“Ekal Foundation” Raises $4 Million In Star-Studded ‘Future Of India’ Gala

“Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation (EVF)” raised over $4 million in a star-studded virtual Gala, called “Future of India” that highlighted pre-eminent speakers, Ekal’s eclectic accomplishments and youth’s contributions to its mission on Saturday, November 13, 2021.

As per Indian demography, two third of its population resides in villages. Ekal, as it is popularly known, currently has presence in over 102,000 rural-tribal areas all across India with a reach to over 300,000 such clusters of habitants. Although rooted in education, Ekal has blossomed into providing healthcare, integrated village development, empowering functionality and new-age technology to these rural folks.

This two-hour event, co-chaired by Mohan Wanchoo and Kamlesh Shah, both successful entrepreneurs and philanthropist, saw consistent overwhelming response from the donors, from the moment it opened up till it was capped by youthful entertainment by “Penn-Masala’, a youthful group of famous singers from “University of Pennsylvania”.

The funds raised at the Gala were for specific projects, such as tailoring training centers, E-shiksha, Ekal-on-Wheels, Telemedicine, Gramotthan Research Centers, and Integrated Village Development. Mohan Wanchoo, who pioneered Gala events at Ekal, regaled viewers with a personal story of how hospitable tribal villagers were in the midst of a horrific tragedy that they had endured earlier.

As a professional singer he mesmerized the viewers with an inspiring song in his melodious voice. Kamlesh Shah elaborated on Ekal’s aggressive fight with Covid-19 pandemic and the steps, that were taken to fight misinformation about the virus and the treatment. From the interspersed interviews of rural children, it was quite evident that Ekal has fired up their imagination to aspire for becoming Doctors, Soldiers, Teachers etc.

Ekal’s women-centric empowerment activities and education as a tool for progress touched a nerve with all three chief guest speakers who whole heartedly supported Ekal’s selfless mission for the future of India. Kiran Mozumdar-Shaw, founder of Biocon and recipient of ‘Padma Bhushan’ honor, emphasized the need for digital tracking of patients by the tech-savvy nursing caretakers, as the core point for managing the pandemic.

Coming from a humble family, Renu Khator, President of University of Houston system chancellor, stressed on the important role the education has played throughout her Steller career. She lauded EVF’s efforts for women empowerment. Naren Chaudhary, CEO of highly successful ‘Panera Bread’ brand, explained how his daughter – ‘Aisha’ – was the central motivating factor in whatever he did in his life. He expressed unequivocal passion for his country – India – where he had witnessed ‘spirit of humanity’ in his own time of acute need to save Aisha.

Ranjani Saigal, the Executive Director of Ekal-USA assured him that his daughter’s legacy lives through what Ekal does best. For every $1 a donor invests in Ekal activities, Ekal volunteers provides $8 worth of selfless volunteer efforts. Ekal’s youth-wing had raised substantial amount of funding to arrest the spread of Covid pandemic. During the Gala, they freely talked about what attracted them most to this largest social endeavor, supported by the Indians and NRIs, in dozen countries. Ekal supports all its activities without any regards to a particular region, religion or gender.

A galaxy of Bollywood stars – from Hema Malini, Boney Kapoor, Subhash Ghai to Varun Dhavan, Udit Narayan, Alia Bhatt – provided glitz with their enthusiastic support for Ekal. A ZEE-TV ‘2019 Cine Awards’ clip, showed three Ekal alumni students honored, for exceptional achievements. This public honor was bestowed on ‘Pinky Karmakar’ of Assam who was the torch-bearer at 2012 London Olympics, ‘Divya Malgave’ of Maharashtra who won a Gold Medal at ‘International Intermediate Karat Championship’ and ‘Ramchandra Verma’ of U.P. who has made his birthplace – ‘Aligunj’ – an ideal ‘Gaav’ (village). While unveiling the roadmap for the future, Suresh Iyer, the President of Ekal-USA, confirmed that the essential objectives of all the projects are two-fold – first, to prevent migration of rural folks to urban areas for lack of opportunities and second, to increase the economic and social impact on their lives. He appealed viewers to join hands with Ekal for the better ‘Future of India’.

Ekal’s Aggressive March Towards ‘Mission 2025’

On September 18, “Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of USA – EVF” hosted a day-long virtual ‘National Conference’ with 220 registrants from U.S., Canada and India. Although touted to be a national gathering, Ekal-India had a sizable presence in it, along with some representation from Ekal-Canada. The primary objective of this conference was, not only to review the scalability of ‘Ekal Abhiyan’ projects (an umbrella organization of Ekal’s various logistic operations), but also, to align the aspirations of Ekal-America and Ekal-India for future goals. With the Covid-19 pandemic affecting rural life, this conference had the arduous task of remapping success milestones for ‘Mission 2025’, outlined earlier in Yr.2020.

Ekal-India team presented revitalized facets of ‘Ekal Abhiyan’, namely ‘Digital Literacy’, ‘Arogya Foundation’, ‘Gramothan Foundation’, ‘E-Shiksha’, and ‘Global Communication’, with a focus on the covid-19 pandemic, skill development and economic empowerment. The host team along with Ekal-Canada was composed of members of the board of directors, working committees, regional & chapter presidents and the youth wing. This Pan-American team introduced the topics like innovativeness and accountability in capital projects, technology roadmap, fund-raising targets, cutting-edge technology for project management, and youth involvement.

In essence, all the panelists pushed for a well-coordinated aggressive march towards the milestones of progress, pegged as ‘Mission 2025’. Lot of awe-inspiring information about Ekal achievements came out in various presentations. Ekal-India, keeping an eye on the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ initiative (self-sustaining, self-reliant ‘Bharat’) floated by the Hon. PM Modi plans to showcase 35,000 villages as the ‘Pragat Sanch’ (progressive clusters) with holistic development that would incorporate digital literacy, health & hygiene, skill training, sustainable farming and value-based education.

A small portion of these clusters would be turned into quintessential ‘Adarsh Gram’ (Model Villages), as a role-model template for the future. Ekal is currently leaning towards launching digital technology, at every level of its activities and operations. Ekal-USA, therefore highlighted the E-Shiksha methodology and the preliminary timetable to expand it across Ekal school map. As a dynamic organization, Ekal is perpetually broadening its base, worldwide. With a newly established presence in France and Thailand, the total number of countries with Ekal affiliate branches is now 12.

During the school closures in the U.S., the Ekal-youths, not only helped to publicize virtual concerts with their social media expertise but also, raised funds through athletic activities, talent shows and skills developing tutorials. Being socially conscientious, the youth earnestly took part in their community food drives, tree-planting projects and outreach programs for the seniors in need.

On the covid-19 front, Ekal’s success in rural-tribal areas is staggering. Because of the aggressive safety campaign, herbal medications, nutritional food provisions and isolationist tactics that Ekal field volunteers vigorously promoted there, the pandemic’s effect on rural folks was very minimal. Field volunteers, not only countered the misinformation about the vaccine by asserting its benefit but also, made it worry-free with videos of their own vaccination. This led the vaccination rate to 71% in some corners.

While overcoming various hurdles unique to a village set up, Ekal never ever lost the sight of keeping all its supporters well informed about the steps it was taking in successfully arresting the spread of the deadly virus. This flow of incessant communication not only strengthened donor’s trust in ‘EVF’, but also was reflected in their generous support for this institution. In Yr. 2020 Ekal-USA, with virtual events had raised almost $10 million, with $6.5 million coming in from the year-end magnificent gala. To that end, Ekal-USA once again confirmed that the eagerly awaited glittering virtual Gala would be hosted on Saturday, November 13, 2021.

At the conference’s conclusion, as the host and President of Ekal-USA, Sureshji Iyer summarized various proposals of the panelists for ‘Mission 2025’. While unveiling the roadmap for the benefit of participants, he explained in a nutshell that, although the number of schools would remain the same at 102,000 mark, the number of villages for E-Shiksha (education through tablets) would go up from current 1,170 schools to all 102,000 schools; Arogya services (Healthcare) from 1,200 villages to 35,000; Ekal-on-wheel vans (mobile digital training) from 29 to 60; Tailoring ctrs from 33 to 150; Integrated Village Development Ctrs (IVD) from 12 to 31; and Gramothan Research Ctr (GRC) from 15 to 31. During the five-year goal period, 50% of schools, 15 GRCs, and 25 IVDs are expected to become self-sustaining, subject to third-party assessment.

Ekal Offensive Against Pandemic in Rural India

In India, Covid-19 (Corona) pandemic’s second wave hit hard suddenly and with the force of a tsunami. The country was caught off guard and ill prepared for the toll it took. All the focus of the grave situation revolved mainly around the urban areas and rural-tribal areas received scant notice. There was a reason too for this apathy towards the rural community.

Last year, the villages had fared quite well in arresting the spread of corona, by and large, and the majority of folks there had remained immune to it. As India entered well into Yr.2021, the situation changed. According to BajrangBagra, the CEO of ‘EkalAbhiyan’ (federation of all ‘Ekal’ organizations), “the serious aspect of the pandemic, this time around, is that it has struck even in the countryside where, unfortunately, the medical infrastructure and facilities are not as strong as they are in the urban areas”. In rural India, ‘Ekal’ (as ‘Abhiyan’ is popularly known) has the most wide-spread network of volunteers and collaborators in the deepest corners of villages. It has firm presence and unwavering support in over 100,000 villages. That’s why Ekal has undertaken a comprehensive well-coordinated offensive against the pandemic, with support from its allied organizations.

Last year, Ekal’s successful initiative against covid was based on self-monitoring, self-reliance, education and cooperative-exchanges. It included a wide-spread awareness campaign about the hygiene, social distancing, food distribution, mask-making and restrictive movements. The new offensive has not only incorporated all these steps in the direct-action roadmap, but also, has started a proactive counter campaign against the misinformation about the vaccine, the danger posed by covid and voodoo- treatments. With extensive reach well beyond its footings, Ekal has mobilized tens of thousands of its school teachers for this information campaign. ‘Ekal-Arogya (Health Foundation)’ has established 24-hr Telehealth lifeline (# 011 41236457) for professional medical counselling.

According to Ramesh Shah, Ekal Global Coordinator and an advisor to Ekal-USA, ‘Board of Directors’, “currently more than 350 ‘National Medico Organization (NMO)’ Doctors in India and some in U.S. are manning the helpline every day”. In addition to various empowering projects for the economic sustainance of the village folks, Ekal has earmarked one million dollars just for covid relief. It is converting its 29 ‘Gramotthan Research Ctrs’ and ‘Integrated Village Development Ctrs’ into corona isolation camps, fully equipped with Oxygen concentrators, PPE kits, Oximeters and basic medicines. After making provision for hundreds of beds it is dispensing Ayurvedic, Homoeopathic and Allopathic medicines as deemed necessary. According to Arun Gupta, Chairman of Ekal-USA ‘Board of Directors’, “Ekal has lost many volunteers to Covid and so Ekal has created an endowment fund to the tune of $500,000 – $1Million, as an assistance to their families. It is supplying 15,000 Oximeters and infrared thermometers to its ‘ArogyaSevikas’ (healthcare workers).

It has created resident facilities for thousands of its city volunteers, throughout its reach. Ekal intends to extend emergency medical services to 5 million people. It is running vaccination Centers in collaboration with the local govt. These efforts are being spear-headed by Dr. Mukul Bhatia in India and Dr. Rakesh Gupta in U.S., with support from numerous healthcare specialists.

In this national crisis, Ekal is working alongside various organization like ‘Sewa International’, ‘AAPI’, ‘SevaBharati’, ‘Mission Oxygen’ and few others. It is assisting many humanitarian groups who have collected funds for Indian pandemic but have no proper distribution network to dispense them. Ekal is

appealing nationally and internationally to its donor-base to contribute to its various relief-work packages. As of now four donor-packages have been floated – Diagnostic Kits $50/village; Telehealth Lifeline $500/30 villages; Supporting CovidCtr $5000/Ctr; and Supporting Covid Victim $5,000/Family.

Ekal’s youth groups are also very active in creating awareness and raising funds for this unprecedented fight against the pandemic. One example – Arnav Enaganti from Michigan has taken an initiative to raise funds for Oximeter, PPE Kits and Oxygen concentrators. Come what may, Ekal is confident that with everyone’s help, we can defeat this deadly virus, once and for all.

Politics of Pandemic in India

Current Covid-19 (Corona) situation in India is quite grave. There is no denying that the mistakes were made on multiple fronts which resulted into Corona taking awful tolls across the country. The central government’s errors were compounded by the State governments (govt). During the first corona-wave when the central-govt took over all the precautionary elements into its own hand, the State-govts cried out loud labeling it as ‘authoritarian’ or ‘dictatorial’. The central-govt ultimately gave in to their demands in the last quarter of 2020 and provided them instead, enough funds to fight this beastly virus. The money was supposed to be used for PPT kits, essential medicines, setting up bed-facilities and to procure Oxygen-equipment but nothing of that sort happened. The States showed complete laxity to take any proactive step, the moment they felt that Corona was receding. No one knows what the States did with their money. Maharashtra Govt in particular, which had 1/3 of cases and 1/4 of deaths started shutting down the bed facilities. When India was basking in the praise of the western world as the ‘role model’ for the containment of Corona, the Central and the State govts should have collectively started preparations for the impending second wave of the pandemic. This did not happen. Although in democracy, the elections are inevitable come what may, there should have been complete clamp down on rallies, however unrealistic this may sound. The central-govt should not have permitted any religious gatherings (including ‘Kumbh-Mela’ – April 2021), processions to take place, although Corona had started taking enormous tolls weeks before (February-March 2021) such gatherings. The collective lapses sent wrong signals to the public. Nevertheless, the fatal expansion of Corona squarely rests with ‘the public at large’. People not only disregarded the severity of Corona by not following mandated safety precautions, but also, started all their routine activities and celebrations, as if it did not exist. This had deadly consequences.

Covid-19 is a global phenomenon but in India it is being tossed around like a political football whose ultimate goal is, not only to project how the country is on the brink of ‘Armageddon’, but also, to emphasize how inept and insensitive the current administration is. The major players in this game are the opposition political parties and their surrogates. Scores of leading opposition political leaders who are now clamoring for vaccines, had earlier not only mocked the idea of vaccination, but also, had floated vigorous anti-vaccine campaign. The current shortage of ‘oxygen’ has everything to do with the lethargy of the State-govts. The Central-govt had sectioned 162 oxygen generating PSA plants for strategic areas across India but the States collectively set only 33 plants and blamed the Central-govt for their own ineptitude. Make no mistake, in this game, some national and international Medias are also involved. Instead of reporting positive inspiring stories, they mass-marketed unflattering, exaggerated or sometimes even fake stories. The international Media has converged on India’s plight as if it is the biggest calamity the world has ever witnessed. When China, the birthplace of Covid-19 and the global capital of misinformation, recently planted a mischievous tweet on the social-media, it was summarily condemned by a major news organization in U.S. We all know how a leading New York tabloid, couple of weeks back, used a picture of a roadside dead body from some gas leakage somewhere, to support their claim, ‘how the people in India are dying on the streets’. This is not an isolated incidence. Scandal-sniffing notorious British press isn’t less offensive either. The international media-cartel has never publicized the complicity of their own govts in the current crisis. As per WHO, 87% of vaccines have been cornered by high-income countries and only 0.2% of vaccines have gone to poor countries. The Indian ‘netizens’ who also now include numerous private TV channels, have proved themselves equal to so-called ‘yellow journalism’ by exposing all the falsification and putting it against rock-solid proofs. When, opposition parties are harping on the sorry conditions in the country, it is worth noting that none of their cadre or party-workers are seen anywhere helping out the masses. In their stark absence, the people have taken things into their own hands. At this moment, lot of caregiving is being done by numerous social or religious local organizations. All these organizations are collectively providing hundreds of thousands of meals to the needy people; setting up thousands of beds and acquiring necessary equipment & medications, where possible. Spearheading these efforts, nationwide, are RSS, VHP volunteers.

It is true that the healthcare system in India is simply overwhelmed at this moment by Corona cases. At the same time, it is very essential to analyze whether the current tragic phase is as ‘cataclysmic’ as the Media, think-tanks, and the govt-bashing pseudo-secular activists have made it out to be. When the western media is so eager to call the situation in India as ‘genocide’ or ‘criminal act’ without any regards to journalistic decency, where were they with the same verbalism when 3,500-4,000 people were dying each day in U.S. amid hundreds of thousands of covid cases? Let’s take a break and have comparative study with hard numbers. As of now, populations of India, USA, U.K. and ‘European Union (EU)’ are respectively 1,391 Million, 332.60 Million, 68.18 Million and 447 Million. As of May 1,2021, the Corona cases they have are 19.60 Million, 32.80 Million, 4.4 Million and 30.29 Million. The death tolls are respectively 216,000, 576,700, 151,200 and 679,000. In short, statistically, although U.S. population is less than 1/4 of India, it had 11 TIMES more deaths and 7 TIMES more corona cases. In U.K., although the population is measly 4.77% of India, it had 14.32 TIMES more deaths and 4.54 TIMES more Corona cases and though ‘EU’ population is less than 1/3 of India, it has 9.68 TIMES more deaths and 4.77 TIMES more Corona cases. Although the pandemic numbers of the highly developed countries look shocking in comparison to India, they are in no way comforting to what is unfolding in India, now. Each life is precious. The whole objective of this numerical exercise is only to put Indian pandemic in global perspective. It’s not just India, even developed nations like Canada, England and so many European countries are currently struggling with the acute shortage of vaccines and medical facilities. (My nephew is ER-Chief in a Toronto Hospital and one of my closest friends is overseeing a Hospital in London). Needless to say, the question that pops up in one’s mind is – ‘why then, the western world is finding Indian pandemic so monstrous when they themselves have fared so badly’ in reality? The reason being – India’s formidable stature as a rising world power under the leadership of PM N. Modi. This is their way of pointing out India’s vulnerability. Dr. Gautam Sen of ‘London School of Economics’ says, (as per the report that is available) – ”a professional international campaign has been launched in the context of Covid crisis in India in the hope of delegitimizing the Modi Govt and weaken it fatally … the goal is to instigate rejection of BJP in the forthcoming elections.”

India produces 70% of the world’s vaccine and a major chunk of generic drugs that U.S. needs. Even before under Trump administration, United States (U.S.) relations with China had started deteriorating, the American consumer-giants had already started eyeing India as the alternative manufacturing hub for their goods. By this time India had established itself as one of the biggest consumer markets in the world. When the new U.S. President Joe Biden bought 600 million dosages to play vaccine-diplomacy, his administration wasn’t fully aware of how much U.S. depended on India. During Trump administration, when U.S. badly needed millions of ‘Hydroxychloroquine’ dosages, it was India who had come to U.S. rescue.  When President Biden prematurely arrested raw material supply for Vaccine production in India, it took his administration some time to realize what a blunder he had made. As numerous countries started coming to India’s aid, it not only reflected badly on U.S. as a selfish, isolationist country, but also, presented a Public-Relation nightmare for the U.S. giants doing business with India. There is no doubt that PM Modi and his team charmed the new President and smoothen out diplomatic wrinkles but that wasn’t the only reason why Biden administration reversed its earlier decision. The tripping point that delivered the goods in India’s favor came in the third week of April. during an emergency meeting of U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken with 135 CEOs of major U.S. conglomerates. The CEOs reportedly convinced the new Administration that if the U.S. didn’t reciprocate India’s earlier goodwill gesture, it would have disastrous economic repercussions, especially when nationalistic fervor running so high in India. Moreover, lately PM Modi’s new motto of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant, self-sufficient, with self-esteem – India) had become worrisome to them. Nevertheless, the pandemic situation in India is definitely a matter of great concern which needs global efforts. Afterall one-fifth of the humanity and the world’s largest consumer clientele is at stake. In U.S., Indian diaspora is raising lot of funds through various organizations to fight Corona in India. Organizations, like ‘Sewa International’, ‘VHP of America’, ‘BAPS’, ‘Ekal V. Foundation’, ‘Share & Care’, ‘AAPI’ have collectively raised millions of dollars. Various American groups and organizations are also busy raising quite bit of money for India. It is very comforting to know that the people around the world are motivated to help India. One World! One Humanity! One Objective!

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