‘Hindu Women’s Network’ an initiative of the World Hindu Council of America, Atlanta Chapter, reconvened for their annual Hindu Women’s Conference on February 25th, 2023, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm courtesy of the Best Western at 907 Holcomb Bridge Road, Roswell.
Aligned with the trivet of Seva(service), Samskara(values) and Sampark(network) the agenda of HWC meet was to further the conversation on women empowerment and enrichment. The board room of Best Western was bedecked with colorful Indian tapestry on the walls, Statue of Ganesha was clad with pink, fuchsia floral garland, and the projector screen displayed the mission statement of HWC. The conference was inaugurated with lamp lighting ceremony done by Veena Katdare-President of VHPA Atlanta Chapter, Kusum Khurana – Vice president of VHPA Atlanta Chapter, Nilesh Oak-Keynote Speaker followed by prayers led by Manju Tiwari, Smita Daftardar, Manjula Reddy, Kusum Khurana, Veena Katdare, and Neetu Sharma.
The facilitator of HWC Sabitha Venugopal outlined the program schedule and announced the conference open for dialogue and panel discussion. Mina Menon, a certified yoga instructor, led the conclave through breathing exercises. Pranayama, Prandhara Brahmini and Omkar Sadhana, which energized the convocation.
Manjula Reddy, a veteran volunteer with VHPA introduced Nilesh Oak, the Keynote Speaker, to the group. Nilesh Oak is a historian and author. He has an MS in chemical engineering and an executive MBA. He is the author of three books that delve extensively into ancient Indian history. Nilesh Oak addressed the forum on the cultural history of Hindus. The conservation, growth, and transmissible inheritance of the Hindu values. Key takeaways for the audience were—
~Values are not taught but caught.
~Mothers teach through example.
~Fostering freedom of thought through story style recounting of history.
The thirty-minute intense talk was followed by a timed Q&A session with the audience. Nisha Desai, a volunteer, clocked all the sessions ensuring we stayed on schedule throughout the day.
The ensuing thirty minutes was a lively discussion where the audience discussed quandaries posed like “As a Hindu woman, what do you stand for? Would you actively come out to support? What can the community do to support you? With the group invigorated by the back and forth the summit moved to the next chalk talk.
Mental Well Being was the theme wherein the moderator Dr. Sarika Jaswani invited Dr. Sreedevi Vayalpalli MD – a double board-certified doctor in addiction and adult psychiatry, Dr. Priyanka Patel – a general and forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Kalpana Prasad – and adjunct asst. professor at Emory and the program director at Northeast Georgia Medical Center to take center stage. Dr. Vayalpalli talked, about mental health issues in women and why they are at increased risk of depression. Dr. Patel spoke about neurobiology of mental illness in adults and children and voiced the influence of social media on mental health and warning signs of suicide. Dr. Prasad vocalized other facets of mental health Issues related in older south Asian women. The challenges created by limited research in US based Asian community and the stigma associated with mental health that adds to the existing problems. The trio stressed education, conversation and reaching out for support and resources for mental wellbeing.
Thence forward, Smita Daftardar, a veteran teacher at Gwinnett Balvihar, heralded in her speech the growing community of VHPA organization. Semicentennial VHPA’s foundation was instituted to bring community together for social and spiritual growth of Hindus in America. Balvihar Hindi School was established in 1969 followed by a family camp in the same year. Hindu Student council in 1990, Coalition of Hindu Youth 2010, Bhagwat Gita Santana Dharma Scholarship in 1993, which was later expanded to Sharada Scholarship Program 2022. Durga Project supports abused women, Hindu Women Network, to name a few.
Hitherto to lunch of Indian delicacies like Palak Paneer, Pulao and Halwa, Anu Whitaker, one of the board of Directors at Drake house, elaborated about the 501c3 Non-Profit for abused women and children. She implored the attendees to support the growing number of single mothers who experience homelessness in North Fulton as they work towards their self-sufficiency.
Lunch was followed by Yoganidra shepherded by Anita Houde who guided the audience to succinct relaxation. Followed by audience discussion in ‘Chai pe Charcha’ session. The topic of conversation was “Does the media portray or reinforce stereotypes, or do they empower women? What can we do as women to break the pattern?’. The subsequent back and forth energized the audience for the next two sessions of the conference.
Shobha Shivram, one of the teachers at Cobb County Balvihar, hosted the next session of Wills, Living wills and Trust. She introduced the dignitaries for the panel. Ritu and Anuj Jain who are licensed professionals and specialize in financial planning, estate planning and managing risks to plan for retirement. Sheetal Desai who is managing partner at the Trusted lawyers, a Desai Law Group, PC. She is President of Southeast regional chapter of the US Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce. Member of Judicial Nomination Commission. Member of the Gwinnett County Outreach Advisory Board. They talked about financial awareness and making personal asset lists. The key takeaway message at the end of the session was: “It’s not how much you save that matters, but it’s how much you get to keep.”
Preeti Gupta, one of the teachers at Gwinnett Balvihar, welcomed the guests for the concluding segment, ‘Meet the Entrepreneurs’. She invited Nita Sardana, Babita Verma, and Anita Houde. Each a connoisseur in their fields. Nita Sardana is the VP of Community Outreach and Corporate Giving at Innova Solutions founded by her husband Raj Sardana who spearheaded the growth of the company into a global organization. Nita is co-founder and CEO of Innova Foundation. Nita’s passion for women empowerment has taken her across the globe. She has been an inspiration for many women. Babita Verma is a chef and founder of Bebe’s Kitchen – a social enterprise that curates immersive food experiences to promote global culinary traditions and empower aspiring refugee and immigrant women chefs.
Anita Houde teaches Chemistry at Chattahoochee Technical College in Marietta, Georgia. She has a passion for helping elderly people so that they live life with dignity and respect. She owns a home health franchise and is successfully running it to bring satisfaction to elders in need and thereby earning a sense of fulfillment.
The program wrapped up with prayers and triumphant volunteers huddling for group pictures and selfies with the dignitaries. Each participant went home with a hint of epiphany and a load of empowerment. Each participant for the meet felt an embodiment of Shiva Shakti in them as their consciousness found momentum. And nothing is more powerful than a woman going home with a resolve.