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October 9, 2012 > Local student raises funds at musical benefit

Local student raises funds at musical benefit

By Miriam G. Mazliach

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 donations 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, $3,050 was raised for the organizations.

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's business plan 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) with the $200 prize money from the Kalinga competition.

During a 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 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 village high school girls.

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 which performs free eye surgeries for those unable to afford them. Sankara has built state-of-the art eye hospitals in nine states of India. Erika's newest mission and focus of fundraising at her Hindustani Vocal Graduation is to assist Sankara's efforts to build the next eye hospital in Odisha.

Erika prepared for this performance over 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 musicians on keyboard, dholak, tabla (drums) and guitar.

Among the dignitaries present to say a few words and congratulate Erika on her accomplishments 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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