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Everyday Heroes
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Everyday Heroes 

Vandana J. -- 'with all your heart'
-- by Anita Iyer

"Whatever you say can never be taken back, so watch what you say, and don't hurt anybody."

Vandana J. loves Indian handicrafts and art and is passionate about social service; she is also someone who believes in living and enjoying whatever she does to the fullest.

The CharityFocus coordinator of the Indiaís Pune Chapter, Vandana is poised to be the person-in-charge of CharityFocus when it is registered in India. A true volunteer by heart Vandana is a living example of multi-tasking as she fits as many tasks into her schedule as possible and still manages to finds time to share warm moments with her daughter, Keya, and son, Ihit.

Of all the values she cherishes, patriotism, which has been passed on to her as part of her family legacy, is what burns brightest in her heart. Born into a family of freedom fighters, Vandana's paternal as well as maternal grandfathers were both fighters.

"My paternal grandfather was a lawyer who refused to charge his poor clients and was jailed in 1942 for participating in the Quit India movement", she says warmly. But it is when she speaks about her maternal grandmother that one observes pride in her voice. Her grandmother was a city-bred, educated lady who moved to a village after her marriage. "She mobilized illiterate village women, struggling with problems like illness, ill-treatment by in-laws, poverty. She helped them form women's organizations and would advice & guide them," explains Vandana.

Vandana's parents also inspired her with their generous donations to institutions and by providing services to needy people. She also saw her brother, a plastic surgeon, go 15 days a year to countries suffering from civil unrest or war. Once there, he would offer surgical assistance wherever it was needed. "He is a part of an international team of surgeons called Operation Smile. He inspired me tremendously," she says.

Vandana is quick to assert that she has personally evolved over the years driven by her own convictions. Armed with a Bachelorís degree in commerce, MBA and DCFA (Diploma in Computerized Financial Accounting), Vandana primarily works as a relocation consultant. But she feels social work is her real calling.

Before joining CharityFocus, Vandana volunteered with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an experience she recounts as emotional and trying. She helped the foundation with administrative work and planning a major fundraising event. After the event ended, they offered her a job. "I declined because I couldn't cope with it emotionally. I was pained at the number of young children who were suffering from life-threatening illnesses," she recalls.

It was then that she discovered CharityFocus, courtesy of a CNN interview with Nipun Mehta, one of the founders. "I was struck by his genuine sincerity and desire to help. I sent him an e-mail, filled out the volunteer form and my journey with CharityFocus began," she says with a smile. Volunteering as a CharityFocus coordinator, Vandana takes her job seriously. She enjoys being the facilitator who enables deserving NGOs to have a website. The purity of motives and the dedication of the volunteers she interacts with have helped her develop a zeal with which she has managed to spread considerable awareness about CharityFocus in India. She insists that the strength of CharityFocus lies in founding members, like Nipun and Ashish, who are accessible to the rookies. She feels that CharityFocus's strength also comes from volunteers who inspire others through their stories of dedication.

Vandana envisions an India CharityFocus chapter that India-based NGOs and volunteers approach with optimism.

Vandana claims her secret to keeping everything together is the unwavering support she receives from her family. "My family is very special because we manage to work and still integrate a part of social service in our lifestyle," says Vandana. During the holidays, her children spend time preparing greeting cards for leprosy patients. Her husband, a management consultant, gives English voice-overs for NGOs, charging only a small amount or nothing at all. "I would never walk away from a person who is suffering and my family shares the same attitude," she adds.

Though one may be inclined to picture Vandana as a stern authoritarian, she is quite the contrary, and her warmth gives her a friendly disposition. She gleefully admits that she leaves the job of enforcing rules on the children to her husband. A vegetarian by choice, she feels the most valuable quality a person must possess is compassion for not only human beings in need but also for helpless animals.

Vandana's maturity and wisdom have helped her be a good guide and leader. She exudes confidence, is a motivator and ensures that no one ever shirks their responsibilities. "It's easy to feel pride and get a bloated ego, but doing CharityFocus work makes me humble and helps me stay rooted to the ground," she says, consolidating in few words what she believes is her life's mission, to serve selflessly.

[ email vandana ]

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