By Prakash Waghmare
The week of October 6 -13, 2018, has a special significance in the 30-year history of “Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation (EVF)”. In this week, ‘Ekal’ (as it is popularly known), hosted three fund-raising glittering Galas at three strategic places in USA and raised record $5.5 Million in pledges.
This was in addition to $7.5 Million it had already realized through its annual 50+ fund-raising concerts across USA. On Oct. 6 Ekal-Houston, TX hosted a Gala where generous donors collectively gave $1.5 Million. In similar fashion, on Oct.12, Ekal-Washington hosted a Gala in Bethesda, MD and raised $1.1 Million.
A year earlier (2017) New York (NY) region had successfully initiated Gala for high net-worth philanthropic donors, and so all eyes were on magnificent ‘Cipriani-Wall Street’ banquet Hall in NY as the grand finale of this gala-phase and NY did not disappoint anyone. It raised $3 Million. This crowning achievement pushed Ekal’s donation total for Yr 2018, way beyond $10 Million it had initially hoped for. In addition, what was remarkable was all three Galas were completely sold-out affairs.
At the NYC Ekal-GALA, the presence of John Sculley, former CEO of ‘Apple & Pepsi’ and veteran film actor Anupam Kher as two key-note speakers was the highlight of the evening. These two Iconic personalities, not only freely mingled with the crowd during initial social hour but also patiently took time to interact with their fans. Sandeep Chakravorty, Consul General of India was the Chief Guest of this event. Mohan Wanchoo’s opening remarks, after national anthems of USA & India, set the tone for the evening. As the Chairman of the GALA, he touched on aspirations of village folks and what could be done to bring them into the mainstream. Chirag Patel, as the co-chair of the event emphasized urgency to transform villages so that India could tackle challenges of the future.
Ranjani Saigal’s presentation of ‘EKAL’ (with montage of slides, pictures in the background) was a defining moment. She gave several real-life examples of ecliptic rise of some of the Ekal alumnus in 10-12 minutes. This made the first-timers to Ekal, including ‘Key-note speakers’, fairly knowledgeable about crucial aspects of Ekal movement. John Sculley and Anupam Kher were simply amazing as keynote speakers.
John Sculley commended innovativeness of Indians and lauded Ekal’s dedication to bring changes in rural life by empowering women and boasting self-esteem of rural folks, in general. Anupam Kher drew parallels between his life and the life of poor village-folks and elaborated on how he overcame obstacles in his own life by believing in himself. Laminated letters of Ekal-school children at each placement on every guest tables were quite soul-touching. This immediately connected the attendees with the village-based children in India. On this occasion, Ekal India Team – Bajarang Bagra and Naresh Jain – was also felicitated. Honoring them, Mohan Wanchoo said,” we in USA only raise funds for rural folks but the real hard work is done by ‘Ekal-India’.
The pledging process was focused on supporting a variety of projects in the field of education, health and skill development. Inspired by a matching donation from ‘Sarva Mangal Family Trust’ to bring ‘tablets’ to Ekal schools, $150,000 was raised, instantaneously so that it could turn into $300,000 and equip 600 schools for hand-held ‘Tablets’.
Chintu Patel, Co-Founder and CEO of Amneal Pharmaceuticals gave a passionate speech on the importance of supporting the eye initiative of Ekal which he personally promised to support in partnership with ‘Irada’, a foundation started by his family. As of this moment Ekal has 77,000 Ekal-schools across India grooming 2 Million Children – more than half of them girls. PM Modi has given Ekal a goal to establish 100,000 schools by YR 2022 (75th Anniversary of India’s Independence).
The highest bid – $500,000 – came from an anonymous donor who wanted to support the expansion of the schools specifically to reach this target. The overwhelming support that Ekal witnessed in ‘Galas’, it is very likely that Ekal will reach PM Modi’s target 100,000 schools by Yr. 2020 (way ahead of time).
This unprecedented support from patrons has also given confidence to Ekal to revise and aggressively pursue its developmental agenda. Yr 2018 saw the highest ever growth in Ekal’s 30-year history. New schools were opened in 18,000 villages. E-Shiksha – tutoring by ‘Tablets’ – was initiated in 180 schools, as a pilot project. For digital literacy, 10 ‘Ekal-on-wheels’ mobile digital labs have been added.
Each van can educate 5,000 youths, each year, in basic computer skills. Four ‘Gramotthan Ctrs’ that directly benefit 400,000 farmers (indirectly up to 4 Million) have been planned along with ‘Satellite Skill Ctrs’. First ‘Tele-Medicine’ project, with support from ‘John Hopkins Univ’ was undertaken in Odisha to bring expert Medical advice to the doorsteps of remote Villagers. As Bajrang Bagra, CEO of Ekal-India said, “the primary objective of this all-round integrated development is to give dignity and self-esteem to rural-tribal folks of India. For the first time, Ekal went ‘live’ on Facebook and Twitter for this event. This memorable evening concluded with concert by ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’ contest singing superstars, ‘Bishakh Jyoti & Suchetana Sinha’.