Ekal National Seminar held successfully in New Delhi
A grand seminar was organized at India International Centre, New Delhi by Ekal Sansthan on “Education for Empowerment - A Gateway to Tribal & Rural Bharat” on the occasion of Swami Vivekanda’s birth anniversary on Jan.12, 2012. The Seminar was inaugurated by former Governor of J&K, Lt. Gen. S.K. Sinha and was attended by more than 250 eminent people from the academics, social and Government sector. Speaking on the occasion, Gen. S.K. Sinha said that the EKAL Sansthan has raised a key issue and major challenge in front of India to ensure quality education to the remote areas of rural and tribal India. He further added that EKAL movement has set the example by successfully running more than 36000 Ekal Vidyalayas mostly in tribal villages. He emphasized the need for joint efforts at the level of Government, social organizations like EKAL and other stake holders to come together to take up this mission to taking education to every door step in rural and tribal India. Prof. Manjushree gave an introduction of Ekal. Prof. DVR Sheshadri from IIM Bangalore, made a power point presentation on Social Impact Study done by Tata Dhan Foundation on Ekal Schools.
The inauguration ceremony was followed by two panel discussion sessions where people from different walks of life with rich experience in their respective fields shared their ideas on the subject. The sessions were moderated by Dr. B.P. Khandelwal, former Chairman, CBSE and Dr. J.S. Rajput, former Director NCERT respectively. The panellists in the first session were Dr. Sunanda Palkar from Pune University, Dr. R.C. Maheshwari from Sharda Group of Institutions, Smt. Mridula Sinha, Ex-Chairperson of Central Social Welfare Board. The second session was addressed by Sri Pradeep Pant, Former Country Head, CITI BANK, Sri Anil Kumar Chaudhary, Director, Govt. of India, and Sri Deena Nath Batra, President, Shiksha Utthan Nyaas.
The seminar also witnessed the distribution of awards to the winners of Essay Competition on the topic. The winners received a certificate along with the total prize money of Rs. 71,000/- by Dr. A.D.N. Vajpayee, Vice Chancellor, Himachal Pradesh University. Later in the seminar, speaking on the occasion Dr. Vajpayee appreciated and congratulated the EKAL Sansthan for holding the seminar on education and also for holding the competition on the subject among students and faculty members on such a large scale. He expressed his unhappiness over the state of affairs in the field of primary education specially the tribal areas of India. He said that if movement like EKAL Vidyalayas were not there, the situation would have been very pathetic. He emphasized the need for a comprehensive education policy for the country incorporating the social and geographical challenges of India should be brought forward. Justice V. S. Kokje, former Governor of Himachal Pradesh while speaking on the occasion highlighted the role of social organizations in taking education to the door step of every Indian. He also recalled the teachings of Swami Vivekanada and said that his thoughts are very much relevant even today.
Unique Birthday celebration
Smt. Vimaladevi ji Damani (W/O Sri S.S. Damaniji) of FTS Chennai celebrated her 6oth Birthday in a very unique way. She had given Gawdaan (Cows) to 60 Ekal Karyakartas of Tamilnadu. The first Gawdaan distribution programme was organized in the Gramothan Centre in Kumbakonam of Tamilnadu on 14th Jan 2012. 15 cows have been donated. They have more programmes in the coming days.
Vermin Compost Pilot Project
The first ‘Vermin Compost’ pilot project supported by EVF USA is progressing very well. Due to the training and production of ‘Vermin Compost’, the farmers are using this in place of chemical fertilizers. Now they have initiated the cultivation of pulses, vegetables and fruit trees also. The project area is situated in Nandurbar District of Maharashtra adjoining to the Gujarat State.
FTS in Metro Fair 2012
Rotary Club of Coimbatore Metropolis organized Metro Fair 2012 at Suguna Kalyana Mandapam, Coimbatore from 13–16 January 2012. It is a major consumer exhibition held at Coimbatore during Pongal festival season for the past twenty five years. This Rotary Club is major donor and supporter for Friends of Tribals Society (FTS). We got a free stall for the third consecutive year. Thousands of people visited the stall and were happy to know the activities done by FTS and Ekal Vidyalaya movement for the welfare of tribal people.
Rtn. PHF. N.Venkatesh (President, Rotary Club of Coimbatore Metropolis), Sri R.L. Maheshwari (Rotary club Member and Treasurer of FTS Coimbatore chapter) and Rtn. MPHF. Hemant J.Shah (Metro Fair Chairman) were campaigning for FTS at the stall.
Arogya Camps organized in Rajasthan
Arogya Foundation of India organized a health camp jointly with Sant Nirankari Mandal Sirohi at Isra village of Sirohi in Rajasthan on Dec. 15, 2011. This camp was conducted to diagnose the seasonal diseases of poor tribal villagers in which free medical treatment was provided. Dr. Rajendra Singh Tomar, Dr. Ghusilal and Dr. Rajendra Singh Mina were the local doctors who provided their free services. Around 230 patients were treated and provided free medicines. Skin diseases were found in most of the patients which is needed to be taken care. Sri Prem Singh Rawat, Anchal Prabhari, Sri Hiralal, Kshetra Arogya Pramukh, Sri Ratanlal Banjara, Ku. Monika Barwal, Central Coordinator, Arogya and Ku. Minakshi, Area Coordinator, Arogya were the main participants who made it a great success.
Another health camp was organised at Baghpura Village of Udaipur in Rajasthan on Dec. 18, 2011. Special doctors and free medicines were arranged in the camp. Local doctors Dr. R.P. Chawla and Dr. Garima provided free medical assistance. Smt. Deeksha Bhargawa, Sri Nirmal and Sri Rajkumar (Ekal Samiti Members) supported the camp by sponsoring the medicines. Around 161 patients were treated in the camp. Diseases like Malaria, Eczema, Ear Pain, Skin Diseases, Eyes were treated during the camp. Local volunteers of Ekal Vidyalaya Abhiyan, Anchal Prabhari and Monika Barwal, Central Coordinator, Arogya and Ku. Minakshi, Area Coordinator, Arogya actively participated in the camp.
Pradip Shah narrates his Vanyatra experience
On Jan.08, 2012 afternoon, myself with Sri K.V. Sharma and Sharmaji from EKAL, Jammu visited Ekal School at Naran Village (BHJK-0323106) of District Samba in Kathua Anchal. Though there was heavy rain and cold.
15 children were present at 4.00 P.M. Attendance was taken in the register. School started with Brahmnad OM with Vandana, Gayatri Mantra Chanting and Chopai. All children actively participated in prayer. Teacher alongwith Sanch Prabhari, Sah-Prabhari and Anchal Prabhari were present and introduced.
Children are well trained, actively studying and also participating in extra activities. Children are clever in Maths and English also. I observed Gurukul there, Hindu Sanskar were seen in children. Great work is going on.
Today was Sunday and really impressed by the mission of EKAL. Congrats to ALL supporters to this mission. Thanks to Sangitaji, Sharmaji for arrangement for visit.
Riya Jagetia, 10th grader from Cleveland, visits Ekal School
As our car slowly drew into the village, the first thoughts I had were “Wow! Places like this really exist...?” After visiting India countless times during my childhood, and even having the chance to live there during my 6th grade, I had thought that my views on India were, in a sense, mature. I knew of the slums and the ghettos, as well as the cosmopolitan cities that boasted sky-high buildings and impeccably neat roads. However, I never had the chance to even imagine what I saw in a small Rajasthani village in July, 2011; it seemed unreal, like an illustration pulled out of Akbar and Birbal. There were a number of small circles of squatting men, chewing tobacco and drinking their morning tea. Off to the side, women were gathering water in clay pots, and children flitted around happily, playing amidst the small shops and homes.
When we reached the Ekal School, we were greeted with sweets, garlands, and tilaks. I was truly surprised by this elaborate welcome, as well as the large and excited crowd that surrounded us. Inside the school, however, the novelty of the arrival quickly wore off. Our host had explained to us that this school was the only one available in the village, and that it was a real boon for the children; the teachers worked hard and were trained properly. However, the school’s poor conditions were clearly visible. The small, incredibly hot classroom was crowded with 30 to 40 kids of all ages sharing thin, worn-out textbooks on the floor. Charts were hand-drawn onto the walls, and a small temple sat in the nook of the front wall.
Our host helped us interact with the kids, and we started asking them questions about their lives. When we asked what the kids wanted to be when they grow up, a young girl responded with “Doctor. I want to help people in my village.” Two more kids answered with “Engineer” and “Teacher”. They recited poems and short stories from their daily exercises and we were even able to watch as the teacher taught them the Hindi alphabet: he would use every-day objects to describe how to draw the letters (a method that I viewed as absolutely ingenious).
I realized that the Ekal school not only helps these children become literate, but also helps them with life-choices; teachers talk about the importance of education before marriage, the rights the kids are entitled to, and even about basic hygiene. The teachers try their best to educate the children about making smart life-decisions to try to re-build and re-construct the small village they come from.
When we left the school, I had with me feelings of hope and determination; the strength the kids and the teachers exhibited convinced me that they would continue fighting for education and for empowerment. At the same time, I was determined to do my part for these kids; they deserve a chance to fulfil their dreams as much as any of us do. Currently, I’m working to try to organize a drive at my high school to send school supplies to the kids in Ekal Schools. However, there are numerous ways to help; you can adopt a school by contributing $1 per day to teach 30 to 40 children, or volunteer for your local chapter. With my experience, I can testify to the life-changing effects of Ekal Vidyalaya, and how Ekal is trying its best to help the kids in rural India.
Avni Patel shares her experience of 3 Ekal Schools visit in Ajmer
THE DAY THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
It’s been two years since we started planning our trip to India. There were many things we wanted to do and see. Top among them was to visit three Ekal schools. Ever since I started going to Ekal programs seven years ago, I’ve always wondered what the schools were like. Did the kids like them, what did they learn, and how did they learn. All these and other questions I had while we were working out our schedule of how and who we would meet. Sangeeta Ji and Dr. Satheesh Ji were very helpful and encouraging us to visit. I was very nervous about the trip because my parents and I have never travelled to India alone and we don’t speak Hindi very well. So communication was a big concern for us. How would we be able to communicate and understand each other? Dr. Satheesh Ji said not to worry. “Just as you are curious about them, they are curious about you… You will do fine.” He was completely correct.
We were in Jaipur on the 23rd of December when Rameshwar Ji came to greet us. He is the head of Ekal for all of Rajasthan. On the drive to Pushkar, we were all getting to know each other. Rameshwarji explained in Hindi about the 3 villages that we will be visiting. Soon we were like old friends, talking about each other’s families, and backgrounds.
After almost 4 hours, we arrived in Pushkar. That evening we had dinner together at our hotel. We were joined by Rajkumar Ji (State Trainer) and Puran Ji (District Coordinator). We were honored that all 3 were going to accompany us on our school tour. We watched as the locals performed Puja at the Brahama temple. After a breath taking journey of the beautiful temple and lake, we set off to see the schools firsthand. We turned off the main road and watched camels and other locals travelling onto a hard sandy lane no bigger than the width of our car. We were finally here, village of Chamndiya, population 500, our first stop. We get out of the car with smiles plastered on our faces as we see the crowd of men, women and children. We heard music from a drum, and women singing a Rajasthani folk song. Girls, wearing beautiful outfits welcomed us with a red tika and veiled women placed flower garland around our necks. A tall elder man, the head of the village, greets us and welcomes us to the village. All three of us were surprised, amazed, and humbled by the warm welcome we received. After I hugged each girl, Rameshwarji took charge and lead us all to the school.
To see it in action, to actually step into the school and experience it physically was something else entirely. I walked in the room and over 30 children from the ages of 4-13 stood up and said “Jai Shree Krishna!” Their smiling faces and bright eyes made us feel like one big happy family. My eyes begin to water and as I wipe them dry, Rajkumarji introduces the village officials. He announces how I collected money to sponsor a school. We sat down and the teacher, Bindiya Goswami calls up her students to recite prayers and demonstrate their knowledge of Maths, English and Hindi. Each child, sitting in perfect rows, with their backs straight were raising their hands, eager as can be, each wanting to be called on.
How is it that we have books, desks and computers in my school, but we are still not eager to learn while the village students have almost nothing yet are so fervent of getting an education? Simran goes up to the front and starts singing a counting song. Vinit exudes enthusiasm and confidence as he works a math problem. After about 45 minutes of demonstrations on the seven curriculums of the Ekal School, the teacher wraps things up.
My parents visit with the elders as I follow behind an 8 year old girl comes up to me and shakes my hand. She points to herself, “Varsha.” Her finger turns and points to me. “Avni” I say. “My house, come” She grabs my hand and I follow her to an open courtyard. There are about 6 little children playing, some I recognize from the Ekal School. She points to all of them, “brothers and sisters, mine” she says, smiling. We all played together for a while. Varsha turns to me and gives me back the chocolate I gave her and the rest of her classmates. “Yours.” She says. I unwrap it and pop it in to her mouth. Her face brightens up and says, “Very good!”
We took a tour around the village and watched as Varsha’s dad made paper plates, one of the villages’ main source of income. Ekal not only provides education to the kids but has a village development program. I was not aware of this so it was really nice to see. Later, Varsha introduced me to her mom, who was sorting rose petals to sell for making various products. She said a couple things in Hindi and even though I did not understand, I realized what Varsha was saying when her mom stood up and whispered “Dhanyavad” behind her veil. Back in the teachers’ home, we had a traditional village lunch. They offered it with such love and affection that it was hard to say no. The best part about lunch was having Varsha eat with us. How could I not enjoy the love and pride they showed in the food they served.
We talked to Bindiya Ji who also taught English to the kids. She reminded me of my teachers. Wanting her students to succeed and make a better life for themselves. She and the rest of the village were excited to have us and grateful for what they have. We were on our way out when Varsha turned to me and said “Sister.” She pointed to me and back to her. “Sisters.” I repeated. She hugged me as I stopped in front of our car and said “Avni Didi, Thank you for school”. My eyes once again filled with water as I smiled and whispered “You’re welcome”. We got back in the car to visit the next village but my bond with her will remain forever.
THE VILAGE ENTREPRENEUR
Our experience at the Radha Swami Dhani village school was unforgettable. From the warm welcome of lighting the devo by Goddess Saraswati to school curriculum demonstrations to kids learning by playing games, it was heartwarming. But the most memorable was our visit to Geeta Ji’s home. She is like an entrepreneur full of get up and go. Here was another example of village development. Amazingly enough even though we didn’t speak the same language, communication was not a problem. We got a glimpse of a life on the farm. Geeta ben invited us to her home and took us on a tour of her rose orchard and peanut farm that supports the family. She and her joint family raise buffalo to sell the milk and sold the roses and peanuts in the city. She proudly introduced her large family as she held twins in each arm, Teenu and Meenu. She was no different than any other parent. She wanted the best for her family and was willing to work to achieve that. Thanks to Ekal for having programs that uplifts the entire village as one family at a time.
At the third village, the school gathers in the evening allowing the children help with the family farm. Demonstration of Shloks, Math and Hindi were conducted by the students. Seema, a beautiful girl, about a year younger than I, performed dances. She sung while she swayed to the beat. Pooja joined the dance too. One of the ways kids learn in this school was by doing. All the kids participated in arts and crafts. Two students presented their craft project to me as a gift. I was so touched by their affection. I have proudly displayed the projects in my room as a reminder of my Ekal visit. I wish I had more time to get to know them.
A BETTER LIFE
Despite our different life style we all want the same thing, a better life for ourselves. They dream of making their families happy and proud, similar to the kids here. They love to listen to songs, dance, and hang out with friends, as do I. Some of us even like the same subject, English. Seema, Geeta Ji, Varsha and I live over 7500 miles away. Even though we live so far, I think about them often and the positive impact we can have on our home country. We have a fundraiser coming up in Chicago, Illinois in April and I hope to help create awareness about the many benefits of supporting Ekal. I hope to go back and visit my new family, and my new sister…Varsha.