The Silicon Valley Voice

Power To Your Voice

Santa Clara’s Harbir Bhatia Receives World Peace and Understanding Award

“A friend once said that I run towards fires not away from them, which was an eye opener for me. I think back and it’s always been like that,” said Harbir Bhatia, who returned in July from her most recent humanitarian aid trip to Ukraine, invaded by Russia on Feb. 24, 2022.

Bhatia was presented this year with the annual Carl G. Orne World Peace and Understanding Award by Rotary District 5170, comprising 61 local Rotary clubs in four counties.

“Harbir Bhatia is an uncommon human being and outstanding Rotarian,” said Savita Vaidhyanathan, 2022-23 Rotary District 5170 Governor.


“When the invasion of Ukraine happened, we [the Rotary] expressed empathy and did several fundraisers. But if there was ever a person who acted with speed, efficiency, compassion, and more importantly, with utmost courage and dedication, it was Harbir Bhatia,” said Vaidhyanathan.

“She led several missions to help the hapless war victims in Ukraine with medical supplies, food, winter clothing, etc. Often putting her own life at risk, she served relentlessly,” continued Vaidhyanathan. “She was honored with an award by the military in Kharkiv, Ukraine, for her bravery. Helping Ukraine was not enough. She also went to Syria and Turkey to help with 2023 earthquake relief efforts.”

“This has been such a fulfilling experience in my life. I have felt so much happiness during this work over the last 18 months,” Bhatia said.

She is motivated to reach out by the belief that “the world is so small and part of One, and Ik Onkar, the one singular creative force or almighty that made us, is in us and is us. As such we are all one.”

Bhatia’s ability to collaborate is a strength in serving the world community.

“By collaborating and connecting various NGOs, donors, and recipients, relief efforts could be scaled much more,” said Bhatia, citing collaborators such as Selectiva Charites, USAID, Rotary, and Sister Cities International, which appointed Bhatia country representative for Ukraine.

“I am surprised how much I have learned and also how much my diverse professional and community background helped me dealing with crisis situations,” said Bhatia, who was appointed CEO of Silicon Valley Central Chamber this past June.

The war in Ukraine brought to Bhatia’s mind how her Sikh father ran with his parents and grandparents from attacks on their cities and villages in India during the 1947 partition of British India to Pakistan and India. They became refugees, running for their lives for weeks—a trauma her father will never forget.

Bhatia’s community activism began with helping the poor as a child in India and carried over to her new homeland.

“I am a Sikh, and I am an immigrant who remembers leaving India and the experience as a child of helping my mother come to America (the Midwest in 1978) with my younger siblings,” said Bhatia, a Santa Clara resident since 2004.

She recalls packing food for the elderly in high school in the U.S. and in college raising funds for students who lost their apartments to fire. She worked on global relief for Gujarat, India, after the earthquake in the early 2000s.

She fought for affordable housing in Silicon Valley and went to the state of Punjab in India to make a documentary about the farmers committing suicide. She has fought for civil rights for minorities and spearheaded local relief efforts during COVID.

“World peace and international goodwill have been important to me ever since I can remember,” said Bhatia. “All of these things are connected, and I feel it. The older I get the more I feel and see the local and global connection. I believe that what affects some, will eventually affect all.”


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