Houston Chapter President visits an Ekal School in Maharashtra

Pankaj and Urmi Desai visiting the Gramothan project

Pankaj and Urmi Desai visiting the Gramothan project

HOUSTON: Have you ever wondered what it might be like to spend a day visiting with one of 55 plus thousand Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation Schools in the remote and tribal villages of India?  Well, that was exactly what the new incoming president of the Ekal Houston local chapter, Pankaj Desai and his wife, Urmi Desai, accomplished during their recent visit to India.  The Ekal School that they visited is located about three hours from Mumbai in the Charanwadi village of the Palghar district, in Maharashtra.  This trip was arranged by the Ekal Mumbai area lead, Anil Mansighka.


Charanwadi Ekal School in session

Charanwadi is a small village, where Ekal School is run inside a local resident’s house.  The ambiance there reminded Desai of a village school 50 plus years back in the village where his parents came from and where he attended a summer school in a similar environment.  Upon arrival in Charanwadi, Desais were greeted with flowers and Aarti (Indian custom).  About 30 kids neatly dressed in a uniform between ages 5 and 11 years were also part of the greeting team and expressed their formal “Pranaam”.  Ekal local lead explained Ekal Model – Functional Literacy, Ethics & Value Education, Health Care, Village Development and Empowerment. The schoolteacher, as well as the local lead for all the area schools had the Bachelor of Arts degrees from local colleges.  The real key is that the teachers were from the same area, who students can relate to and therefore dream of making a similar progression.


Pankaj and Urmi Desai with local school staff and host family

 While on the day of the visit, school session was conducted in the morning to accommodate the Desais visit; they are typically conducted in the evening (5:00 PM – 7:30 PM).  School started with Gayatri Mantra and other religious and patriotic songs.  There was a significant emphasis on allegiance to “Bharatmaata” and on ensuring India’s sovereignty.  Most of the students participated in singing Sanskrit shlokas and Hindi patriotic prayers.  They were very all disciplined and well behaved and had a great sense of community.  This was followed by storytelling in Marathi (regional language) and Q&A.  Good overall participation from Students was observed.  Main emphasis of teaching was on language and vocabulary skills.  Besides, in Math, students were taught basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  Many of them were getting it right the first time. 

In addition to studies, teachers and students played a game together, which was very interactive – students knew each other by name and had good fun playing. There was small break during which Desais distributed chocolate packs and some board games to students.  One of the teachers had a great singing talent, she sang and kids clapped and danced in circle.  There was lot of joy in the room.  Toward the end, Desais were asked to interact with the students and teachers – mostly in the local language, Marathi.  They all knew “Modiji’ by name but did not know about the big cities, Mumbai or New Delhi. When asked about their career aspirations, the most common responses were either a soldier or a policeman, with a handful aspiring to become either teachers or doctors.  Desais were quite impressed with the kids and encouraged the teacher to buy even more learning gadgets for them.  As the lunch break arrived, about noon time, Annamrita (Iskcon Project) Food truck had arrived and kids rushed to get their nutritious mid-day meal. 

They also visited a Gramothan project about 20 km from the school – nice vocational/technical training facility and compost project.  Ekal runs nine such centers, with the one in Jharkhand being the most developed.  A few local college students were there for training as well. 

As Desais completed an ISO 9001 Survey subsequent to their visits, they especially noted the following takeaways:

  • Ekal Schools are well run and students are learning,
  • Ekal has committed organization in the field to ensure success,
  • Ekal model works due to collaboration with many other local organizations,
  • Ekal model does promote Sustainability,
  • Use English charts and alphabets – posters were visible on the walls,
  • Use local community TV and other mediums (smartphones) to expedite learning and broaden their horizons,
  • Try to make students global citizens.

 “We truly enjoyed our day visit to the Ekal School in Charanwadi – seeing a real school in live action, the progress and more importantly, the enthusiasm in these tribal communities, were priceless! It does give a true sense of gratification and a renewed commitment to the Ekal mission”, Desai wrote in his trip report.   This experience he said was indeed a real life manifestation of the good being done back home by the charitable donations made to Ekal by its multiple loyal donors, here in Houston and nationally across the United States.

About The Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation, USA

The Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation is a tax exempt, registered, non-profit service organization dedicated to bringing education & village development to rural India. The overriding philosophy is to take a holistic approach to social and economic development. The Ekal movement is the largest grassroots, non-government education movement operating in remote and tribal villages of India. Ekal presently operates in 55,000+ villages, educating over 1.5 million children.

Ekal Houston Chapter will be hosting its 2017 Annual Fundraiser on Sunday, May 7, at University of Houston Cullen Performance Hall.  More details to follow.

For more information about the Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation, please visit www.ekal.org and click on Who We Are or What We Do, or contact us at ekalusa@ekal.org.