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Baal Dan: A US charity helping Indian children
BORN TO Indian parents and currently a resident at Texas, United States of America, 32 year- old Tanya Pinto had promised herself at an young age that she would volunteer to help the orphanages in India. This is because her grandfather was an orphan
BORN TO Indian parents and currently a resident at Texas, United States of America, 32 year- old Tanya Pinto had promised herself at an young age that she would volunteer to help the orphanages in India. This is because her grandfather was an orphan. Thus, in 2005 while working at one of America’s largest advertising firm, The Richards Group, Tanya took a three month sabbatical from work for a trip to India. Here, she worked full time in Calcutta at Mother Teresa’s orphanage Shishu Bhavan and Home for the Dying Nirmal Hriday.
 
After she returned to Texas, Tanya floated Baal Dan, a US based public charity in 2006. With no base of operations in India, Baal Dan is a grant-maker, who supplies Indian NGOs with grants for their projects. Till date, Baal Dan has provided aid to more than 3000 Indian children and has more than 80 projects running across India.
 
“My Mum that came up with the name “Baal Dan” – “Baal” means “Child” and “Dan” means “Donation” in Hindi. She listens to all my ideas, my Dad helps me coordinate my travel arrangements, my sister Angelina (28) helps to fundraise for me in New York where she lives, and my brother Neil (25) completely built the website baaldan.com and is the Secretary” she says.
 
She raises money for Baal Dan through all sorts of different fundraisers from giving speeches at local clubs to small dinners at local Indian restaurants or through corporations. She also gathers fund through sale of Baal Dan merchandise like caps, shirts, mugs etc available on the website. The donations to Baal Dan are tax deductible in the US.
Since 2005, Tanya has travelled to India every year to monitor Baal Dan projects in several Indian cities like Calcutta, Delhi, Mumbai, Kerala and Hyderabad. “I save up my allotted vacation days at work and then take additional days off unpaid to come to India to do this charity work,” she says.
 
Tanya funds the travel, accommodation and food for such trips all by herself. “If I have relatives or friends in the city, I will stay with them. If not, I will take a room at a hostel or small hotel or for extended stays a small rental apartment,” she adds.
 
The visits involve auditing of existing projects and undertaking new ones, shopping for supplies like notebooks, furnitures, food and clothing for the NGOs and spending quality time with the kids. Although the projects are required to send her a yearly report and forms, Tanya still checks in with them on each visit and by email or phone.
 
“It has been hard work and at times very physically intense, but it is worth it to prove to our donors and supporters that we really care how their money is used to help children in need”, she explains.
 
Indian NGOs who seek Baal Dan’s assistance have to fill out several forms and provide with a detailed list, which focuses on feeding programs (food supplies), supplies (furniture, water filters, clothing, school supplies) and education sponsorships. Tanya buys all these items from India only to “to support the Indian economy.”
 
 “There was no capital investment to create Baal Dan and I funded any initial start up expenses. We also got many things pro bono such as the design of the website, the legal application and printed materials to keep costs low. I manage Baal Dan as a public charity that strives to keep administrative costs as low as possible,” she says. Baal Dan has no paid employees and rely 100% on volunteers.
 
Before setting up Baal Dan, Tanya undertook research to understand the issue of street children and orphans as well as malnutrition in India. “I needed to learn about the social issues, the statistics and status so I could communicate the needs that these children and projects have to people in the US who might not know much about India,” she explains.
 
India holds a very special place in her heart. “I am an Indian girl who has never lived in India and I wanted to learn about the country of my birth and help children there. I knew that India had immense poverty and I wanted to do something to make a difference,” she elaborates.
 
She believes that India is spiritual, dynamic and confronts you on all levels and the people here make a deep impression on you. “India teaches you to be humble, to be open and to appreciate all the extremes this world has to offer. I learn so much every time I am in India. There is no place like it on earth,” she adds.
Narrating the story of one Baal Dan child, 11 year -old Kuldeep from Jaipur, Tanya explains how Baal Dan has built special bonds for her in India.  “Kuldeep comes from a large family in a village that was so poor that they could not afford to care for him. He was taken in by a guardian and is doing very well in school. He loves to watch Discovery Channel and news. He tells me about “Obama” and the latest with the Indian elections. He is so smart, so sweet and so funny and I hope that Baal Dan can sponsor his education right through to graduation!” she says.
 
Within next two years, Tanya aims to start a school in India with “the right partner”. “I want the school to be for very needy children, free of charge and also provide meals. If a clinic can be adjacent to the school, that would be wonderful,” she explains.
After establishing and fulfilling her goals in India, Tanya wishes to help orphanages in Peru as well.
 
To balance an advertising career and an expanding international charity organisation can be quite a challenging. However, Tanya says, “I have a laptop that I take everywhere with me so I am always working on that. I have not really had a vacation in 3 years! But it has all been worth it. To help so many kids – makes all the time and hours worthwhile!”
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