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Sneha Vedula: life full of zest

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Sneha Vedula with her family

By  Shillpi A Singh

Sneha Vedula, 39, is a bundle of energy, who spends an ordinary weekday managing Tulip Kids, a successful chain of after school and pre-school centers she has co-founded with her friend Deepti Mohta, in and around the Bay Area, and over the weekends, she is busy volunteering at SiliconAndhra, a non-profit organization, taking care of its publicity or fund-raising activities or doing community service. If she’s not doing any of these, then Vedula, an accomplished dancer, is either performing at a cultural event or choreographing a show. And that’s not all. She also manages to catch up with her buddies over a cup of steaming hot tea and brainstorm on the line-up of activities for the fifth anniversary celebrations of her brainchild, Team Shakti, a creative collaboration to celebrate womanhood by giving a platform to women of all hues, ages, community and background, to perform and showcase their talents, share experiences and exult in each other’s achievements.

That’s quite a feat, isn’t it? How do you manage to pack in so much in a day? “I am a quintessential hardworking Indian-American woman, who is trying to make most of the opportunities that come my way. Behind every great man, there’s a great woman goes the famous phrase. But it’s been the other way around for me and the credit for all of it goes to my father and husband, two most important men in my life,” says Vedula.

Born in Bhubaneswar, Odisha in India, to Mangapathi, an engineer, and Nagaratnam, a homemaker, she moved to the “land of opportunities” in 1997 after marriage to a software engineer Murthy Vedula. “Barely out of College with an undergraduate degree in accounting, I was bundled off to a faraway land. It was a big turning point in my life. My father was a strict disciplinarian and he made sure that we were brought up in a liberal environment and paid ample attention to our studies and extra-curricular activities. My parents were particular that we speak only our mother tongue Telugu at home.” This modest upbringing in a small town, Dhanbad, in erstwhile Bihar and now in Jharkhand, she says, “helped immensely in adjusting well in a foreign land.”

“This apart, it was my better half whose support and encouragement made the cross-over a cake walk,” she says, eyes gleaming with satisfaction. How? “By letting me just BE. He has been my biggest strength.”

“However, it was difficult initially as I was home-sick. I had everything except my mother here. I yearned to be closer to my roots and community in this foreign land to feel at home,” she recalls nostalgically.

In 2001, two years after her son Srinivas was born, she happened to attend a community function at SiliconAndhra, a newly formed non-profit organization, along with her parents-in-law and ended up performing Jada Kolatam, a folk dance form of Andhra Pradesh, at the cultural event for the organization. This performance in a way bridged the gap and brought her closer to the overseas Telugu community. Vedula felt a sense of belonging with the organization and its people, “which beautifully filled the void” and she started getting involved with the organization by way of volunteering and community service. So one thing led to another and soon she became an indispensable part of the organization, occupying important positions such as treasurer and joint secretary over the years.

Today she is the Global Director of cultural festivals for SiliconAndhra Manabadi, world’s largest non-profit Telugu Language School, which boasts of more than 6,500 students. Recently SiliconAndhra ManaBadi accomplished a huge milestone. On September 23, 2014, the school’s Telugu language curriculum was approved by the Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) Board of Education, as a world language to be offered as ‘for credit’ course in its high schools. Talking about it, she says, “Now students in Grades 9-12 attending any of the FUSD’s high schools will be able to enroll in a Telugu class offered by SiliconAndhra ManaBadi and earn high school credits.”

Highlighting her contributions, Santhi Kuchibhotla, founder member of the organization and vice-president for curriculum of SiliconAndhra ManaBadi, says, “Sneha has been associated with SiliconAndhra since its inception days and is an invaluable part of Manabadi, our Telugu language school. From being an energetic dancer and choreographer to a fundraiser, from taking care of hospitality and publicity for our cultural events to being a Manabadi PillalaPanduga leader, I can proudly say that she eats, sleeps and breathes SiliconAndhra.”

The organization has recently adopted Kuchipudi village in Andhra Pradesh and plans to turn into a smart world-class heritage village. “This is a huge responsibility and we at SiliconAndhra will do whatever it takes to turn Kuchipudi into a Role Model Village,” says Vedula.

But keeping in mind her hectic schedule, how difficult is to spend time with family? And she bursts into laughter. “My husband and son are omnipresent in my life. My son Srinivas is truly a rockstar. It was only yesterday that we attended Homestead High School’s fantabulous performance in the Western Region Winter Percussion Competitions. It was a mind blowing experience to see him perform. Murthy is my best friend, philosopher and guide and the reason of my being. He has never bothered to ask questions, or seek answers from me, ever,” says Vedula, adding, “Had it not been for his constant motivation and unflinching support, I would not have thought of enrolling for Masters in Human Resources Management and Psychology at Golden Gate University, San Francisco, in 2006. This degree was a stepping stone in my career in more than one way.”

Explaining the shift from being an HR Executive in 2007 to moving on to set-up a chain of playschools and after schools in the Bay Area, Vedula, says, “Though I enjoyed what I did and learned quite a bit but deep down, I was not satisfied. I always thought and believed that I should do something on my own, something which would impact the community at large, and fuels my passion for serving others as well.”

The shift was gradual, but the impact has been quite noteworthy.  Recounting her association with Mohta, her partner and co-founder of Tulip Kids, Vedula says, “Deepti was running an established day care in the Bay Area, but she was exploring bigger opportunities in the field of education and something specific to cater to school age children and that’s when I came into the picture. I decided to partner with her in 2009. Our first venture, Tulip After School, which started in August 2010, was an after school for school children, from Kindergarten to Grade 5. We started on a humble note and today we have five centers of our own and five franchise centers spread in and around Sunnyvale, Fremont, Santa Clara, Dublin, San Jose and Almaden Valley.”

Talking about her association with Sneha, Mohta fondly says, “If Tulip Kids is standing because of me, it’s actually running because of Sneha! She is phenomenal in her interactions with parents and fun and loving with children. Her zest for life is infectious and it has rubbed on to all of us in small measures.”

Today Vedula has become a name to reckon with in the education space. And she has earned it thanks to her indomitable spirit and enthusiasm to educate children, giving them an opportunity to learn about and explore the widest possible range of positive human experiences and in the process develop physically, mentally, emotionally, creatively and socially.

Children and volunteering are not her only passion. There’s dance too, that takes a sizeable amount of her attention. A dance enthusiast, she has choreographed several dance shows and folk ballets, notable among them being — Maa palle Sambaralu, Mana Telenganam, Sariganchu Cheera and Janapada Kalajata, and performed in multiple genres. But the high point, obviously, was being part of Zee TV’s Dance India Dance: Supermoms show when she was one among the lucky 70 semi-finalists, who were selected from 6,000 candidates in New Jersey auditions. She was one of the 12 finalists who got a chance to perform on DID stage in Mumbai in December 2014. “It was a wonderful feeling to be on the stage and swinging to Govinda numbers, but the best part was being in India, my motherland. An unforgettable experience truly.”

Moving on to a subject closer to her heart, Team Shakti, Vedula says, “It is a women’s only idea, of the women, by the women, for the women, and men don’t have the rights of admission here.” Founded by eight passionate and talented women from different walks of life in 2012, it aims to provide funding and support to women-based non-profit organizations. In the last four years of its existence, the organization has reached out to many charitable projects in the US and India and has contributed for breast cancer research, supported mentally challenged girls, fought against human trafficking and domestic violence and funding build lab-in-a-box kits for underprivileged school children in India. With the anniversary celebrations slated on May 7 this year, Vedula says, “The Team Shakti will again support a cause for the betterment of womenfolk.”

Summing up her role in the Team Shakti, Rama Saripalle, a team member, says, “Sneha is our binding force. She is leading our publicity and media wing for the last four years. Although, we all contribute in every aspect to make this a successful fundraiser, it is solely because of her involvement that we have reached tremendous heights.”

However, the best appreciation for her hard work comes from her son, who says, “My mom is the most energetic person I know, and she has never failed to make me feel like the luckiest son in the entire world every single day. She works hard every day, night, week, year, and so on just for me, my future, my desires, and she is indeed my Supermom.”

The author can be contacted at shilpi.devsingh@gmail.com

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Recent Trends among the Indian Diaspora and its Increasing Significance

As the Indian diaspora is increasingly organizing itself in the host countries by accumulating the resources, it may have potential impact on the economic, social and political landscape in India.

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Indian Diaspora organizing community identity in the host country

 

What is Indian Diaspora:

The Indian diaspora is a generic term representing the people who migrated from the Indian territories to the other parts of the world. It includes the descendants of these groups. Today, over twenty million Indians which include Non Resident Indians and People of Indian Origin are residing outside the Indian territory as Indian diaspora. According to a UN survey report of 2015, India’s diaspora population is the largest in the world. In 2005, Indians formed the world’s third largest diaspora. The Indians who settled overseas in 1960s for more developed countries such as US, UK, Canada, Australia and Western Europe formulate the category of the New Diaspora.

What are the popular host countries for the Indian Diaspora:

The 2010 estimates of Census data of US, UK and Canada suggest that Indian diaspora constitutes three million people in US, 1.5 million people in the United Kingdom and one million in Canada. Indians are the fourth largest immigrant group in the United States. Also, five million emigrants from India reside in the Gulf region at present.

The History of Indian Diaspora:

A brief overview of the history of Indian diaspora suggests that the first group of Indians immigrated to Eastern Europe in the 1st century AD from Rajasthan during the reign of Kanishka. Yet another evidence of migration was witnessed in 500 AD when a group immigrated to Southeast Asia as the Cholas extended their empire to Indonesia and Malaysia thereby spreading the Indian culture in these states. Thus the early evidences of diaspora were found during ancient times. The medieval period witnessed the spread of Hinduism and Buddhism during the Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms. Mughals took Indians as traders, scholars, artists, musicians and emissaries to the other parts of the country.

Old Diaspora:

The first wave of the Modern Indian Diaspora, also called the Old Diaspora, began in the early 19th century and continued until the end of the British rule. The Dutch and French colonizers followed the suit. Indians were sent in large numbers to become the bonded labourers for sugar and rubber plantation in their colonies.

Indians in Caribbean, Africa and Asia:

By the end of World War 1, there were 1.5 million Indian labourers in the colonies in the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. At present, around 60% of Indian diaspora is constituted of this Old Diaspora.

Impact of Immigration policies on Migration from India:

After the Indian independence, a large number of unskilled and some skilled Punjabi male Sikhs migrated to UK from India due to favorable immigration policies in the United Kingdom. Similarly, 1990s onwards, due to software boom and its rising economy, H-1B was introduced in the US immigration policy that allowed the entry of highly skilled IT specialists, doctors, scientists and engineers in the US. Further, 1970s witnessed oil boom in the Middle East that led to significant growth of Indian diaspora in the Gulf region.

While the low skilled and semi skilled workers are moving to the Gulf region for better economic opportunities, highly skilled labour is moving from India to US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Has Indian Diaspora started impacting the economies and societies:

With the growing rate of international migration since the beginning of millennia, there is a significant impact of diaspora on the economies and societies of the world. In recent years, diaspora is influencing the economic, political and cultural affairs in their homeland. It is so because the influence of the diaspora communities increases as they organize themselves and accumulate resources in their host countries for several years. The mobilized diaspora are now influencing the affairs of the homeland countries. A common form of exchange is the financial remittances provided to the relatives by the diaspora community. Overseas family networks of the political elites in India are shaping the political landscape as well. Culturally, diaspora is influencing the music and literature trends in India as the content is consciously structured to cater to the tastes of the diaspora.

What actions have been taken by the government of India to tap the potential of Indian Diaspora:

The first Pravasi Bhartiya Divas was organized in 2003 by the Government of India to expand and reshape the state of India’s economy by the use of the potential human capital which the Indian diaspora reflects. Clearly, Indian diaspora has a larger role to play in the Indian economy over the coming years as the efforts to mobilize them increase in the homeland.

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Diwali Preparations Grow in US, from Disney to Times Square

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Diyas adorn every corner of the house on the celebration day of Diwali. pixabay

The holiday of Diwali in the US is starting to light up mainstream America. Diwali, a festival of lights celebrated by Indians all over the world, has long been observed in immigrant communities around the U.S.

But now public celebrations of the holiday are starting to pop up in places ranging from Disneyland and Times Square to parks and museums.

The Times Square event is the brainchild of Neeta Bhasin, who says that while many Indian immigrants have found great success in the U.S., “still people don’t know much about India. I felt it’s about time that we should take India to mainstream America and showcase India’s rich culture, heritage, arts and diversity to the world. And I couldn’t find a better place than the center of the universe: Times Square.”

Places in America where Diwali Celebrations will take place.

Bhasin, who came to the United States from India 40 years ago, is president of ASB Communications, the marketing firm behind Diwali at Times Square. The event, now in its fourth year, has drawn tens of thousands of people in the past. It’s scheduled for Oct. 7, from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m., with dance performances, Bollywood singers, a bazaar of food, saris and other goods, and a lighting ceremony.

While Diwali celebrations are held throughout the fall, the holiday’s actual date is Oct. 19. Also called Deepavali, it’s an autumn harvest festival held just before the Hindu new year. Celebrations include lighting oil lamp called diyas and candles to symbolize “a victory of knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness, good over evil,” said Bhasin.

The Diwali celebration at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California, includes performances of traditional Indian dances and a Bollywood dance party for guests. It’s part of a festival of holidays at the theme park reflecting cultural traditions from around the world. The Disney festival begins Nov. 10 and runs through Jan. 7.

San Antonio, Texas, has one of the nation’s largest city-sponsored celebrations of Diwali, drawing more than 15,000 people each year. The 2017 event, scheduled for Nov. 4 at La Villita, a historic arts village, will be its ninth annual Diwali celebration with Indian dance, entertainment, food, crafts, fireworks and the release of lighted candles into the San Antonio River along the city’s River Walk.

New York City’s Rubin Museum will mark Diwali with an overnight Ragas Live Festival featuring more than 50 Indian classical musicians performing amid the museum’s collection of sacred Himalayan art. The event begins Oct. 21 at 10 a.m. and continues all day and night through Oct. 22 at 10 a.m. Chai and mango lassis will be served, visitors will have access to all the galleries and pop-up events like meditation and sunrise prayer will be offered. Special tickets will be sold for the opportunity to sleep beneath the artwork.

Other places hosting Diwali celebrations include Cary, North Carolina, in Regency Park, Oct. 14; Flushing Town Hall, Queens, New York, Oct. 29; the Seattle Center, Oct. 21; the Dulles Expo center in Chantilly, Virginia, Oct. 7-8; and Memorial Park in Cupertino, California, Sept. 30. In Columbus, Ohio, the Ohio History Center is hosting a photo exhibit about the city’s fast-growing population of immigrants from Nepal, Bhutan and India, with a Diwali event Oct. 8.

Bhasin said Diwali’s message is particularly timely now. “It is extremely important to be together and showcase to the world, not only Indians, but the entire immigrant community, to be together with Americans and to show the world we are one, we are all the same human beings,” she said.(VOA)

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Build on Indian Diaspora to Bolster Relation: US Diplomat

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugs President Donald Trump as Modi departs the White House, June 26, 2017. VOA

Kolkata, Sep 23, 2017: American diplomat Jeffrey Sexton on Friday batted for building on the Indian diaspora in the US to bolster relations, noting it is becoming more and more active in promoting cross cultural ties.

“The biggest connection that we have now is the size of the Indian diaspora in the US. All of the Indians who have connections with the US now… relatives, friends studying in the US and if we just keep building on this wonderful positive connection between the two countries, it adds such an important dimension to our relationship,” Sexton, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy in New Delhi, said on the sidelines of the inauguration of the Badamtola Ashar Sangha Durga puja and the Great Kolkata Autumn Heritage Festival.

Also Read: Indian Travellers Emerging as Key Market for America: Brand USA 

The pandal (marquee) represents a slice of America in Kolkata.

“The diaspora is becoming more and more active in the US in promoting these kind of connections (cross-cultural connections)… it is becoming more politically involved in the US… you see many of our politicians … United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley… the high profile just highlights once again the diversity of the US as a country and its connections to South Asia and India…,” Sexton told IANS.

The U.S. Embassy and consulates in India are celebrating the US-India Cultural Connections and #USIndiaDosti this month through several engagements.

(IANS)