From Silicon Valley to India’s remotest tribal areas, AIM for Seva’s work has impacted thousands

Ritu Jha-

Vijay Kapoor(holding plate) talking to AIM For Seva guests at the Nov. 19 annual donors appreciation event in Cupertino, Calif.

From one chatralaya (hostel) to 105 today, it took two decades of dedication, contribution and a vision to uplift the underprivileged tribal children in India, says Silicon Valley-based Vijay Kapoor. “This is what our non-profit AIM for Seva has been trying to achieve since 2001.”

Kapoor has been leading the mission in the Valley for the All India Movement for Seva (AIM for Seva) since its inception. “We started with 40 students; today we support over 4000 tribal students across India and all the chatralaya are associated with 105 government-run schools.”

The non-profit has also built schools. including vocational schools.

Last month, AIM for Seva hosted an annual donors appreciation event attended by nearly 400 people in Cupertino, California. The non-profit received 400 plus annual child sponsorship in the Bay area alone in 2022, and raised over $2 million from across the 27 US chapters in 2022.

Kapoor, a disciple of Padma Bhushan honoree Swami Dayananda Saraswati, said the latter founded AIM for Seva and the first school as well as chatralaya came up in Anaikatti, in Coimbatore, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Even before that, Swami ji helped put up drinking water pipes in the villages. “The tribal people live in dense forest where there is no electricity, roads or water, and they don’t allow outside people. “Potable water was a big problem,” said Kapoor.

“Pleased with what Swamiji offered, an Adivasi (tribal) woman asked him to support and take care of their children and educate them. She said the children could stay with him.”

Kapoor said retaining children in government schools is a major challenge. One school covers four or five villages and sometimes students have to walk several kilometres in the hot sun and rain to reach their classrooms. Many students drop out because of extreme heat or excessive rain. Girls drop out early or are not even allowed to go to school.

“Swamiji agreed to build a hostel called chatralaya but the question was how to get the funding to build hostels for 40 students? So we thought we should support,” said Kapoor, who also runs Arsha Vidya Pitham, an organization the Swamiji had started in 1980s and Kapoor has been serving as its secretary in the US.

“The first residential school was established in 2001, with 40 students, only boys. We knew having a girls hostel would be difficult but we kept trying to convince the villagers and in a year we established a girl chatralaya as well,” Kapoor said.

He said the organization’s emphasis is on bringing the girls out of their homes. “It is a matter of trust,” Kapoor said. “Only if they know that their daughters are well taken care of will they let them go.”

He said a quarter of the 4000 students under their wing are girls. Their 105 chatralayas are spread across 17 states. Students join at age six or seven, and can go home during the summer holidays. Every evening, the students chant and play games before dinner.

High schools and vocational schools have been introduced in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Uttarakhand both in English and Hindi medium.

Kapoor said AIM for Seva doesn’t stop at education, “We provide housing, food, take care of their medical and recreational needs, ensure they get values education.”

He said there is no hierarchy in this schools and hostels, but there is structure.

“We don’t ask for their caste or religion. Our focus is to reach remote villages and provide quality education. They are people of the forest, they don’t understand caste.”

Kapoor said his own granddaughters helped raise $15,000 at junior high school to fund a computer lab in Madhya Pradesh. “Our aim is to build one school complex comprising of classrooms, girls and a boys chatralaya every four-five years. A sixth school is coming up in Roorkee near Haridwar in hopefully three or four years.”

Kapoor said several students have managed to go to college, get into vocational training, and are doing well. “When they go back to village, they can become good leaders, even help local Panchayats. Their life could become much more meaningful.”

Kapoor said they get a lot of support from Indian Americans for the cause.

Rani Goel is one such supporter who has been backing the organization for 12 years. “I believe education should be available to all children,” she told indica. Goel said that along with education, Swamiji wanted to make sure that the chatralayas are run honestly and proper cultural values are preserved.

Rani Goel(2nd from right) with AIM For Seva team at the Nov.19 annual donors appreciation event.

Another long-time supporter Sushma Bhatia told indica that she came to know about AIM for seva through a Vedanta classroom run by Kapoor. At first, she donated a small amount as the cause seemed worthwhile but now has made a significant contribution for the School being built in Belgaum, Karnataka.

“It’s about giving an opportunity to people who don’t have one,” she said. “My mother is a retired teacher and my maternal grandfather was a school principal in rural Himachal Pradesh where they did not have any facilities. People had to cross the river and many could not go back and stayed at grandfather’s home.”

The organization’s values reflect in the gala as well. “We do not go all out with a Bollywood style event. This year we had Abby Venkatachalam[above top photo], popularly called Abby V, born in India and based in Toronto, Canada and is known to sing in ’73 Ragas’. He entertained and surprised the guests with his unique talent to sing live over dozens of requests by the attendees.”

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