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Local student raises charitable funds through musical benefit

By Miriam G. Mazliach

October 9, 2012

Eight years of vocal lessons in Hindustani music, recently culminated with a “graduation” benefit performance by Mission San Jose High School (MSJHS) senior, Erika Baral. The invitation-only event, for several hundred friends, family, and community members, was held at the Smith Center at Ohlone College on September 16.

But there was more to this festive occasion than solely entertainment, as in lieu of gifts, Erika requested instead that donations be made to the Sankara Eye Foundation of India or MORS (Medical Care Organization for Rural Societies) founded by her in 2010 through SEEDS (Sustainable Economic and Educational Development Society). By the end of the afternoon’s performance, over $3,050 was raised for the organizations through the generosity of the guests.

Erika’s philanthropic path began in 2004 with her first charitable efforts, raising money for various organizations by participating in singing and dancing activities. Later, while researching public health of rural regions, she was shocked to learn of the lack of basic medical facilities in the interior parts of Odisha, an eastern province of India.

“There is no drinking water, electricity, or roads in remote tribal villages. There are no doctors or nurses,” says Erika. She came up with the idea of training village high school girls to become basic health care providers.

Erika wrote up a social enterprise business plan that won the Second Place prize in the Kalinga Youth Entrepreneurship Competition during the 2010 Convention Odisha Society of Americas. To continue the momentum, that same year she founded a non-profit organization called MORS (MedicalCare Organization for Rural Societies), initially begun with the $200 prize money awarded from the Kalinga competition.

During her 2010 winter break from school, Erika went to the remote tribal villages of Odisha. Together with her younger sister, Jessika, they launched MORS among the illiterate and poorest of the villagers. Erika mobilized the village’s high school students and trained them in the use of medical equipment, such as stethoscopes and blood pressure measuring devices. Additionally, with the help of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations), and doctors, she held village health camps. Her commitment inspired her parents to contribute to her cause as well. Together they created scholarship funds for the village high school girls, who Baral continues to support however she can. Through MORS and its partnership with local NGOs, basic and preventative healthcare can now be provided to those in the greatest need, at no cost to the villagers.

Erika’s hope for MORS is to expand and eventually adopt state-of-the-art telecommunications and information technology in order to keep track of the health of villagers, and further the cause of medical research.

Last year, during her junior year at MSJHS, she volunteered in Stanford University’s “Project Not Alone” - a social endeavor that designs and implements interactive mental health education applications for tablet devices in San Francisco Bay Area’s free clinics. Erika’s father, Himanshu Baral explains, “Erika implemented and tested the efficacy of interactive health education in Schuman Liles clinics in Oakland and Fremont, directly interacting with mental patients. This program was presented at TEDx Youth in November 2011 and won the Dalai Lama Award.” (TEDx is a global movement that holds organized events to share ideas.)

As if her efforts with MORS weren’t enough, two years ago Erika became associated with the Sankara Eye Foundation when she learned that the non-profit organization, founded in 1998, has been instrumental in performing free eye surgeries for those who are unable to afford them. Sankara has built state-of-the art eye hospitals in nine states of India, giving the gift of vision to those suffering from cataracts or other eye diseases. By the end of this year, they will have reached one million eye surgeries.

So, Erika’s newest mission is to have the Sankara organization build the next eye hospital in Odisha. In order to jump-start the fundraising effort for this immense undertaking, expected to cost two million dollars, she decided to turn her Hindustani Vocal Graduation performance event into a fundraising gala.

It was quite evident to all those in attendance that in many respects, Erika had been preparing for this ultimate performance, for the past eight years. Under the guidance and tutelage of her respected music teacher, Guru Alka Bhatnager, Erika presented a lovely and polished recital of Hindustani songs, (the traditional music of India), including Classical Ragas, instrumental music songs, Gazal, Suffi and popular songs. Accompanied by legendary musicians playing on keyboard, dholak, tabla (drums) and guitar, Erika achieved a remarkable performance.

Among the dignitaries present to say a few words and congratulate Erika on her accomplishments and beneficence were: Founder and Executive Chairman of Sankara Eye Foundation, Mr. Murali Krishnamurthy; Honorable Mr. A. K. Jha, Consul Community Affairs, India Consulate, San Francisco, and the Honorable Ms. Teresa Cox, Board of Trustees for Ohlone College.

Afterwards, Erika commented, “I still have a lot to do. It’s just the beginning and we have a long way to go. I hope I set an example for others to do [similar] projects.”

To help make Erika’s dream a reality, she is encouraging the public to purchase her musical CD of devotional songs. A donation of $10 is requested per CD gift and 100 percent of the proceeds will benefit Sankara Eye Foundation and MORS. If interested, please email: one_parent@yahoo.com

To learn more about Sankara Eye Foundation, visit http://www.giftofvision.org or for information on MORS go to http://www.seedsnet.org/seeds/


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