Category Archives: Good Samaritans

Selfless people, selfless acts

Jeena Yahaan – Live here and now

jeena_play1About 1 in 8 kids in the US has special needs. Despite this alarmingly high number, parents of kids with special needs face incredible loneliness in their challenge to deal with their child’s disability.

Almost 9 years ago, a few Indian parents got together to form a playgroup to get their kids to socialize with others facing similar challenges, and also to form a support group for themselves. The group evolved into Jeena, a non-profit organization in the Bay Area dedicated to helping children with developmental disorders and their families.

Right from the start, one of Jeena’s missions has been to bring children with special needs out of their shell and help them socialize and show off their talents.  Jeena Yahaan( “Live here and now”), an annual show, has been the forum for this mission.

This year, the talented kids of Jeena are planning their annual show on May 3rd at the India Community Center. Bay Area’s premier dance company Naach is training the kids to dance to a medley of Bollywood songs. Another dance is being choreographed by the Indian Fusion Dance Company. The kids will also be singing a song taught by Pt. Habib Khan and putting on a play and talent show. Typically the evening will include a silent auction, dinner, and the evening ends with guests swinging to latest Bollywood melodies.

jeena_play2“Jeena Yahaan gives hope to parents. They meet other like minded parents, and form networks and are inspired to live life here and now. My son Neel, who is autistic, has benefited a tremendous amount from Jeena Yahaan,” says Sanjita Dhingra, a long time Jeena member who is putting together this year’s show. “Thanks to Jeena, he has got over his anxiety over performing in public.” 13 year-old Neel is now confident enough to participate in his school band with over a 100 other kids, a real challenge for an autistic child.

Kids with Cerebral Palsy and non-verbal kids also find a way to be a part of Jeena Yahaan as the show is tailored to each child’s special need. With a mix of typical and special needs children, it is an inclusive setting where everyone feels comfortable being themselves and doing their best.

ria_priya_jy_2008While your pocketbook may be thin because of the current economic environment, I urge you to help Jeena put together their annual show this year. It is an incredibly important event for the kids who look forward to it all year. I have attended previous shows and have been moved by the look of pride on both the children’s and the parents’ faces.

The easiest way to contribute is by using the donate button at the Jeena website if you wish to remain anonymous. But Jeena would like to acknowledge your contribution, so send a check with your name or the name of the person you wish to donate on behalf of to

1510 Centre Pointe,
Milpitas, CA 95035

You can also contact Sanjita at for more information at or 408 2031043. If you are a vendor or products or services applicable to families in the Bay Area, it is worth noting that the event attracts about 400 to 500 families, largely from the Indian American community. Jeena is open to banner displays and vendor tables for your company.

Jeena is doing tremendous work in the Bay Area and also in India where the organization trains professionals in the care of special needs children. Do find your way to helping them out.

Rang De – Share the colors of joy!

It was five years ago that Dhanalakshmi decided to set up a small general store in her area. Her thrifty ways soon fetched her enough profits to acquire a milk agency. Her life partner is also her business partner, and operates from the same location, helping her to deliver the milk.

Dhanalakshmi is now striving to do better still. She observes that there is a crying need for school stationery to be made available easily. She has also set her sights on buying a refrigerator to store milk and other perishable goods.

Dhanalakshmi is a perfect example of how an ordinary woman can turn into a smart businesswoman. The loan of Rs.10000/-   that she received for the development of her store has gone into buying a refrigerator, a coin pay phone, storage containers and a variety of stocks that includes milk. She has effectively multiplied her sources of income and her original plan of stocking school stationery? Well- “That will also be bought with the profits from the store.” says a determined Dhanalakshmi.

Dhanalakshmi’s story was made possible by Rang De, a non-profit organization that facilitates micro-credit in India. Rang De offers a platform for individuals to become Social Investors for as low as Rs.500 and connect with borrowers. Smita Ramakrishna, co-founder and CEO of Rang De writes about the decision behind the organization.

RangDe.Org began with a simple question – Why charity? If you and I want money for business, education or health, we walk up to the bank for credit. We do not ask for a donation. Have you ever wondered what happens if your corner tea stall vendor or your vegetable shop vendor needs a loan to expand his/her business?

When Ram and I decided to relocate to India and get into the development sector, one of the obvious ways would have been to set up an NGO in India and work for a cause. When we thought a little deeper about some of the issues, we began to realize that all these causes are manifestations of poverty and unless we address poverty we will not make much headway. There was a need to address poverty in a sustainable manner by involving individuals through a platform where barriers of distance or economics would not become a hindrance.

And thus RangDe.Org was born as a platform through which, any individual can connect with a person who lives in poverty and needs financial support. This connection between people of different economic backgrounds, we feel, is very important if we want to see a change in India.

Through RangDe.Org you can connect with a borrower of micro-credit by lending small sums of money small sums of money to an individual of a low income household. The money that you lend serves as the working capital for a micro-enterprise in a village or in urban slums. The typical needs that we are talking about are petty shops, cattle rearing, telephone booths.

Take Zythoombi, for instance – This widow has been eking out a living for the last 25 years, rolling beedis. She is a daily wage earner. Recent interactions with a local support group lit a spark within her. She intends to source the raw materials herself, make the beedis and sell it directly to the agents. ‘All I need is the capital” says the confident Zythoombi. Zythoombi has received Rs.5000 from Rang De. But she is not satisfied.

The amount has fetched adequate beedi leaves and tobacco to keep her busy, but leaves her two accomplices sitting idle. “We could easily handle a Rs.10000 loan and get better returns.” says Zythoombi. Her goal now, is to pay back her loan quickly and start again, with a bigger capital.

So far Rang De has raised loans for 205 borrowers from Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, and plan to reach out to about 1000 borrowers in the next 6-8 months.

Rang De believes that little deeds from individuals can create a positive impact. Not everyone needs charity. Give people an access to financial opportunity and see what difference you can make with small sums of money. Log on to learn more.

Tulika – feeding minds is important too

By Vidya Pradhan

Bay Area residents are quite familiar with Ray Mitra – if not personally then through the terrific Bollywood parties and cultural events his non-profit organization Induz organizes. Induz's mission has always been to use events to generate funds for deserving non-profits within the community and back in India. A significant part of the proceeds is donated to organizations like Sankara, Bring-a- Book Foundation and CRY. “Our tag line used to be ‘Great events, greater causes’,” says Ray.

After planning several successful events, it started bothering Ray that he and his fellow organizers could not see the use the funds generated were being put to. The non-profits supported by Induz were working in the necessary fields of health and education of underprivileged people and children in India, but Ray wondered if anything was being done to give these children exposure to the healing power of art and music. “Studies have shown that involving kids in art at a young age improves focus and concentration,” says Ray, who belongs to a family steeped in both performance and graphic art, “and it made sense for me to start a venture that would pay attention to this neglected area.” Continue reading

Chai with Manjula

By Vidya Pradhan

Manjula Gupta is no stranger to philanthropy. Once a software entrepreneur in the valley, she became involved with the American India Foundation (AIF) in its nascent years. As a volunteer Chair for the India Community Center, she worked to bring the community together by starting programs such as the weekly karaoke club. In the course of her varied experiences, she tapped into the rich vein of philanthropy that runs through the successful Indian American community in the Bay Area. “There are so many Indian Americans doing amazing work,” she says. “I found that there was a need to give them a platform.”
When the mayor of Milpitas approached her to start a community based program, she found her calling. “Chai with Manjula”, a TV show focusing on Indian American good Samaritans, now airs in 11 cities throughout the area.( More cities are being added.) Continue reading

A crusader for street kids in India- ADAA

By Vidya Pradhan

Street Kids helped by ADAAWhen your car stops at a traffic light in India, invariably a swarm of street kids collects around it. Maybe you are an IT professional. Maybe you are a tourist. Either way, your pockets are jingling with change from your last meal or chai; change that is, for all practical purposes, useless to you.

It is so tempting to hand over that change to one of the raggedy street urchins. Maybe it will buy them their next meal, save them from having to hold their hand out for an hour or two. You get the warm glow that doing a good deed creates; they get a reprieve from their unhappy lives, even if it is for a short while.

What is wrong with this picture? Continue reading

The Bottomless Pit of Poverty – Charity in India

By Vidya Pradhan

It all began when, sick of the materialism and unashamed greed of the holiday season,I suggested to my 11 year old that he give, instead of receive, this Christmas. He was surprisingly receptive. Having planned a holiday trip to India, I suggested to family back there that maybe we could donate some clothes or blankets to needy children in India 'in his name' as they say.
As usually happens with long distance communications, somehow this got translated into a semi-formal visit to one of the local orphanages. I had a horrible vision of us behaving like urban socialites as they make their much publicized photo-op forays to slum it out while the orphans are dressed and combed and made to sing and dance for the visitors. Unhappily, that is exactly what happened. However.. Continue reading

A Lasting Imprint: The North South Foundation

By Aparna Ramakrishnan

Swami Vivekananda, the great Hindu pioneer and diplomat to the United States who helped drive the modernization of India, once said, “Arise, awake. Stop not till the goal is reached.” The North South Foundation under Dr. Ratnam Chitturi’s direction has continued Swami Vivekananda’s mission in uniting Indians of many different religions and ethnic backgrounds under a single guiding principle: the importance of education. The North South Foundation is best known to most Indian parents as an organization that sponsors local, state and national competitions in the US for children of Indian descent. Capitalizing on the dedication and pride that the parents here in the US feel in their children’s achievements, NSF, founded in 1989, has achieved astounding success in providing scholarships to promising but underprivileged students in India. Continue reading

Home of Hope

By Vidya Pradhan

For most of us, ‘Checkbook Charity’ is the way we assuage our conscience. It is painless, effortless and gives a rush of good feeling with the stroke of a pen. Few of us go beyond that first step to examine the impact our donation has had on the recipient. Doctor Nilima Sabharwal’s foray into philanthrophy started with the same first step. A physician at Kaiser Permanente, she was approached by a friend about 10 years ago to help out an orphanage in Chennai called ‘The Children’s Home of Hope.’ She wrote a check and forgot all about it. Come tax time, she was reminded of her good deed and decided to go one step further and organize a small fundraiser in the Bay Area. What prompted her decision she can only ascribe to a ‘higher calling’, a phrase that kept popping up during the course of my interview with her.

The fundraiser was planned like a fun Indian party and Dr. Sabharwal and her friends managed to raise about $7000 which was sent to the orphanage. On a visit to India, Dr. Sabharwal stopped by the place to see what had been done with the money and found it had been responsible for stopping a series of epidemics that had been plaguing the children by the simple expedient of providing clean bathrooms.

Amazed by the impact of a relatively small amount of money by US standards, Dr. Sabharwal decided to set up Home of Hope(HOH), an organization dedicated to funding projects that helped orphan, destitute and disadvantaged children become self-sufficient and self reliant.

Home of Hope has raised over a million dollars since then and assisted several deserving organizations all across India. (A recent project funded in Berkeley is an attempt by the organization to provide a more global perspective to their efforts.) By keeping a tight rein on administrative overheads, HOH ensures that virtually all the funds it raises go to the projects themselves. Each project has a project coordinator, usually in the US, who can visit it periodically to determine progress and use of money.

“We are partners for life,” says Dr. Sabharwal, who calls all the wonderful people back in India incarnations of Mother Teresa for their selfless devotion and commitment to service. The progress and accounting is reported back to the 10 board members of HOH, who serve in a voluntary capacity.

Isaac Abid, who works in private equity for AIG, is one of the project coordination officers(PCO) for HOH, responsible for the Sri Chayadevi Anathashram in Mysore. Isaac advocates for the kids in front of the board members here in the US and, in his trips to India, sets a formal agenda for the way the funds are disbursed. “Food and education is important,” says Isaac, “but kids should also have the experiences of childhood.” He has suggested field trips and other enriching projects for the orphans as part of his advocacy. “I love being a PCO because I am the voice of those kids. I have to articulate their needs to my peer group at HOH.” One of his memorable experiences at his project was providing a digital camera out of his own pocket to the kids. “The wonder and joy in their eyes was just amazing,” he recalls.

HOH’s transparency and tight administrative structure has impressed potential donors. Dr. Sabharwal attributes their success to the direction of a higher power. “I believe there is a higher energy in all of us,” says Dr. Sabharwal, “We just have to be receptive to it.”

Come and be a part of the energy that drives the members of HOH next weekend at Chandni Restaurant in Fremont for its 10th Annual Gala Fundraiser. The simple and unostentatious event is headlined by comedian Daniel Nainan. The event and the people are sure to be an inspiration for those of us who want to be more involved with helping the underprivileged but are unsure about taking that first step. Home of Hope, Inc. is entirely managed and administered via volunteer effort and is mostly funded by individual contributions. Contributions may be made here.

A SEED of hope – the South Asian Empowerment and Development Program

By Vidya Pradhan

It is an immigrant’s tale as old as time. Rukhsana( not her real name) was brought to the US from her native South Asian country on a fiancée visa. Once she was married, her in-laws found many excuses not to proceed with her green card application. This ensured that the lonely and helpless girl would submit to other, typical, patterns of abuse – emotional, verbal and physical – without recourse. With her spirit all but extinguished, Rukhsana made a last ditch attempt to escape. While being taken out of the state, she evaded her captors and asked a stranger for help. She was  taken to the police station, where she had her first piece of luck since coming to the land of the free, a meeting with a Narika representative. Continue reading