Subhash Chandra, the chair of Ekal Global, made a pitch to convert “activity into action” when it came to education at an event organized at the Junoon restaurant in New York City July 18.
Chandra, who also heads the Essel Group in India, was
speaking to volunteers of the Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation
USA at an event titled the Power of Education and which
celebrated the efforts of Ekal in furthering rural education
in India. Ekal provides education to 1.5 million children in
52,000 village schools in India, and aims to reach 100,000
villages by 2020.
The Ekal organizers and volunteers — many of them doctors, engineers and entrepreneurs — had gathered for hors
d’oeuvres and drinks before settling down to an evening
where they could hear what their dollars and efforts had
Organizer Mohan Wanchoo said Ekal schools were operating for a dollar a day and spoke of the advantage being
educated and self-reliant could mean to students in such
schools. He said Ekal aims to “liberate the minds of people,
transform people’s lives, and propel (them) to new heights.”
Wanchoo described how people in a penurious village
near Lake Sirsa, who were in shock after losing a child to a
lion from the nearby sanctuary just the day before, still welcomed an Ekal team with a musical band, and handed the
members some ill-affordable shawls as gifts. A school, they
felt, could mean so much for the surviving children.
Ranjani Saigal, Ekal USA’s executive director, had some
trouble with the Powerpoint presentation, and so, in what
appeared to be a characteristic flourish, said, “We don’t
need technology when we’re talking about remote and rural
areas in India,” and plunged into a description of Ekal’s
She pointed out that 6 to 14 percent of rural students
have no viable access to education, and paraphrased Swami
Vivekandanda’s views on child education, saying, “If the
child cannot go for education, then education should go to
Saigal said Indians had no colonial power to blame for
the situation 67 years after Independence.
She described how Ekal, accepting that most children had
chores to do that would keep them away from school, had
schools beginning in the afternoon. The schools were run by
local youth who had completed at least their 10th grade. She
stressed that along with language, arithmetic, science,
music, dance and other requirements, students were also
taught health care, values and the creative arts.
Saigal described Sunil Tamang, a seven-year-old
goatherd, who wanted to attend school, but was too afraid
of losing his job if he asked his boss permission to leave
early every day. Tamang apparently prostrated himself
before the man and, permission in hand, went on to study,
then teach at the Ekal school, before becoming the local
leader of a cluster of 30 Ekal schools.
She also spoke of Lakshmi Prajapati, one of two daughters of a widow, who went on to learn skills training and
now aims to go to college.
Ruyingtan Mehta, representing the non-profit WHEELS
(Water /Health/ Energy/ Education/ Lifestyles /
Sustainability) and arguing for providing potable water in
Indian villages, described himself as a “full-time bum” after
having sold his plastics business. But for all that, his group
had put together a water purification system that cost Rs
400,000 ($6,260) that cleaned 2,000 liters of water per
Though he did not describe it in detail, his system
involves three levels of filtering, followed by reverse osmosis (involving using pressure to filter water through a semipermeable membrane) and treatment with ultraviolet
Dnyaneshwar Mulay, the Indian consul general in New
York, spoke of how India’s history of subservience and the
loss of its traditional knowledge had made Indians lose
confidence in themselves.
The world had yet to understand India’s strength, he said,
adding that the future was bright, thanks to organizations
Subhash Chandra, who came up next, started with praise
for the current prime minister, quoting The Guardian,
which said the day he won the election ‘may well go down
in history as the day when Britain finally left India.’
He said Indian bureaucrats had stymied the redefinition
of literacy from that of being able to sign one’s name to
something more substantive.
“Jab tak apne ghar ki safai nahi karta, kuch nahi hone
wala (Until one’s own home is clean, nothing can get
done),” Chandra said.
“Ekal has given me much more than I’ve given it,” he said,
describing how going with an Ekal team, he had been able
to show his sons how the poor in India lived.
He made a final pitch for Ekal’s work in the villages, say-
ing, “Until rural India develops, India will not develop.”
A variety of people stepped in before Chandra could,
asserting the student population reflected the proportions
in the local areas, with one girl, Astha Agarwal, now 17, say-
ing that she had volunteered at Ekal schools since she was
7 and had video showing that the schools in Bengal where
she had worked had plenty of Muslims.
Prakash Waghmare, Ekal’s press representative, said that
a focus on education was vital, and pointed out that Ekal
got no government aid, and was able to freely roam where
government dared not go — like areas Naxalites controlled.
Ekal’s main contributors were thanked for their role,
and Nimisha Madhwani, the Indian-origin Ugandan
ambassador to France, Spain and Portugal, and permanent representative to UNESCO, spoke up for her heritage and her own country, before everyone repaired for
some serious networking.
A call to convert activity into action
Ranjani Saigal, executive director, Ekal Vidyalaya USA; Subhash Gupta, Ekal adviser; Himanshu Shah, CEO, Shah Capital; Dr Subhash Chandra, chair, Ekal Global and chair, Essel Group; Vinod Jhunjhunwala, president, Ekal Vidyalaya USA; Braham Agarwal, adviser, Ekal Florida; and Thomas Abraham, former head of GOPIO at the event.
P Rajendran reports from Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation USA’s event
celebrating efforts in furthering rural education in India.
Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Emperor of All Maladies: a Biography of Cancer, the screen adaptation of which just earned an Emmy nomination for
Outstanding Documentary or Non-Fiction Series [India Abroad, July
24] will be one of the speakers in the University at Buffalo’s 2015-16
Distinguished Speakers Series, the university announced recently.
The 29th annual series, according to a statement by the university,
will also feature singer/songwriter, producer, philanthropist and entre-
preneur John Legend, Academy Award-winning actor, director, writer
and star of House of Cards Kevin Spacey, transgender advocate and
award-winning actress from Orange is the New Black Laverne Cox, the
bestselling author of Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness,
Survival and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard Liz Murray,
The first among the headliners will be Cox, who is scheduled to speak
in the Alumni Arena, UB North Campus, September 16. Mukherjee is
slated to speak April 6, 2016.
‘For nearly 30 years, the Distinguished Speakers Series at UB has
played a vital role in fostering dialogue and discovery by sharing a broad
range of ideas and perspectives from some of the most compelling and
influential voices of our time,’ Dennis Black, UB vice president for university life and services, said in the news release on the UB Web site. ‘By
opening up a lively, open discussion of important national and global
issues, the series brings our campus and surrounding communities closer together, and inspires our students to become knowledgeable,
thoughtful and actively engaged citizens, in keeping with the university’s academic mission. This year’s Distinguished Speaker Series promises to once again deliver on this great UB tradition.’
Siddhartha Mukherjee to be part of University at Buffalo’s Distinguished Speakers Series
Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee