The annual convention of Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) was held in Chicago from June 16th to June 19th. At the conference, the current Chairman of AAHOA, Mr. Chandrakant Patel, announced AAHOA has selected Ekal as one of the two charities chosen for this year. We the EKAL USA team send our heartfelt thanks to AAHOA Chairman Mr. Chandrakant Patel, for endorsing Ekal as one of the AAHOA' charity for this year.
Mr. Patel, in his speech said "As Indians we must contribute back to our homeland (America) as well as to motherland (India). And during my chairmanship, AAHOA has endorsed USO for homeland (USA) and Ekal Vidyalaya for motherland (India). We have representatives present here today from both charities. The first group is Ekal Vidyalaya which provides education in the rural tribal areas of India."
The EGL 2010 tour to this volatile state of Jammu & Kashmir was my second EGL tour after the informative visit to three south Indian states in 2009, where I learned first hand about the Ekal integrated development model (social, economic, health & literacy support system), the day-to-day operational policies & procedures (volunteerism, teacher training & support, etc.) and the organizational structure (Anchal, Sanch and Up-Sanch hierarchy). So my goal for attending this EGL was to experience its applicability in an ethnically diverse region as the state of J&K.
"The children who attend Ekal program perform better in the regular school," said a government school teacher in the Igoo village in Ladakh. Such statements make the sustained efforts of Ekal movement bear fruit in the state of Jammu & Kashmir which has unparalleled diversity in religious, cultural and geographical terms.
There are four key factors that I have come to use in evaluating education related NGO models across the developing countries from my experience in societies across Asia, Africa, and North and South America - (1) Accessibility, (2) Scalability, (3) Extendability, and (4) Sustainability.
Accessibility of education to underprivileged and underserved communities is the central goal of the Ekal movement. In Jammu and Leh, the visits to the Ekal schools in remote areas clinging to the slopes of the steep Himalayan peaks accessed only through dirt roads bear testimony to the reach that Ekal has achieved in this tough terrain. The schools in Chakka village in Doda district and in the Igoo village in Ladakh were both located in remote villages not easily reachable from the nearest urban areas. Another aspect of accessibility is the quality of education, which has three factors on individual school basis - (a) teachers, (b) curriculum & (c) infrastructure.
(a) The quality of teachers in both the schools was encouraging. Both the teachers seemed smart, confident and sensitive to impart the informal education that Ekal provides and manage the class in terms of size and structure. We had the opportunity to meet the families of both the teachers and thank them for their indirect contribution. Also the informal support group that the teacher of Igoo school relied on validated the sense of community that Ekal fosters. The formal support through periodic teacher training programs that the EGL group of patrons had an opportunity to visit was very heartening. It was a rigorous and structured exercise that involved empowering the teachers with the right tools to engage the children using music & sports to teach traditional subjects of math & language as well as imparting cultural & health messages.
(b) As I witnessed in the EGL 2009 the curriculum consisted of health and cultural values besides the basic math and language skills. In J&K state, I got an impression that the government school infrastructure is far reaching and does provide access to formal school education maybe with lesser quality & consistency. Hence Ekal's role on the ground was that of providing supplementary schooling and rounding off the formal education with health and cultural teachings.
(c) The schools in both villages of Chakka and Igoo validated the positive aspect of Ekal model of finding an inexpensive yet sustainable venue for school assembly either in teacher's home or in donated community spaces. However the on ground evidence on supplies such as books & boards pointed to the early phases of model implementation that Ekal is in this region compared to its maturity in the EGL 2009 region of South India.
Scalability of the Ekal model of education and integrated development is a key aspect enabling its growth over the years. The universal application of Ekal's school operations and integrated development focus, monitoring & evaluation procedures, hierarchical organizational structure, and grassroot volunteer participation was on display at every stage of the tour. My experience in J&K only validated that the vision of the Ekal leadership and the momentum achieved through relentless efforts of local volunteers and noble socialites can help Ekal in reaching more children and villages across India without compromising on efficiency & productivity of resources.
Concerning extendability, with the help of its regional partner, Bharatiya Lok Shiksha Parishad, Ekal has been able to extend the geographic reach of its model to people and places in the challenging region of J&K. Also the Igoo school in Ladakh confirmed the extension of the model with the focus on cultural education to populations of different ethnicities. The BLSP members and patrons that joined us on this year's EGL exhibited similar principles and common goals as Ekal leadership, thereby proving to be an able and effective partner in furthering the Ekal movement.
Sustainability has been a key cornerstone of Ekal model, with a stated target of making each school self sustainable in 5 years time. The key pillars for sustenance seemed to be (a) engagement of local sponsors, and (b) the socio-economic development support in the form of vermiculture, bio-gas, and the likes. The work in Jammu & Kashmir seemed to be in an early phase towards its maturity into a self-sustaining integrated development model. Although Ekal and BLSP had successfully engaged local volunteers, the involvement of local socialites in Leh seemed limited to non existent. The interactions in Leh pointed to a political dependency to sustain & grow the operations. The roots of the organization and its narrow supporter/donor base may prove to be an impediment in sustained growth and development of Ekal model in the Leh region. The education programs were up and running but the health and socio-economic development support seemed to be in budding phase if at all.
I was accompanied on this EGL by my brother, a global banking executive, and a teacher friend from the Catholic school system of USA who was the first non-Indian to attend EGL in 4 years. Our evaluation and experience is from the perspective of someone with social and professional exposure to a multi-cultural, multi-identity environment, where our personal and career success depends on recognition of diversity and tolerance of different value systems. Our cultural values & beliefs are rooted in rising above the political borders and institutionalized identities of religions and regions and working towards fighting global ills of poverty, violence, disease and destitution by employing universal means of education, science and basic human values.
To us this EGL tour brought out the positive aspects of Ekal's impressive reach in rural India and the benefits of visionary operations & grassroots momentum that it has achieved. However it also exposed the delicate stage of maturity that the organization is at wherein its principles, its workings, and its leadership will be put to test in finding ways to broaden the base of its donor supporters globally in turn to be successful in getting to higher grounds of educating and empowering the rural masses of India. Ekal Vidyalaya has clearly become a national movement and has scaled commendable heights, but in terms of size and spread it seems to be fast reaching the pinnacle of its growth potential as evident in its restrictive local supporter base, and its next stage of growth would be enabled by its ability to not just broaden its appeal to multi-cultural & professional communities, but also in becoming a responsible & sharing global proponent of education oriented NGO model.
I am very grateful to the Ekal and BLSP members for their organization of Ekal Global Learning tour 2010. I do acknowledge that evaluating, appreciating or criticizing the immense work accomplished by thousands of volunteers and supporters is far easier than actually doing it and facing the day-to-day challenges on the ground. No words can fully express my gratitude for the hospitality & hard work of the tens of local supporters and volunteers who made the Ekal Global Learning 2010 possible.
Ekal has been selected as the CSR Partner for PETROTECH 2010. On their website they have given the logo of Ekal proclaiming it as their CSR Partner. Under the aegis of Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas, Government of India, PETROTECH 2010 will be organized from the 31st October to 3rd November, 2010.
The Zonal Nagar Mahila Sangathan Varg was held in Chennai on 22nd and 23rd July, 2010.
Women volunteers from South zone comprising of four states i.e, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu took active part in the Varg.
The varg started with the inaugural ceremony by chanting Omkar, Gayathri Manthra and Saraswati Vandana. Our chief guest was Ms. Neena Reddy (Executive Director - Hotel Savera) & guest of honor Ms. Mala (CEO - Raj TV). Both belong to two distinct fields. Nina Reddy thought she would motivate the ladies of Mahila Samiti FTS to join her in her project “helping hands” which is for girls. But she herself got so motivated that she assured us that her project will be merged with FTS. She agreed to join our Mahila Samiti. All the office bearers and executive members of the main chapter were present.
Mahila Nagar Sangathan Varg was organized successfully in Nagpur on 10th and 11th July, 2010. The yearly congregation of Ekal’s lady volunteers from different Chapters, SVOs Anchals and sankuls of the country took place in Shri Agrasen Bhavan, Amravati Road, Nagpur.
Women volunteers from 5 kshetras participated in this Varg. Volunteers from Gujrat, Madhya Bharat, Mahakaushal, Chhattisgadh, Maharashtra and Vidarbh attended the Varg. From all the attendees 79 were from chapters and prant and 101 were from anchal and sankul. In all 180 women volunteers attended the varg. In two days, 8 sessions were organized in which nearly 40 representatives expressed their views on achievements, organizational work and future targets.
The Varg was formally inaugurated by Dr. Vedprakash Mishra, Vice-Chancellor of Datta Meghe Institute of Medical Sciences (Deemed University). Stating that Ekal Vidyalaya Movement is the foundation of building self-esteemed and self-sufficient nation, ’Gramotthan’ (rural upliftment) is the basis of developed nation. Dr. Mishra added that rural upliftment in totality must be achieved to make strong nation. Ekal Abhiyan’s Gramotthan Parishad, a non-government organization would bring the people from remote corners into main stream.
'Akshardhan' souvenir was launched by Dr. Vedprakash Mishra during the inaugural function, which was the sincere effort of Smt. Asha Pande-editor of ‘Akshardhan’.
The Varg was wonderfully organized by a strong team of 35 ladies of Nagpur Mahila Samiti. The Mahila Samiti took out a souvenir and managed to generate funds through advertisements and sponsorships. All the arrangements were A-class. Credit goes to the team spirit of the ladies under leadership of Smt. Kshma Kulkarni, President, Mahila Samiti Nagpur and of course, Gramotthan Parishad members and Nagpur Chapter of Vanabandhu Parishad.
The Varg has left an in-erasable impression on all minds and will surely be remembered for a long time.