SURESH Iyer’s introduction to Ekal was a strange coincidence. In 2002, he was asked by a friend to host its Founder Shyam Gupta in a last minute change of plans. The conversation between the two turned to Ekal, lasted well into the night and by morning, Suresh had become a donor.
He gradually became more involved as a volunteer, then Chapter President, Chairman of the Board until 6 months ago when he assumed the role of President of Ekal Vidyalaya USA.
Ekal’s’ new President absorbed the importance of education and the spirit of service early in life. The family lacked monetary resources but made up in a mother’s determination to educate all six of her children. As they did well in school, she cleared out the balcony so they could coach other children who were not faring as well for free. Suresh recalls that despite a budget that stretched thin, there was always a snack for all the children after class.
These instilled values showed up time and again over the course of his life. After graduating and securing his first paying job at the Indian Space Research Organization as a scientist, the first thing Suresh did was to fund the education of several children who were academically good but couldn’t afford the fees in his school in Bengaluru.
After brief stints at Air India and Tata Consultancy Services, USA, Suresh started his own company Infospectrum in 2002 based out of Southern California. The company provides tracking software for aerospace maintenance as well as real time tracking of transportation Assets. Suresh is happy his entrepreneurial gamble paid off but clearly says his work with Ekal “brings a different level of satisfaction.”
The Ekal movement started in 1989 with one village and one school. Today, there is an Ekal school in 70,000 villages in India offering free schooling, vocational training, digital competence and agricultural education. Suresh makes it a point to visit a school every time he visits India. If they are excited and curious to meet this visitor from America, he is no less impressed to hear a 6 year old confidently rattle off the multiplication table of 12. To him, it is proof that Ekal is effective.
It also made his day when a girl who had learned tailoring at an Ekal vocational school told him she had opened her own tailoring center and was earning 5000 rupees a month.
As President, Suresh is charged about taking Ekal to the next level. The Foundation raised 8 million dollars last year and his goal is to cross 10 million this year. He’s also working on putting a system of donor communication in place and intends to strengthen those Ekal Chapters that need a little boost. Above all, he wants “Ekal’s message to be out in the world loudly and clearly.”
Three galas for fundraising are being planned for October in New York, Washington and Houston. He reveals that just $365 can support an Ekal school for an entire year.
Suresh is clearly thriving on this challenge but admits he couldn’t have done it without his wife Kanaka’s unwavering support, A physician, she held the fort with their two boys while he took on various leadership roles at Ekal.
This spirit of service has also passed on to Suresh’s two boys – Vasant and Sumant. Both have interned at Ekal villages and returned with a determination to do more. Vasant presented his thoughts at the Ekal National Conference in 2015 while Sumant is working with the Coimbatore team and Google mapping division to coordinate ways by which Ekal schools can be quickly plotted on google maps. This helps donors get information about schools they are supporting easily.
(Contributed by Manu Shah)