Praharsha – The Festival of Hope and Happiness
Asha-University of Florida’s cultural event in early Fall attracts a large audience every year. The article provides a peep into the making of Praharsha – the festival of hope and happiness.
Volunteers of Asha UF after Praharsha 2014
To be efficient as a local organization at the chapter level, it becomes very important to reach out to the community and let them know who we are and what we do. The health of the chapter depends, to a great extent, on how well it is established in the region. As a chapter in a relatively small University town centered around the University of Florida (UF), what better way to do this than hosting a grand cultural show with top class performances and amazing Indian food!? The UF chapter has been hosting the event, called Praharsha, during mid-September every year since 2007. Praharsha is a platform to celebrate art and culture with the local community, welcome new students at UF, and create awareness about Asha. Starting June every year, we meet once a week for Praharsha preparations, in addition to the chapter’s regular meetings. Over the years, our predecessors have debated, experimented and come up with a good recipe – a 90 minute program with a classical singing program, 2-3 classical dance performances, 2-3 Bollywood singing performances (Bollywood here encompasses whole of Indian cinema), 2-3 Bollywood dance performances, 3-4 miscellaneous performances, including a couple of ‘non-Indian’ performances. How do we get so many artists to come together for a single event? This to us, is the one big distinction between hosting Praharsha and organizing concerts. Coordinating and arranging quality performances is a lot more effort, but also the single major factor which makes Praharsha completely an “Asha-UF event”. It is engaging for the audience to watch their peers unfold their talent on a big stage. We start by contacting well-known groups/bands who will be a good addition to the show. We then fill the remaining slots by hosting auditions (That’s right, we have auditions). That is the point when few art-illiterate folks like myself get to sit down with the experts, like reality show judges, and press the buzzer (just to clarify, we do not have real buzzers during our auditions. We are kind people).
The design team works on flyers, posters, and a big backdrop for the stage, which showcases the goal of our group in creative and eye-catching manner. The publicity gets under way in parallel when sufficient material is ready. Generating enough publicity to attract over 1000 people is by no means an easy task that can be done by a couple of FB posts. We put up flyers at all attractive locations in town, hand out flyers manually at important hubs, approach newspapers, radio stations, talk to people at orientation and other programs, and of course, flood social media with updates. The next big attraction at the event is free Indian dinner. Yes, we provide free and sumptuous dinner for 1000 people! We attempt to work out the logistics with multiple vendors to offer great food to our guests, at least cost. Oh, and did I mention the entry is completely free? Zero revenue from the event! We cover all the expenses (food, publicity, design and decorations, and AV arrangements), which usually amount to around $4000, through sponsorships and UF funds. We set out on the sponsorship drive to restaurants, companies, and individuals, to raise funds in return of publicity for their own business. All of this happens with most volunteers being occupied with regular Asha meetings, Shramdaan, Team Asha activities, and their own academic deadlines!
Finally, after hundreds of man-hours behind the scenes, comes the big day. Revisiting Praharsha ’14 – it was a fabulous event! It was one of those times when everything clicked… the performances were great, the turnout was huge and diverse, dinner was delicious, and people had a splendid time! But it certainly wasn’t a smooth ride all along. Whether it be a misplaced backdrop, or instructions from UF personnel prohibiting food from third party caterers, event day execution blunders or the usual frustration by burnt out volunteers :), Praharsha ’14 had more than the usual share of goof-ups. After the show, all the pressure was forgotten and the horrors transformed into fun tales to narrate. We could visualize, within the span of 2 months, a team slowly gelling and working together for a bigger cause. To emphasize more on this, we lined up the hallway with project posters and took some time in between the event to educate the audience about Asha, our goals and methods. Few months or even years down, some people may remember the amazing performances, some may remember the decorations, some the awesome food, or simply the fun time they had that evening at the “Asha-UF event”. Someone may stray into one of our meetings, and say “Hey, I’d like to volunteer too.”, and that is the greatest revenue Praharsha would generate.
PS: What is the first thing we needed to do after packing up Praharsha ’14? Reserve the hall for Praharsha ’15… get back to work, people!
Awareness events – Asha NYC/NJ
The NYCNJ Chapter of Asha realizes that as important as it is to raise funds for our projects, it is equally important to spread our mission and cause. With this goal in mind, the Funds Committee has been busy putting together various smaller events throughout the last year with the goal to do both.
One of our favorite events has become our seasonal Wine & Cheese Soirées where we’ve rented out some great art galleries including the Acion Gallery in Tribeca and the Sunaram Tagore Gallery in Chelsea and provided a space for those interested to explore, mingle and learn about Asha while enjoying our themed wine & cheese offerings. In addition, we’ve held Independence Day parties in honor of India’s freedom at one of NYC’s hot spots, Pranna making for some memorable nights filled with great people, music and dancing. We’ve had the opportunity to partner with some other great organizations including NetIP, bringing in new faces and ideas and look forward to continuing these relationships at our future events.
Asha Chicago – Charity Dodgeball
Asha for Education’s Chicago Chapter hosted its first dodgeball charity event on November 24th, 2014 at DePaul’s Ray Meyer Fitness and Recreation Center. The chapter contacted and worked with the South Asian Students Associations and Indian Students Associations of 5 collegiate organizations in Chicago including DePaul University, Loyola University, Northwestern University, University of Chicago and University of Illinois at Chicago.
Asha for Education’s Chicago Chapter hosted its first dodgeball charity event on November 24th, 2014.
Senior Awesome Stryker Band of Umpa Lumpas
Sidarth, Nithya, Anya, Shaina, Prachet, Anushka, Arnav
Just as catchy as their name, was their message…
This band of youngsters from Plymouth’s elementary school system made everyone involved super proud with their extraordinary effort towards Asha Minnesota’s Project MASUM at Parner in Maharashtra!
At the 2014 Destination Imagination competition, their Pitch and Play Service Learning entry about the MASUM project won the 2nd place at the state level, and a spot at the global finals in Knoxville. The pitch was set in the tone of a futuristic play with aliens bringing about change in the lives of the little children of Parner.
Featuring Asha Minnesota at the competition meant a great wave of visibility for the chapter among children and parents, state and nationwide. Not only that, these energetic youngsters, with the help of their parents, raised over $2,200 for Asha Minnesota through the course of their campaign through radio shows, fund-raising dinners and several other events. Asha Minnesota could not have had a better set of brand ambassadors than these inspirational youngsters!
Team Asha – Endurance Training
Runners of Team Asha Zurich after the Zurich Marathon 2014.
Team Asha is a premier endurance sports training program. It provides personalized coaching, motivation and support for individuals with a goal to run a half/full marathon or bike 100 km/100 miles. Since year 2000, Team Asha has helped hundreds of people realize their marathon and endurance biking aspirations, who have in turn raised funds to support the various projects that Asha funds. Asha Silicon Valley Chapter also has a triathlon training program for their marathon and biking veterans while the Seattle Chapter helps Team Asha climbers train and summit Mt. Rainier!
The program typically includes extensive training for running and biking; expert coaches driving speed, strength and cross-training workouts; workshops on apparel, nutrition, and equipment, and many fun parties, picnics, finish line bashes, etc.
Team Asha comprises of a mix of various professionals in the hi-tech industry, doctors, lawyers, students, stay-at-home moms and accomplished athletes. One does not have to be an accomplished athlete, or at peak fitness level to join the team. In fact, over 70% of Team Asha runners are new to running or any form of endurance sports. The program caters to a wide demographic – roughly 40% of Team Asha athletes are women while the runners and walkers range from 22 to over 60 years of age. The program has a high success rate (of over 90%) with athletes who have completed the training program.