Commentary: Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation confronts COVID-19 pandemic

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Stitching masks at Ekal Center. (Photo courtesy Ekal Foundation)

When the ‘Corona’ pandemic started ravaging urban areas of India, “Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation (EVF)” recognized how vulnerable remotely placed rural-tribal areas would be if immediate preventive steps were not taken.

With a strong presence in 103,000 villages and a reach to over 300,000 such inhabitants, Ekal had the rapport with villagers, knowledge of the indigenous resources and huge network of dedicated volunteers to administer any ambitious initiative.

It was in a unique position to contain the deadly virus. When it came to healthcare workers and safety-authorities at local governments, and there was a shortage of some basic items to fight Coronavirus, Ekal, immediately came to their rescue.

Its tailoring centers produced 3 million masks in a 3-month period and its inventive habitants formulated over 100,000 liters of sanitizers-disinfectant which they supplied free-of-cost to these agencies. ‘EVF’, also put in place an action-plan based on self-monitoring, self-reliance, education and cooperative-exchanges.

It embarked on a wide-spread awareness campaign about hygiene, social distancing, and restricted entry & exit to the villages. It used the walls of the dwellings as ‘billboards’ to educate the people. It provided grain-rations and food-packets to tens of thousands of people who needed them.

As part of empowering rural folk, Ekal had already established schools, cottage-industries for women, advisory research centers for farmers and digital literacy schemes for the youth. Moreover, organic, nutritional food grown in countless ‘Poshanvatikas’ (personal tiny farms) under Ekal guidance managed to make life self-sustaining in villages. All these factors contributed in keeping the rural folks in their own territorial enclave and arrest virus’s spread. It saved lot of lives and Ekal was with rural folk every step of the way.

This is nothing short of ‘multi-model connectivity’ that Prime Minister Narendra Modi touched on in his August 15, 2020 speech. Swami Vivekanda has said that ‘India’s shinning future lies in the progress of its villages’. So, Ekal has been providing all its services free-of-cost to the rural-tribal folks irrespective of their caste, faith and gender’. It is tax-exempt in several countries, including USA & Canada.

As around the world life came to a grinding halt, it posed a grave economic concern to Ekal. The future of many of its projects was in jeopardy. Though, Ekal has always enjoyed generosity of its loyal donors, whether there are fund-raising events are not, such amount wouldn’t have been enough for the movement.

Also, as a brand name in North America, ‘Ekal’, with its 55+ events across USA each year, has been a part of the Indian community’s institutional social life to provide refreshing entertainment. Therefore, ‘Ekal’ launched a series of virtual concerts across North America, with groups of Ekal chapters as focal points in various regions. In essence, this was to preserve the heightened enthusiasm and expectations of the countless volunteers, well-wishers and the supporters. This also gave young ‘techies’ the opportunity to put to use their idle-time for a worthy cause.

The two troupes engaged for virtual concerts had, not only, the huge fan-following, but also, had the proven record of success for fund-raising. One of the troupes was headed by Sa, Re, Ga, Ma contest winner ‘Sanjeevani Bhelande’ and another was headlined by Milind Oak’s ‘Niche’ banner.

Scene from Sanjeevani Bhelange concert. Photo courtesy Ekal

In the past three months, 8 virtual FREE concerts have been hosted in USA and Canada by the ‘Event Committee’ and has raised almost $3 Million. The montage of Video-clips and narration about present-day Ekal prepared by the ‘Media-Teams’ were very helpful in these interactive concerts. Before the official ‘clamp-down’, Ekal had hosted 10 fund-raising stage performances by an Indian village troupe that highlighted rural-tribal artistry and its unique culture. These events in sunshine and southern states also raised $650,000.

In USA & Canada, Ekal volunteers also stitched thousands of face-masks and collected ration for soup-kitchens and made food-packets for distribution in conjunction with Sewa International.

During pandemic, the schools were closed and virtual tutoring for the students had come to an end. Therefore, Ekal undertook a creative approach to engage them in numerous ‘Do-It-Yourself’ (DIY) projects, where youths provided virtual tutoring to other youths. Since the youths opted to tutor subjects that touched on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, this campaign was headlined ‘STEAM’ as its acronym. This is an on-going effort till the schools reopen.

New England volunteers, floated a program called ‘art-fun’ for people of all ages during the current crisis. ‘Indi Art’ organizes this national art competition in collaboration with “Khula Asmaan”, an art portal in India. On their behalf 30 art teachers acting as ‘Ekal Indi Art’ ambassadors offered free workshops in various art forms, that included various folk-art too. More than 500 people have already benefited from these workshops. For more information and to get involved, visit www.ekal.org

Prakash Waghmare is chairperson  of the Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation’s Public Affairs/Media Affairs National Committee
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