A Life Less Ordinary
| Category: Achievers
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 San Francisco Bay Area. Over the weekends, she is busy volunteering at SiliconAndhra, a nonprofit 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 her brainchild, Team Shakti. It is a creative collaboration to celebrate womanhood by giving a platform to women of all hues, ages, communities and backgrounds to perform and showcase their talents, share experiences and exult in each other’s achievements.
That’s quite a feat, isn’t it? So, how does she 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. 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, to Mangapathi, an engineer, and Nagaratnam, a homemaker, she moved to the “land of opportunities” in 1997 after her 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.
In 2001, two years after her son Srinivas was born, she happened to attend a community function at SiliconAndhra, a newly formed nonprofit organization, along with her parents-in-law. She 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 to the organization and its people, “which beautifully filled the void.” 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 nonprofit 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. “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,” she says.
Highlighting Vedula’s contributions, Santhi Kuchibhotla, founder member of the organization and vice-president for the 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 recently adopted Kuchipudi village in Andhra Pradesh and plans to turn it 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? She bursts into laughter and says, “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 sought answers from me, ever,” says Vedula. "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,” she adds.
Explaining the shift from being a human resource 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 as a whole and fuels my passion for serving others as well.”
The shift was gradual, but the result has been quite noteworthy. Recounting her association with Mohta, her partner and co-founder of Tulip Kids, Vedula says, “Deepti was running an established daycare in the Bay Area, but she was exploring bigger opportunities in the field of education and something particular to cater to school-age children. 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 students 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.”
About her association with Vedula, Mohta fondly says, “If Tulip Kids is standing because of me, it’s 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 within the education space. 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. 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, in which 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 stage in Mumbai in December 2014. “It was a fantastic feeling to be on the stage and swinging to Govinda [actor] 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, Prabha Malempati, Madhavi Kadiyala, Shirisha Kaleru, Deepti Mohta, Ratnamala Vanka, Rama Saripalle, Shilpa Mehendale and Manasa Rao, who also take care of this noble initiative. “It aims to provide funding and support to women-based nonprofit organizations. In the last four years of its existence, the organization has reached out to many charitable projects in the U.S. 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,” says Vedula.
The proceeds from Team Shakti’s recently-held anniversary will go to Aarti Homes in Kadapa, Andhra Pradesh. Aarti Homes is a shelter for abandoned young girls. “Aarti provides not only shelter and schooling for abandoned girls, but also training and livelihood and awareness programmes, so that women have the economic and emotional independence to make their choices. Aarti works to restore this cycle of life between mother and girl child. It ensures that women are empowered to make choices in their lives,” she explains. “It is our small contribution to support a cause for the betterment of womenfolk and make a difference in their lives,” she says.
Summing up Vedula’s 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 making it 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. 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!”