LONG BEACH, Calif. Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of USA presented its first glittering and glamorous ‘Future of India’ fundraiser gala at the Hyatt Regency here Sept.14, featuring Bollywood heartthrob Vivek Oberoi as the special guest, actor Omi Vaidya as the emcee, and Emily Church, executive director of the XPrize Foundation, as the keynote speaker.

Ekal Vidyalaya provides free education to over 2.5 million children each year in 95,000 rural villages in India and Nepal. It also works for the holistic development of remote and tribal villages, focusing on health and hygiene, economic development and women empowerment using technology and e-transformation tools. In 2017 India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given Ekal the goal of establishing 100,000 schools by 2022 to mark the 75th anniversary of India’s independence, and the organization is well poised to ring in the target ahead of time by the end of 2019. This year, the umbrella organization ‘Ekal Abhiyan Trust’ was bestowed with the Gandhi Peace Prize by the Indian government for its contributions.

At the Long Beach event, as hors d’oeuvre were being served and the well-dressed guests, many of them from the Indian American community, poured into the venue’s VIP lounge, Vaidya greeted guests and posed for pictures. Oberoi arrived looking dapper in a white shirt and blue coat and took the crowd by storm. As the eager crowd started queuing up to take pictures with him, the charming and suave star chatted with the VIP guests about his support for Ekal.

Speaking to India-West, Oberoi, who is listed in Forbes among the top young philanthropists in the world under the age of 40, shared information about his various philanthropic activities and foundations established by him that provide support to tsunami victims, cancer patients and homeless women with mental illness, among others.

The event kicked off with actress Priyadarshini Roy singing the Indian and American national anthems following which Ekal USA CEO Suresh Iyer and gala co-convener Anil Parekh welcomed the audience, which filled the ballroom to capacity. Iyer also provided a look at Ekal’s plans in the next five years. Executive director Ranjana Saigal explained the various activities that Ekal has undertaken in the villages of India.

Church, who is executive director of the XPrize Foundation, talked about the development of scalable, community specific software solutions which enable children to teach themselves basic reading, writing and math. Indian American Rajiv Agarwal, a software entrepreneur, for instance, translated the e-learning software into Hindi and Urdu and preloaded tablets were delivered to selected villages where Ekal is operating. Church emphasized that we need schools and teachers but we also need digital technology to penetrate remote areas.

Bajrang Bagra, CEO of Ekal India, spoke of how the organization operates only through bank transfers with no cash or check transactions to maintain accounting transparency. He also said that returns on investment were among the best with less than 10% going to overhead.

Pradeep Goyal, chairman of the Ekal Abhiyan Trust, introduced Oberoi, who in his heartfelt speech recalled how he gave away his first earnings from his first film “Company” to the studio’s watchman for his daughter’s heart surgery. Now, when he gets updates about her healthy progress in life, he said he feels her wishes and blessings are the intangible returns on his investment.

Oberoi shared with the audience about how he had an epiphany in Vrindavan, nine years ago, to be grateful for all that he has in his life, and in return all he has to do is to serve. He started the DEVI project in Vrindavan which helps girls who are trafficked to be self-reliant. The group, to date, has saved 2,200 girls, he said. He exhorted the attendees to invest in Ekal projects.

Manu Shah of MSI Imports and Ajay Keshap, two big donors of the evening, pledged half a million dollars each and promised to match amounts raised up to a $1 million.

Beginning the pledge drive, emcee Omi Vaidya auctioned off a one-dollar bill signed by Oberoi for $2,000. Several donors enthusiastically pledged $10,000 to $50,000 individually and collectively for various Ekal initiatives, thus raising the bar and meeting and exceeding the target goal, raising at total of $2,000,000 with matching grants.

After a sumptuous dinner catered by Manohar Delhi Palace, the night was capped by live vocal fusion by Nauzad who had the attendees crowd the dance floor.

EVF is a registered non-profit charitable organization (501©) in the U.S. and dispenses all its assistance in India’s rural areas irrespective of the recipient’s religion, caste and gender. More information can be found by visiting www.ekal.org

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