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Everyday Heroes
Guri A photo of Guri Grewal holding a little boy sits on a table at the entrance to her Redwood City apartment. She can't help but glance at it each time she goes in or out...more ... ]

Everyday Heroes 

Churni Bhattacharya: Redefining Volunteering
-- by Percy

Churni Bhattacharya's is not the typical 'frustrated with the establishment become a volunteer' story. In fact, you could say that volunteering is in her blood. Both her parents have been involved in social work, and Churni started on her own volunteer path when she was very young. When she was 6, she walked for a charitable cause called "Walk for a Fuller Life," an 18 km walk. (Yes, she did walk the entire distance.)

Churni was born in Calcutta, India. She is the older of two children. Her maternal grandfather, Dr. Triguna Sen, was a freedom fighter, who went on to become the Mayor of Calcutta and to serve in the Cabinet of the late Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. Churni's paternal grandfather, Prof. Jagadish Bhattacharya, is a renowned poet/critic of Bengali literature, and her grandmother was a professor, something almost unheard of in those days for a woman.

Churni says that she learned the basic lesson of "plain living and high thinking" from her mother's father. Churni's own father was instrumental in building the electronics industry in West Bengal, and her mother was a singer of Rabindra Sangeet, the songs of Rabindranath Tagore. Churni attributes her interest in volunteering to her parents, especially her father.

When she was 10, Churni spent time at Asha Niketan, a home for mentally-challenged people. At 15, she stayed for a week in a village with Mother Teresa, living with the Sisters of the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, helping them at the dispensary for the villagers, and also helping them cook. At night, they would sing songs with the village children.

On her early induction into volunteering, Churni says, "Many a time, I have seen my mother go away with our maidservant and spend some time in their village. All this was part of my normal life, just growing up. We made day trips to many organizations."

On volunteering, she says, "Volunteering was part of my life; I never felt that I was doing anything special. So, for me it is a very selfish proposition. If I do not share, I feel incomplete. I sleep better when I feel that I have been able to help even one person. That is the training from my Girl Guide days: a good deed every day."

When she was not volunteering and doing social work, Churni went to school like all other kids. She studied in Calcutta and then went to Jadavpur University to work on her Bachelor's degree in Physics. After that, she moved to Pune for her Master's degree in Computer Science from Poona University. She worked in India for TCS and moved to Tokyo, living there for three and a half years, working for Citibank. She then moved to New York City where she worked for Citibank and Ernst and Young. She now lives in San Francisco, where she manages the West Coast and Midwest Financial Services business for Proxicom, an e-business consulting group.

Churni says that travel is a part of her life. She has many other interersts that run the gamut, from music to kayaking. Churni has become a Hindustani classical vocalist and has even recorded an album in Rabindra Sangeet, songs from the poet Rabindranath Tagore. She is also a movie buff, especially foreign films, and even tried to get into the Film and Television Institute (FTII) at Pune. She has learned Kung Fu from a Chinese master, kayaked in the Hudson, and done a bit of mountaineering. She loves to take pictures, dabbles in painting and likes to cook Indian food.

Churni has had thoughts about quitting the mainstream. She tried getting a transfer to TCS Pune, to join an ashram formed by Shree Aurobindo's disciples there. However, she got an assignment in Tokyo, and the course of her life changed. It is a good thing in a way, since she would not have been a Charity Focus volunteer otherwise.

Churni works as a Project Lead for Charity Focus and has been with the organization since June 2000. It is certain that her high intensity -- she once worked 55 continuous hours -- and love for volunteering will lead her to greater things.

[ email churni ]



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