Beato, the Atlanta-based, 20-pound Norwegian Forest cat is traveling around the world these days in a new series of children’s picture books created by local author Sucheta Rawal.
Ms. Rawal is an award-winning food and travel writer who has chosen Beato, her companion for the past seven years, as a lead character for her children’s books because of his distinguishing characteristics.
He is “curious like all cats,” she told dozens of kids and their parents who came to the book release party for the third book in the series ‘Beato Goes to…’ at the Buckhead Library on Peachtree Street July 19. And “people love cats,” she added referring to You Tube’s most searched videos of “funny cats.”
But more importantly, Beato is the protagonist because of his lack of adherence to a specific religious denomination, the absence of a specific skin color, and he is not identified with an ethnic group, making him a foil for learning about the world’s diversity, she told Global Atlanta.
Ms. Rawal was inspired to write children’s books based on her own travels, including the 69 countries she already has visited, and drew upon characters she met, her personal experiences and actual photographs to create stories filled with cultural references and “fun facts” enhanced by colorful illustrations.
“I really have just replaced myself with the cat,” she said of her books that seek to raise awareness of distant cultures and places. Her goal as author of the series ‘Beato Goes to’ — Greenland, Israel and most recently Indonesia is to inspire young readers to be curious about the world and grow up to be well informed citizens.
She wants to help dissolve stereotypes, bigotry and conflict by reaching out to children as early as four years old. Beato, an obviously lovable cat, is a means to these ends. He is exposed to the beauty of the countries that he visits and learns about them, gratifying his curiosity as he prepares to live in a world increasingly interconnected. Along the way, he also learns about important topics such as protecting the environment, eating healthy and respecting elders
Having grown up in Chandigarh, a small city in northern India, Ms. Rawal had not traveled abroad until she came to Atlanta for the 1996 Olympic Games.
“I really liked how clean, green and eclectic the city was,” she said of her feelings at the time of the Olympic Games, which prompted her to move to the United States for her college education eventually receiving a master’s degree from Georgia State University‘s Robinson College of Business.
As an Indian student, who was raised in a highly competitive, education focused environment, her early expectations were to become a doctor, engineer or an investment banker. Settling on a career in finance, she went to work at ING Investment Banking in high yield and emerging markets.
She recalled the job as being in “a high-pressure male dominated environment,” where she was the youngest person and the only female on her team. “Often it was difficult to connect with my colleagues,” she added. “Also, I couldn’t picture myself spending 10 hours a day staring at spreadsheets across three-to-four monitors for the rest of my life.”
There were benefits, however. “The good part were the income and vacation days. It allowed me the opportunity to travel abroad and soon enough I came to be known as “the travel and food help desk at work.”
Her evolution as an entrepreneur wasn’t automatic. She traces some of her skills, which have enabled her development, to her academic experience and a consulting position she held at the Gallup Organization.
“I don’t think being at business school pushed me to become an entrepreneur, but it certainly made me better at juggling multiple aspects of a business,” she said. “I was very active in student life and took on a leadership role that helped me in public speaking as well.”
These days she can be found speaking about leadership, travel and her books at travel shows, festivals, corporate events, universities and schools across the world.
Ms. Rawal is also a food writer in the Atlanta area, a habit that she acquired by doing restaurant reviews in college, mainly for free meals and went on to become a specialist in ethnic dining. “My favorite places to eat are Israel, Italy and India,” she said.
But Atlanta hasn’t limited her eating habits. “I feel that Atlanta is very diverse,” she said. “If we look for it, there are hundreds of ethnic restaurants run by refugees and immigrants, as well as religious and community centers, consulates and people from practically everywhere in the world.”
This awareness prompted her to start Go Eat Give as a blog where she could document her travels and consolidate her restaurant reviews, recipes and stories connecting people places and palates.”
“Food is one component that brings people together, whether you are in Kabul or Paris,” she said. The blog led to her leading sustainable tours around the world “to raise cultural and diversity awareness of different countries.”
Meanwhile at home in Atlanta, Go Eat Give evolved into a non-profit organization that accepts donations to further its mission of hosting cultural awareness events, subsidizing volunteer vacation programs and collecting engaging stories from around the world. Go Eat Give now partners with grassroots organizations in Nepal, India, Cuba, Mexico and Indonesia.
She told Global Atlanta that one of her proudest accomplishments on the philanthropic front is the Bali Children’s Project in Indonesia, which continues to benefit the education of children due to the largesse of some of the travelers who visited Bali with her, and from proceeds of her ‘Beato Goes to Indonesia’ book sales.
She also is pleased with her involvement in the Savera Women’s Shelter, a safe house in Chandigarh, the city where she grew up. Her involvement at the women’s shelter represents a return of sorts to her roots and enables her to stay connected to her native culture.
But it certainly doesn’t represent the completion of her curiosity to learn more about the world or satisfy her desire to do good.
Acknowledging that she has set a goal of visiting 100 countries, she continues to counsel travelers to be knowledgeable about the ways of the world and adopt wise, “empowering” practices in their voyages leading to greater self-confidence and awareness.
Even her books are being pushed into new territories as she recently published an augmented reality App for her book, ‘Beato Goes to Greenland,’ that enables 3-D animation, read-to-me and engaging interactive features.
As for Beato, he is going to continue to travel and to meet kids from around the world. Next stop– Japan!
To order a copy of Beato Goes to Indonesia, click here. Ms. Rawal may be reached by email by clicking on email@example.com
Follow Beato’s adventures on Facebook here.