High honour from alma mater for Tanya
Tanya Pinto is awarded the John Curtin Award for 2011, SAI NARAYAN reports
Tanya Pinto, the founder of Baal Dan, a charity which works for some of India’s poorest and disadvantaged children, was announced recently as the winner of the John Curtin Medal for 2011. Named after one of the country’s greatest statesmen and the Prime Minister of Australia from 1941 to 1945, it is awarded by WA’s Curtin University to “people who have exhibited John Curtin’s qualities of vision, leadership and community service and who have made a significant contribution in their chosen field”.
Baal Dan, the charity Tanya founded, provides food, education, medical treatment and essential supplies – from books and pencils to toilets and ceiling fans – to disadvantaged children and their families.
In 2005, after living in India, Dubai, Perth – where she completed an Honours degree at Curtin University – and the United States, Tanya took a three-month sabbatical from her successful and demanding advertising career to volunteer at the Mother Teresa Orphanage in Calcutta. It was here that her belief in the power of an ordinary person was reinforced, through her experiences, and symbolically, through a sign on the wall of the orphanage that read: “If you can’t feed a hundred people then feed just one.” That advice, a $50 donation from a friend, and the realization that in India, such a small amount can buy so much for its under-privileged children, were the impetus for Tanya’s vision for the street children, slum children and orphans of India, notes the citation on the Curtin medal.
“I was deeply affected by the poverty I saw and children living on the streets,” Tanya told Indian Link. “I have a successful career in advertising and thought I could use my business skills to raise money to help children in need in India, and so I decided to start Baal Dan in 2006”.
She was back in her home town of Perth after more than 12 years, to receive the honour, the highest non-academic award presented by the Curtin University.
Since its inception in 2006, Baal Dan has provided aid in 12 cities to more than 3,000 of India’s most disadvantaged children. It feeds at least 1,000 children a day and sponsors 45 children in private education. Three medical camps have immunized 200 children and provided medications to 300 children and women, and its first school was built in 2011. Fun activities are also a key part of the charity’s work, making sure these children are able to experience some of the simple joys of childhood.
“I don’t really set goals for Baal Dan,” Tanya said as she explained how the organisation works. “I like to focus on the core mission which is to continually focus on helping to help street children, slum children, and orphans in India as directly and efficiently as possible, while investing in ways to provide these children with an education. I hope that we can do more to help children in the slums with health programmes, and also do more to provide impoverished children with quality education”.
The supposed red tape and the corruption in India don’t really faze this plucky youngster as she strives to make sure that funds are utilized properly.
“There could be corruption in any country, especially when dealing with extreme poverty and destitution. Baal Dan tries to maintain exacting standards for the selection of our projects and the people we give grants to – all with the focus of getting aid as directly to the children as possible. By building strong and pure partnerships, Baal Dan seeks to avoid collaborations with disreputable organizations. That being said, Baal Dan conducts un-announced audits on all of its projects to confirm the project is reporting information correctly. I also personally travel to India at least 2 to 3 times a year and develop close relationships with the people who manage the projects, to oversee that our standards are being met”.
So how is Baal Dan different from existing global charities like World Vision?
“We are a very small charity compared to World Vision. We have no big offices worldwide or a staff of thousands. Baal Dan is run with a virtual office, dozens of volunteers based worldwide, and a small and committed donor base. We have none of the expensive overheads that a big charity has, and that allows us to help children as directly and as efficiently as possible, while maintaining very high standards and transparency. With Baal Dan, you can be assured that more than 95% of the funds donated are going to help the children and not to pay for costly administration. This is a major differentiator from other charities”.
An Australian chapter of the charity will be launched in Perth soon. While friends and volunteers have already offered help, Tanya is proud to have her entire family chipping in.
“My dad helps with my travel arrangements in India, my mother supports me too. My sister heads the New York Chapter of Baal Dan with her husband, and hosts an annual fundraiser. My brother has worked tirelessly on maintaining the Baal Dan website, newsletters and University fundraising chapters, while my sister-in-law does the editing for the Baal Dan videos. In addition, I have friends who support me with fundraisers, give me advice and encouragement, and most of all, love and keeping faith in what I have set out to do with my life. I am truly blessed!”
The aims are that the Australian chapter will hold regular fundraisers for Baal Dan’s work in India.
“Indians living abroad can be put off giving to charities in India because of corruption and lack of assurance that the money is going to those who need it the most. I would like to assure anyone that supports Baal Dan that I am doing this work with pure intentions, meticulous attention to how best to use my donors’ funds and a clear passion and commitment to helping children in need in India, and changing their lives through food and education. It is easy to be cynical, but if you take a look at what I am doing and Baal Dan’s track record for the last 5 years, you will see a charity that is truly unique and pure”.
In 2010, Tanya was named ‘Woman of the Year’ by Harvard University’s Women’s Empowerment Conference and Convention, and in 2007, she was awarded the Sri-Sri Ravi Shankar Award for ‘Uplifting Human Values’. Baal Dan is the two-time winner of ‘Charity of the Month’ by Search Kindly, a Google company, and has been named ‘Hunger Charity of Choice’ by The Hunger Site and Greater Good Foundation.
To learn more about Tanya’s charity, go to www.baaldan.com
To get involved with the Australian chapter of Baal Dan, write in to her at Tanya@baaldan.com