BY RACHNA GUPTA AND MAHADEV DESAI
Photos by Rajesh Khanna Photography
Atlanta, GA, August 15, 2023: From spring to the end of summer, Ekal Vidyalaya brings Indian artists on a national US tour, aiming to raise funds for and raise awareness about the impactful work being carried out by Ekal’s one-teacher schools in rural and tribal areas of India.
On Saturday, June 17, 2023, a crowd of 350 Atlantans was treated to an exceptional performance by Ekal’s talented Indian artists, Vishwanath Batunge of “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa” fame, and Nayana Sarma. Together with a live band, they presented the “Sur Sangam” program in a concert-style setting at the Impact Banquet Hall in the Global Mall.
The event commenced with a delectable dinner prepared by Ashiana restaurant, followed by a warm welcome from Manju Tiwari, the event’s emcee, who exuded enthusiasm and poise throughout.
The well-attended occasion was graced by notable figures including Shawn Still, a GA State Senator, and his wife; Srikanth Gundavarapu, President of the Atlanta Chapter of SEWA International; Madan Ghildayal, Deputy Consul at the India Consulate in Atlanta; and actor Arvind Vaidya, known for his role as Bapuji in the TV Serial “Anupamaa.” These honored guests, accompanied by Ekal’s Atlanta Chapter President Shiv Aggarwal and Ajay Upadhyaya, EKAL Regional Vice President, took part in the ceremonial lighting of the lamp.
Ajay Upadhyaya set the tone for the musical evening, leading into a seamless performance by the Sur Sangam group. The group skillfully navigated between vintage semi-classical songs and trending new numbers such as “Teri mitti mein mil jaawaan,” “O duniya ke rakhwaale,” “Parda hai parda,” “Lag ja gale,” “Julie, I love you,” “Phool tumhe bheja hai khat mein,” “Dhum dhum Dhol baaje,” and other soulful and foot-tapping melodies.
The romantic tune “Badan pe sitaare lapete hue” resonated so strongly with Shawn Still and his wife that they couldn’t resist getting up to sway and dance to its catchy rhythm! Though the photos captured the atmosphere of the crowd, they couldn’t fully convey the high energy within the hall.
Rakesh Raheja’s DVDs and slide presentation showcased the significant progress Ekal has achieved in rural and tribal education, healthcare, empowerment, and integrated village development. With over 2 million students enrolled in nearly 83,395 Ekal schools across India, comprising an almost equal number of boys and girls, the impact is evident!
Beyond the one-teacher schools, Ekal also operates Gramothan Resource Centers (GRC) that provide training in sustainable farming for high-yield organic crops, vermiculture, home-based small businesses, computer literacy, tailoring, and carpentry. This forward-looking initiative generates income opportunities within villages and curbs the migration of rural youth to larger cities in pursuit of jobs.
Harbans and Malti Singla, dedicated Atlanta volunteers, sponsored one such GRC, which is now operational. Through technological advancements, EKAL has also made rapid strides in programs like E-Shiksa (E-Tablets), Telemedicine Enhanced Arogya, and mobile computer labs called “Ekal on Wheels,” all contributing to holistic Integrated Village Development. For more information, please visit ekal.org, where sponsors can track their schools’ progress and request visits to Ekal schools during trips to India.
Impressed by Ekal’s far-reaching impact, audience members were quick to sponsor Ekal schools. With a one-time payment of only $365, a school can be sponsored, operating on behalf of and in the name of the sponsor for an entire year. Within five years, the school becomes self-sustaining. Ekal’s vision is to empower villagers to take control of their own growth, eliminating the need for perpetual aid. This vision struck a chord with the audience, resulting in 111 schools being sponsored in a single night.
The artists, sponsors, donors, dignitaries, media partners, decorators, and volunteers from various organizations working tirelessly in the background were all showered with thunderous rounds of applause.
True to their tradition, VHPA lovingly prepared and served tea, boosting the energy of an audience that still wished to sway to the music well beyond the planned closing time of 10:15 pm. Due to fervent requests, the mesmerizing singing and dancing continued until 11 pm!
It was heartwarming to witness a musical evening that began as entertainment transform into a movement, with many generous Atlantans joining the larger-than-life and transformative endeavor known as Ekal Abhiyaan.
In summary, anyone reading this article can engage with Ekal as a volunteer or offer support through various avenues to contribute to their goals.