. Losing three of them in quick succession left a huge void. On hearing about dreadful cases of ill-treatment and abuse of elders – I decided to open my old-age home Mann Ka Tilak. Through this shelter home, we provide a safe environment and a loving family to abandoned elders,” she explains.
From policymaker to humanitarian
As an accomplished professional, quitting her job as a fellow at Centre for Policy Research to run an NGO full-time wasn’t an easy decision. “I was in a dilemma – I wanted to give up everything and work for the underprivileged, yet I also wanted to explore academics and policy making. Facing my fears, I made a decision to quit my job and never looked back,” ruminates Chopra, who is the first woman in her family to hold a PhD.
Despite facing initial resistance from family, they finally extended full support when they realised that a charitable journey would make Chopra happy. “I have imbibed independence, self-love, empathy and charity from my family. My husband tries to be the voice of a reason in situations that perplex. My father helps me with all the legal and accounts work. My cousins provide legal assistance and advice,” smiles Chopra, ever thankful.
Amidst her hectic schedule, Chopra loves to take time off to cook – it’s her biggest de-stressor. “I have a vast collection of cookbooks – my most prized possessions. I love photography too. My NGO experience has ignited a new interest in me – to capture interesting subjects,” the philanthropist signs off.
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