Ekam Foundation, started by Dr. Sai Lakshmi Balijepally in 2009
Ekam USA, Inc Established 2016, completely run by volunteers, with minimal costs
No child should be denied health care due to financial reasons
No parent or doctor should feel helplessness to care for sick children due to finances
Goal: Reduction of IMR (Infant Mortality Rate- number of <1 year infant deaths per 1,000 live births) and MMR (Maternal Mortality Rate- maternal deaths per 100,000 live births)
Case study: Arul, a weaver by occupation, was excited about his newborn baby girl. His happiness didn’t last long when she developed breathing problems requiring ventilator support for 2 months. His income was about $40 a month. The hospital told him it would cost about $2400 for the ventilator and ICU support needed. He was in a dilemma whether to sell his house and save this child or give up on this child so he can feed his other children. It is a conundrum none of us ever have to face but sadly faced by several parents in some countries.
My friend Dr. Sai Lakshmi Balijepalli from Ekam Foundation sent the appeal to everyone she knew. I thought that this baby was no different than my children and had the right to live a healthy life. When I sent the money, I was rewarded with a happy ending to the story. Ekam Foundation came to Arul’s rescue by obtaining a significant subsidy from the hospital and paying for the rest of the treatment, raised through individual and corporate donors in India and abroad. Now the baby is 2 years old, healthy and beautiful.
Reduction in IMR – World 37, India 42, Tamil Nadu reduced to 17 and
Reduction in MMR- India 178, Tamil Nadu 90, due to
Ekam’s activities: Since 2009, through
Direct medical support to 12,000 children
Nurses/staff trained in public hospitals: ~4000
Network: 1200 villages, 7 states in India, 3000 doctors, 3000 public and private hospitals
that provide free or subsidized care to children and mothers in need
Nari Shakti Puraskar from the President of India to Dr. Sai Lakshmi Balijepalli
Ashoka Fellowship and multiple awards
Ekam Story (as written by Dr. Neelima Reddy)
Dr. Sai Lakshmi is my classmate who is a pediatrician in India. While she was in medical school she was interested in learning, helping the poor and social service. She was different from us, as she was at the hospital working, or learning, whether it was her duty day or not. She would go to a non-profit organization to help on the weekends. She once remarked to me, “Neelima, it is such as waste of time to stop and eat. I wish we had a way to put a tube into the stomach so the food can be put in directly into the stomach”. This was before I knew of feeding tubes, that’s why I remember it so vividly. It is also odd in today’s world where we all eat, not just what we need, but in excess and suffer the consequences. She would experiment with a raw food diet sometimes. Her parents and sister were also physicians and understood her philosophy of life and service, not that they had much choice in the matter.
We did our medical training together at Gandhi Medical College. We trained under great clinicians and became pretty good ourselves in using our clinical judgment for diagnosis, partly because that’s all we had. In India, there are public hospitals where all care is free but there are limited resources in terms of medications that are available or investigations that can be done, in contrast to private hospitals, where all care is to be paid for, sometimes, up front, and everything is available. Since the majority of the population doesn’t have health insurance, and not everyone can afford expensive medical care, most low-income or middle-class people go to public hospitals.
Our lab technician in ICU would give a report of potassium which was always the same. When confronted, he once said that there are so many to do, that he just writes a number on the report, the same number for everyone, in the normal range for potassium. We would admit and care for patients with a stroke. Our professor would expertly diagnose and explain the exact site of the blood clot in the brain based on clinical findings. If you wanted to confirm this by a CT scan of the brain, which is usually done in USA within a few minutes of entering the emergency department, in our institution our CT scanner was mostly out of order and we had to wait for 1 month to get an appointment in another hospital across the town. I remember patients being admitted with a pesticide overdose and we would not have enough medicine to reverse it. We would ask the patient’s family to buy the medicine from a store and bring it immediately. The doctors were smart and worked hard to save lives, but with limited resources.
After medical school in India, she went on to specialize as a pediatrician in Hyderabad. She was tens and hundreds of sick children every day, mostly poor children. She would finish her rounds and by the end of the day, one or two of the children would die, due to lack of basic necessities at the hospital. When she moved to Chennai, she saw that neonates (children less than 1 month of age) would die in the neonatal ICU due to heat stroke, as there were no working air conditioners.
At such time, she came across one patient who could not afford her medical treatment. Sai and her colleagues pooled their own resources and treated the child. When she survived, Sai recognized that there were ways to provide care for such children. It is not difficult to imagine the plight of a parent who earns Rs. 300/day (about $5) when he cannot afford to pay for the expensive ICU stay of a sick child (which runs about Rs. 1000 per day, about $20). Unfortunately, such parents have to choose between saving the life of one sick child or feeding the other children at home. In order to save the lives of these children, Dr. Sai started Ekam Foundation in 2009. Since then, Ekam has provided direct medical support and saved 12,000 children, touched a million lives and covers 12,000 villages.
Ekam’s work at the grassroots level is to reinforce the existing public health care structure as well as focus on preventive care, maintenance of life-saving equipment and training of nurses in hospitals has resulted in a successful health care model that has been replicated in other states. The reduction in IMR and MMR is due to improvement in neonatal and maternal care, better access to healthcare, preventive care with stress on hygiene and nutrition, as well as reinforcement of the existing public health care system by Ekam through affiliation with The Government, corporate organizations and individual donors.
Dr. Balijepalli is my inspiration to start Ekam USA. She gave up her job and works without a salary for Ekam. Her spiritual journey through metastatic breast cancer gave her strength and time during treatment to optimize Ekam model. She is fully healed now and the spots in her spine on PET scan have resolved completely. She has double the energy than before, to spend on saving the children now. She says that she didn’t become a pediatrician to save lives only if they have money. Although she is single, she is the mother of all the children that come to Ekam.
Ekam USA, a 501(c)(3) organization was started in 2016 to provide support to Ekam’s efforts in India. We hope to continue to serve underprivileged children and mothers. At the cost of a pizza, for $20/ month, you can support the cost of screening and basic care for one child. Our goal at Ekam USA is to connect generous donors with the children who need their help.. www.ekamusa.org
Ekam is supported by individual donors, corporate companies with social responsibility and works with the public health system to improve the existing hospitals and bridge the gaps in health care, wherever necessary. Ekam provides medical support directly or by identifying a donor who will sponsor an appeal for a child’s treatment. Ekam also identifies Government funds that are available for the care of children in need and helps parents in their struggle to save their children. The direct medical support helpline by Ekam is available 24/7 and a medical team triages the patients for prompt treatment and referral to tertiary facilities when needed. The trained volunteers at the district, taluk, village level are key in this structure, where a Regional Officer is in charge of every district and works closely with the Government workers at schools, etc. to identify children that need help.
One successful example is where Ekam stepped in to help 124 children identified by screening program at a public school to have heart defects that needed surgery. While the patients and parents were clueless and unable to afford such expensive surgeries, Ekam identified funds for this purpose and helped the parents through the red tape, resulting in the successful treatment of all the 124 children.
Ekam’s work has been recognized in the media and by the Government through various awards. Sai has received the Nari Shakti Puraskar from the President of India and met the Prime Minister of India. She was also a recipient of the prestigious Ashoka Fellowship and Global Health Award in Washington, D.C. She has been completely involved in managing Ekam Foundation in a truly altruistic way, after resigning her job as a pediatrician and works on an honorary basis at Ekam.
Due to the significant work done by Ekam, the Government of Tamil Nadu has outsourced the recruitment and training of nurses to Ekam wherever there is a shortage. Ekam provides super skills training to these nurses and places them in the Sick Child Units throughout the state. This results in prompt identification of children that need special care and require further triage and transfer to a higher facility by Ekam. Until now, 4000 nurses and paramedical staff have been trained by Ekam.
After being taken up by Ekam, the maintenance of the equipment in public hospitals has improved the functioning equipment from 16% to 96%, thus allowing the doctors and nurses to provide appropriate care to the patients.
Ekam provides grassroots training of volunteers, awareness and educational camps in rural areas to adolescents and pregnant mothers, about nutrition, hygiene, care of the newborn children at home to prevent infections, etc. Healthy mothers are needed to have healthy babies. So Ekam works with children and adolescents up to 19 years of age as well as pregnant mothers.
The success of Ekam is evident by the reduction in the infant and maternal mortality rate by half in the state of Tamil Nadu. The Infant Mortality Rate (IMR= number of children under 1 year dying per 1000 live births) went down from 42 throughout India to 21 in Tamil Nadu. The Maternal Mortality Rate (the number of mothers that die per 100,000 live births) decreased from 178 in India to 90 in Tamil Nadu. Hence this model has been used in other states such as Chattisgarh after other attempts for pediatric care failed to utilize UNICEF funds. Ekam’s work is also in progress in Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Telangana and starting soon in other states.
While Sai was busy doing this work, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and successfully treated. A few years later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer that spread to bones in 2011. At this time, she received the conventional medical therapy, but also delved into alternative forms of treatment, including pranic healing, reiki and found Shiv Yog Healing Meditation. Due to the research done by her sister Dr. Sarada, who found Shiv Yog to have a scientific basis for healing, Sai attended and learned Shiv Yog meditation. She thoroughly enjoyed this concept and practiced it wholeheartedly along with her medical treatment. She maintained a positive and uplifting mood during this period, did not have any side effects and tolerate the treatments well. She continued her work with Ekam, while being thankful for the free time she had during treatment, when she was able to catch up with her paperwork. She was completely healed and now has follow up PET scans that are completely normal, with the compelte resolution of the lesions noted in her spine in 2011. with the resolution of the multiple bone lesions, she once had. She now has double the energy and sprang back with full force into Ekam’s work.
Although we had initial concerns about starting Ekam in USA, due to limited number of supporters and the paperwork involved, thanks to Sai’s powerful intention and belief in the teachings of Shiv Yog about attracting abundance with positivity, Ekam USA was officially started on June 13th, 2016. While usually the 501 ©(3) certification may take up to 6 months, we received it in about 4 months, in November 2016. The team came together magically, with supporters joining in as soon as they hear the work of Ekam.
Whenever I complained about the lack of any funds or people, Sai would confidently reply to believe in abundance from the Universe and it would definitely manifest. When we wanted an executive board, the day after I spoke with Sai, one of my friends agreed to be the treasurer while another contact of Sai agreed to be in the board. We had the advisors that found us, to help through the process.
I had talked to a friend of mine about Ekam two years ago but he could not get around to donating. I had asked him to sign up for $20/ month. One fine day, I received an email from Sai that Dr. Amarnath and his wife Dr. Usha met her in Chennai and wanted to donate $10,000 ever year. Another friend also called me to say he wants to donate to Ekam, $100 a month, but wanted to be anonymous.
One friend offered to do our website for free. People came forward to donate and spread the word as Ekam ambassadors.
Checks were in the air ! I love December.
I went to Dallas for our first event in December, the TIPS Gala. A chance encounter resulted in a 20 minute video at the DesiPlaza TV studio about Ekam’s work, now on You Tube and our website. Jitendar materialized and dedicated himself to making Ekam’s dossier and website as well as marketing materials and presentations. A local get together of doctors let me present about Ekam to them. This led to beautiful connections with Dr. Anupama gotimukula, a member of AAPI (American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin). Her unwavering support connected us with more donors.
Since starting Ekam USA, my goal was to be like other successful organizations and obtain matching grants from companies like Google, as I had heard about Shankar Netralaya having such matching. Of course, we didn’t know a single soul in Google, so that was for later. I griped to Sai about people not donating readily to Ekam and her reply was as usual, to think abundance. One morning after some Shiv Yog meditation, I received a text that we had two donations of $250 each; later that day we received another text which turned out to be $2000. I had to agree with Sai that “meditation was the most powerful fundraiser”. So I took the easy route and meditated again the next day, fully expecting some funds. Sai called me within an hour, and wanted me to talk to someone. This turned out to be Prem, a resident of California, who, like most of us, doesn’t usually read the Indian newsletters we find in Indian stores. One day though, he picked up a newspaper that happened to have Sai’s story about Ekam. He decided to help Ekam. One year later, he traveled to Chennai, met Sai, donated to Ekam and was talking to me that day on the phone. The first thing he said to me was, “When I return to USA, I will help you get a Google matching grant, because I work for Google”. I was amazed, that Google came looking for us.
While I was concerned about running out of funds by sending them all to India, Sai reassured me that the Universe would send us more funds. That day, I received a suspicious email that said “please contact us, we want to donate to your charity”. I was pretty sure it was a spam email since no one donates money out of the blue, especially after my repeated attempts to friends that were partially successful. I looked up the company and it was valid. Then I called them- sure enough, the girl that sent the email was not in the directory ! I had figured out the spammer! Well, I tried again and this time, pressed zero- who should pick up the phone but Mindy who sent the email. Well, I wasn’t fully in yet, so I asked her why she would want to donate and how she knows us. Apparently the software company, who has a lot of Indian consultants, collected some money for flood relief in India. When the time came to send the money though, they were told that the funds were not needed anymore ! So they were in a fix about how to use the funds. One of the consultants whose friend in India had mentioned Ekam, asked the company to donate to us. That’s how we ended up with $1800 and I listen to Sai now, when she says there is abundance coming our way.
I had set up notifications on my email for any payments to Ekam. On December 31st, I was pleasantly surprised to wake up to a “ping” that we had received $3500 from a donor unknown to me. Although we found the connection later, I am happy everytime I get a “ping” on my phone. Random people like our page on facebook and the word keeps spreading.
I mentioned about Ekam to a friend whose teenager wanted to do service work. I saw another charity asked to donate birthdays to them. So I asked the Akhilesh Kasula in New Orleans to be our youth ambassador and donate his birthday or take up a service project. He collected donations instead of gifts and collected $1315 by speaking about Ekam’s work to friends and family.
Another friend in Canada asked for donations instead of her daughter’s birthday and people donated without any concern for tax deduction (since we are tax-deductible only in USA). She came forward to start Ekam Canada. Sai’s friend in New Jersey donated her daughter’s birthday and came up with the idea of organizing a fundraising event.
Shiv Yog advises one to write a Golden Book of goals at night and visualize and meditate on them. I told Bhanu, applying for residency to write her goal and donate to Ekam when she gets in. I wrote wishing her to get residency. She not only matched into residency, but matched to the top most program she interviewed with, exactly what she wanted, and wrote in her Golden book of goals. She had already signed up as a monthly donors days before the residency match. Good karma is always rewarded !
We were not only looking for donors but for dedicated and enthusiastic ambassadors for Ekam who can understand and identify with the cause of Ekam, and be able to spread the word about Ekam by talking to family, friends and colleagues. After hundreds of phone calls and months of searching, one day, on March 26th, I made contact with three potential ambassadors who were excited to help. Everyone that works with Sai in India are inspired by her passion towards Ekam’s work. They gave us their contacts in USA. Mr. Tilak Shankar is one such ambassador who connected us with donors who were experience with nonprofit work. One of his contacts Dr. Varanasi is a strong supporter for Ekam USA. When he introduced me to Dr. Poornima, she turned out to be a graduate of the institute where Ekam does much work. The same day, Sai’s uncle in USA Mr. Anand Murthy’s contact Mr. Ravinder Panditi agreed to work with us, with his vast experience and leadership of several nonprofits in the past. I had tried to contact him for a month but was able to talk to him before today. Dr. Srinivas is a friend in India, whose cousin I had called last week but couldn’t connect, called back today and offered Apple matching grant and spreading the word. We had the Shiv Yog Forum meditation today morning! Is that a coincidence? I don’t think so.
I now believe when Sai says to “go internally rather than search outside”, for answers of for funds.
Although her UK visa got rejected, she got the visa to visit USA.
With Dr. Sai’s visit in Dec 2017- Jan 2018, she raised almost $100,000 and started multiple chapters across USA. We have done several programs in India with these funds, saving several lives and by preventive programs. Local service activities and fundraising activities were taken up by youth ambassadors as well.
Our Ekam Youth Ambassador (EYA) program started in May 2018. Each chapter EYA adopted a village in India and raised almost $100,000 through matching donations provided by Caring Crowd from Johnson & Johnson.
Ekam Canada and UK are starting as well.
We now have a fully functional website, facebook page, and several chapters are up and running. We have dedicated marketing materials and videos, although there is plenty of work to be done and it is always work in progress.
Sai came back to visit USA March- June 2019.