It is said that in any aspect of life, the difference
between the numbers one and zero is greater than the difference
between the numbers two and one; nowhere is it as clearly
illustrated as in the case of education, where a little bit can go a
long way in improving the quality of life.
The Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of India (EVFI)
is one such concept that hopes to empower young tribal children in
India through education. The
premise of EVFI is “Ek Shikshak, Ek Vidyalaya”, which means
“one teacher for every school”. Founded 15 years ago, by
Shyamjee Gupta, EVFI focuses attention on tribals and tries to bring
non-formal education within their reach.
Currently EVFI is running over 8,000 schools in remote and
tribal villages all over India and hopes to reach a target of
100,000 schools by the year 2010.
Classes are held under a tree or in a hut and
lessons are taught through different modes like kathas (story
telling sessions), nataks (dramas), lok-geets (folk songs), and
pravachans (religious discourses), etc. This informality induces
even the errant students to turn up for class.
The curriculum is designed by educationalists to cater to
special local needs and is taught in the regional language of the
state. It includes
alphabetic and numerical knowledge as well as moral education.
The girl child is also well represented: 50 percent of the
students and teachers are female.
About 20 percent of all students go on to higher education
and some of them eventually return to serve the organization that
helped their growth.
The EVFI has been able to keep capital costs to
a minimum; one- time set up cost involves a blackboard, a chair for
the teacher and banners, etc. The villagers chip in with gifts in
kind in order to cement their emotional bond with their children’s
schools and quite often supply many of these requirements.
Around 3,500 Ekal Vidyalayas have been
identified all over India, and are ready for adoption by donors.
The EVFI undertakes activities like “Van Yatra” in towns
and cities in India, exhorting urbanites to adopt a school.
For those in the U.S., a contribution of $1 dollar a day
suffices to keep a school running.
Gupta, who is also the national coordinator of
the Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of India, has developed a special
affinity for tribals over the years.
Says Gupta, during an awareness-building trip to the U.
S, “In all my experiences with tribal people, especially in
Orissa, I have seen that they are very simple and have traditionally
been exploited. It is
important that they be given their due now-for one of the reasons
that India has prospered industrially is because these tribals gave
up their land and natural resources to the government.”
Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation in the U.S. works primarily to help raise
money from NRIs and people of Indian origin and has headquarters in
Los Angeles and Houston. The
foundation has found patrons in the U.S. who help by fund-raising or
simply volunteer services. One
such passionate advocate is Sucheta Kapuria, entrepreneur and TiE
founder member. Kapuria’s
take on charity is simple; “Many of us first generation immigrants
came to the U. S with
nothing but our education, our intellectual capital.
Therefore now, when we are well off, it is time to ensure
that we help return the benefits of that education back to India”.
Her future plans for EVF include helping to expand the seven-zone
U. S set up to have
chapters all over the country.
Chandra Jaiswal, an engineering manager at
Adaptec adds, “As a volunteer, it is very heartening to see so
many people moved by the images of the movement, and eager to help
and part with their dollar a day.”
And as Ekal Vidyalaya shows, a little help can
go a long way. For more
information go to www.ekalvidya.org
(Radhika Sharma is a freelance writer based in