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Sneha Vedula: life full of zest

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Sneha Vedula with her family
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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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Issues Over Heritage In Illinois Election Campaign

"We vote by the type of person and what that person can do and not by anything else"

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Midterm Elections, illinois
Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Illinois. VOA

In an Illinois congressional district where just six percent of the constituency is Indian American, the incumbent Democrat Congressman is being challenged by another Indian American.

“I see it as American versus American,” Jitendra Diganvker, or “JD” — the Republican challenger for the Illinois 8th district, said.

“Yeah we happen to be Indian,” he added dismissively.

“It is a good thing that members of minorities are running as Democrats or as Republicans,” the incumbent Raja Krishnamoorthi said.

The Illinois 8th District is 51 percent Caucasian, 28 percent Hispanic,14 percent Asian, and four percent African-American, according to the most recent U.S. Census data. Of those Asians, about half are Indian, according to the campaigns’ estimates.

Views and policy

In this diverse district, voters care about issues more than identity.

“I don’t care about them being Indian American. I just hope that whichever one wins that they support and help the people,” said Michelle Sims, an employee at the DuPage Community College. “And if you’re Indian then, hey, that’s fine. Just help the people.”

A Jamaican-American university student, Amara Creighton, says she thinks it is great that two minority candidates are running and have support, regardless of their ethnicity.

“I think what’s more important is their views and their policies,” Creighton said. “I mean, it doesn’t really matter to me what their minority is as long as they’re standing up for us and doing good for us.”

This rare instance of two candidates of the same minority running against each other is reflective of a larger trend throughout the United States – record numbers of Indian Americans are running for office and winning their elections.

In 2016, four Indian Americans — one of them being Krishnamoorthi, were elected to the U.S. House and a fifth was elected to the Senate — outnumbering in just one election the total number of Indian Americans to serve as U.S. representatives.

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Incumbent Raja Krishnamoorthi goes by his first name, which his constituents can more easily pronounce. VOA

Krishnamoorthi, a businessman and former deputy state treasurer, was elected to his first term in the House of Representatives in 2016. He succeeded Democrat Tammy Duckworth, who was elected that year to the U.S. Senate.

Diganvker is a small businessman, Uber driver, and ardent member of the local Republican party. As the underdog, he is running as a “day-to-day” guy, and says he decided to run because he feels his opponent is out of touch with middle-class, hardworking families in his community.

But his opponent, who is completing his first term in Congress, says he is far from out of touch with his community. He visits each weekend to see his wife and children when Congress is in session.

Though both candidates are immigrants, their views on immigration policy differ. Krishnamoorthi, the Democrat, has been critical of Trump’s policies to decrease refugee allowances and speaks out against family separations at the border.

“We shouldn’t separate parents from children,” he told VOA. “That’s an abomination.”

Though Diganvker, too, opposes family separations at the border, he favors Trump’s promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico and supported the travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries.

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Republican challenger Jitendra “JD” Digavnker says he is running as a “day-to-day” guy. VOA

“I’m also an immigrant. I followed the legal process and I believe in merit-based immigration,” he said, adding that merit-based immigration “brings the right skill set of people into our country.”

Krishnamoorthi, however, said that his parents legal immigration to the United States has not hardened his immigration stance.

“The fact that my parents came here legally and someone [else] did not, doesn’t mean that we should be inhumane or disrespectful, doesn’t mean we should treat them with anything less than dignity,” he said.

Diverse constituency

Both Congressional candidates are Hindu, but have wooed members of various religions in the community.

“When you come to this country there is no race,” said Farrukh Khan, a Muslim halal-shop owner in Schaumburg. “We should not go for the race, we should go for the people who more care about you and your community. Hindu or Muslim doesn’t matter.”

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Halal shop-owner Farrukh Khan says that he is unconsidered by the religion of either candidate. VOA

So as not to lose a customer, he did not indicate which man he will support in the November election.

Myrna Frankel has volunteered for Krishnamoorthi since his first campaign, an unsuccessful bid for Illinois comptroller in 2010. They know each other through the Jewish Beth Tikvah Congregation in Schaumburg where the congressman, who lives a few blocks away, sent his children for nursery school.

“He considers himself a JewDu – half Jewish, half Hindu,” she recounted with a laugh.

Myrna’s husband, Robert, said that this diversity and community relationships are typical of their community.

“Our state senator is from Mexico. Our state representative is from Puerto Rico. Our junior senator is of Thai background,” he said.

“We vote by the type of person and what that person can do and not by anything else,” he said.

Also Read: Democrats Gain Fundraising Advantage In The US Midterm Elections

When it comes to policy, voters in the Illinois 8th seem to heavily favor the incumbent. Early polling by Five Thirty Eight shows a “99% chance” that Krishnamoorthi will win. Rasmussen’s most recent poll shows a “Strong Dem” leaning in the midterm. As of June 30, Krishnamoorthi had raised more than $4 million compared to Diganvker’s $29,000.

But the challenger isn’t intimidated.

“People can give him $10 million and that’s not going to scare me,” he said, adding that despite recent polling, his campaign is “1,000 percent sure” that he will win in November. (VOa)