VIETNAM is a country of captivating beauty from the French Colonial Hanoi to mystical Halong Bay to bustling Ho Chi Minh City and the magical Mekong Delta- Vietnam's Rice Bowl. While touring this serene country one can't help but notice the deep influence of religion. Along with Taosim and Confucianism, Buddhism is the third of the great religions which have contributed to the molding of Vietnamese culture and character over the centuries. Buddha was a contemporary of Confucius, and the religion he founded entered Vietnam from both India, Buddha's home, and China. Today it is perhaps the most visible of Vietnamese religious beliefs. Buddhism presented to Vietnam a new look at the universe, the individual and life. Buddhism introduces the term of 'Karma' which is essential for the understanding of this religion.
Sculptures, paintings and architecture often have been inspired by two key virtues of Buddhism; purity and compassion and one such place of mention is Vĩnh Tràng Pagoda.
Vĩnh Tràng Pagoda: Vietnam's Gorgeous Buddhist Gardens At the heart of Vietnam's Mekong Delta lies Vĩnh Tràng Chùa a Buddhist temple near the rural village of Mỹ Tho. Vĩnh Tràng pagoda is one of the biggest pagoda in Mekong and most well-known in the Delta. It is a major provincial destination for tourists and pilgrims.
The sprawling pagoda rests on two acres of beautifully manicured gardens. The idea for the temple belonged to district chief Bùi Công Đạt in the early 19th century. The Vĩnh Tràng pagoda's style is an elegant blend of East and West; Renaissance-style patterns and Romanesque arches blend seamlessly with Japanese tile and traditional Vietnamese architectural styles.
The Vĩnh Tràng pagoda features three enormous Buddha statues. The standing Buddha represents Amitabha Buddha, who symbolizes ultimate bliss and compassion. The Laughing Buddha symbolizes happiness and good luck and has become a deity for good fortune around the world. The reclining Buddha represents Gautama Buddha before he enters parinirvana, the death of one who has attained nirvana during his lifetime and has been released from the painful cycle of samsara, or rebirth.
The pagoda is comprised of five separate buildings, two ornamental courtyards, and 178 intricately designed pillars. The temple is home to over 60 precious statues made of copper, wood, and terracotta. Among the most cherished relics are 18 arhats (Buddhist followers who have attained nirvana) carved in 1907 out of wood from a jack fruit tree.
The main hall is adorned with multiple statues of different Buddhas as well as a statue of the Jade Emperor standing as tall as a human man. The side gates are decorated with colorful porcelain mosaics depicting episodes from the life and teachings of Buddha as well as the effects of good and evil deeds.
A Story of Selfless Love and Oneness (Ekam) in abundance:
Pediatrician by specialization, Dr. Sailakshmi Balijepalli (Sai) mission is reducing the child mortality rate among the poor by raising their access to quality healthcare in India. Child mortality death trends in India are high and 6 million children die before reaching their fifth birthday. These are deaths that can be avoided through prevention and treatment, education and proper health care. Rarely does one come across a highly qualified doctor giving up her medical practice in pursuit of providing healthcare to newborn and children whose parents cannot afford intensive care. Thus she founded Ekam Foundation in Chennai in 2009, a not-for-profit organization. Dr. Sai is also the recipient of several awards including the -Nari Shakti Puraskar in honor of her selfless work.
Top Pick Media spoke to this amazing humanitarian who, moved by experiences with infants dying for want of medical care, decided to dedicate her life to ensuring “No child will be denied the right to quality health care”.
Karuna: From a young age it’s be natural to you to be selfless. In fact, you sacrificed a job opportunity to attend to the victims of the earthquake in Gujarat in 2001. When did you recognize your purpose was to support a greater cause and need than your own?
Dr.SaiLakshmi: First of all it was never a sacrifice, it was highly self-centered. I believe that ‘Giving with Generosity comes naturally to the human spirit & nature always responds with lots of love and abundance when the intentions are pure’. It’s certainly been a beautiful spiritual journey with Ekam. This has always been my calling and if I had chosen anything else, that would have been the sacrifice! Ekam gives us this amazing opportunity and immense pleasure to take care of children and mothers. In turn, beautiful souls have come into my life and they have taught me and given me so much more.
Karuna: Mother Teresa is your inspiration & you are certainly following in her footsteps with the birth of your brain child Ekam Foundation. Tell us the genesis of Ekam foundation.
Dr.SaiLakshmi: During my days as a post graduate student, I saw a huge disparity in supply and demand of medical care especially in the public hospitals. For example, if 10 sick children came to the hospital only 5 got treated and the rest were turned down due to a shortage of life saving drugs, equipment, man power, lab investigations etc. When a parent learns that treatment cost for their child is anywhere from 3 to 4 lakhs, they are willing to sacrifice their sick child and have another healthy child instead, as they cannot afford treatment.
As doctors we want to treat all children brought to us and shouldn’t have to be faced with the dilemma of financials constraints hence was sown the seed of Ekam in 2009 with very strong intentions:
No children should be refused health care due to financial constraints
No parent should feel guilty that they are unable to afford treatment for their child and
No hospital should refuse medical treatment due to financial constraints
Karuna: Ekam foundation has been growing in the rural parts of India and brought down child mortality rate since 2009. How are you growing Ekam NGOs and Chapters outside India?
Dr.SaiLakshmi: The support from my medical school classmates in setting up Ekam Chapters has been tremendous. Dr. Neelama & Dr. Aruna from Baton Rouge and Dr. Shilpa from San Jose have been instrumental in setting up Ekam USA In 2016, 501 (c ) (3) organization. Ekam Chapter in Canada is spearheaded by Dr. Rama and in the UK by Dr. Ajay.
Each Chapter adopts a district in Tamil Nadu, the goal is to provide them with an understanding of the dynamics of maternal and child healthcare. We have a completely transparent model where they can assess how their intervention is helping in lowering mortality rate. This year we are focusing on a second initiative, ‘Youth Ambassador Program’. The Youth is our future and we want to instill these values in them to carry Ekam forward.
It’s been an incredible feeling of Oneness (Ekam) as we have set up almost 20 chapters since 2016.
Karuna: You have received several awards for your work. But when you were honored with the highest award -Nari Shakti Puraskar award in 2015, how did that moment feel?
Dr.SaiLakshmi: To me the best award is the smile on the mothers’ face when they receive their healthy child in their arms. The first thought that occurred to me was “how can a small organization like Ekam receive such a big award”! But I gathered it was a sign from God saying “you better do more, that’s why you’ve been given this award”. I certainly felt honored when I received this award and I assure that with this movement of oneness we will continue to reach out and serve.
Karuna: What is your dream for the future of Ekam foundation?
Dr.SaiLakshmi: We want to grow the Chapters globally, where countries with resources can support the ones in need. We are setting up chapters in USA as a model for the rest of the world. We would like to scale it up to other states across India and connect it with different parts of the world creating Global Oneness. We need to work on a war footing as the statics are very glaring. We have a complete technical model that can be replicated across in supporting the mothers and children in need.
Karuna: Can you share special story that impacted you?
Dr.SaiLakshmi: I recall this story of a beautiful soul from my days in House Surgeoncy. She was totally emaciated and unconscious when admitted. For two months we took care of her & developed a bond. Sometimes, we would literally steal medicines for her care. But when she recovered and left, instead of feeling happy, I experienced a feeling of incompleteness. I realized that it wasn’t me giving her but she was the one who gave me this immense feeling of healing!
I realize every child that has come to Ekam has impacted me, given this immense feeling of healing & wonderful opportunity to reach out. It is we who have been blessed and I always thank God, my parents and everyone who has been a part of this Oneness journey.
For information on how you too can make an impact at Ekam, open chapters, become a youth
ambassador or simply spread the word of Oneness and Abundance, please go to ekamusa.org .
Nirav Tolia, the Co-Founder and Chairman of Nextdoor.com was the keynote speaker at the USICOC DFW Annual Technology Conference ‘Billion Dollar Exit’ held on April 17th, 2019.
He walked us through his journey to inception of Nextdoor.
Welcome to the Neighborhood | Nirav Tolia
Nextdoor is a private social network for your neighborhood. Nirav elaborated that the genesis of Nextdoor is focused around one of the most important communities, which is the one we live in - our Neighborhood! The mission of Nextdoor is to use technology to strengthen real world neighborhood.
Friday Night Lights | Odessa, West Texas
The serial entrepreneur is a proud Texan at heart. He claims it is his Texan roots that planted the seed to Nextdoor. The Tolia family moved to Odessa, Texas when Nirav was two years old. Yes, the famed book ‘Friday Nigh Lights’ town where he and his brother were raised. The book is about Odessa Permian High School, also the same high school he attended. Tolia shares that the sense of community & neighborhood in Odessa & Texas is really powerful. Nirav continues to teach people of the community he experienced in Texas and concludes that Nextdoor wouldn’t have been created if not for growing up in Odessa. He went on to secure his undergrad from the prestigious Stanford University! He humbly jokes about being the least educated in his family. Nirav comes from a family of physicians, his parents immigrated from India and continue to practice medicine in Odessa and his brother is also a physician.
Startups | Dot.com era
Tolia shares “Silicon Valley encourages you to take Big Risks but reality is most risks don’t turn into success”. Nirav joined Yahoo in 1996 at its infancy and witnessed its boom first hand. Simultaneously, he started a non-profit organization Round Zero; the premise was based around encouraging entrepreneurs who aspired to start their own companies. Round Zero is the stage prior to funding/financing, the brainstorming level. He left Yahoo in 1999 and started ‘Epinions’ – electronic opinions, the power of technology to help people make better buying decisions, which eventually was acquired by eBay. After achieving success in these ventures, he started his next venture in 2007 with 12 others called ‘Fanbase’, a site for fans of different sports to congregate and share information over a network, unfortunately didn’t take flight and shut it down in 2009. Now with only 7 employees left they decided to pursue another big idea. Every Tuesday morning the team conducted ‘Billion Dollar Idea’ meeting. 100+ ideas were generated and narrowed to a couple of dozen such as 80%off to celebrity stage. Then in the summer of 2010 they zeroed in on a social network geared towards bringing together neighbors, they called it ‘neighborly’, sort of a code name before landing on Nextdoor. Tolia reveals, “Technology had not yet played a role in strengthening our communities although Facebook had played a huge role in making us better friends”. They ultimately built the prototype and showed it to one small neighborhood in Menlo Park, California and almost immediately knew they had created something special, of course, they had no idea that specialness would translate to over 200,000 or close to 100% of neighborhoods in US!
April fool’s | Not
Never know what you will find on Nextdoor, it’s long since been just for finding lost dogs. An original Picasso painting was sold on Nextdoor.com, which even caught buzz in the ‘Texas Monthly’ and people assumed it was April fool’s! But in reality somebody did advertise Picasso painting on Nextdoor and a neighbor purchased it. The specialness of Nextdoor grows from helping a teenager find a babysitting job to getting a great service and provider recommendation r the most important of them all, in times of natural disaster to literally save lives. Nirav Tolia admits “This has been the ultimate reward of creating Nextdoor and building stronger communities!”
Borders | Beyond
Nextdoor at 1.5 billion valuation is expanding internationally and is in seven countries - Netherlands to New Zealand and they are just getting started! Nextdoor is a local service so not devoid of challenges as they extend globally since each has its own culture, traditions and customs. At the same time, Nirav explains that the concept of being a good neighbor is not just a US notion, it is age old adage to work together to help each other create a better community and a better future. So Nextdoor’s vision has always been to be global and every neighbor in every neighborhood around the world would be using Nextdoor.
Diversity | Advocacy
Nirav is huge advocate of diversity and woman power. He attributes it to his upbringing, he saw equity and equality growing up as both his parents worked, practiced medicine. He gets emotional speaking about his beautiful wife Megha and mother of their 3 boys. He admires her tenacity for juggling a full time job and raising their sons. He also shares with great pride that the cofounders of Nextdoor are not only diverse but has a female cofounder- Sarah Leary which is rarity for tech startups. In 2018, he hired his replacement for CEO of Nextdoor- Sarah Friar an exceptional female leader. His hope is that one day ultimately will not make it unusual for a woman to be a CEO!
Rising from the Ashes | Phoenix
Tolia repeated several times that Nextdoor is a company created out of Failure! He reminisces that the 7 cofounders were working at a dire time, desperate for results, grasping at straws and finally “an idea that was born out of failure not success and it has been anything but an overnight success”. Though they launched Nextdoor in summer of 2010, it didn’t grow wings till much later, in fact one neighborhood at a time. Today about 220,000 neighborhoods in the US use Nextdoor and Tolia believes it will be 100% by the end of 2019 in the United States. Nextdoor’s story is truly a powerful testimony of purpose, persistence, and patience.
“Travel makes one modest. You can see what a tiny place you occupy in the world”
- Gustav Flaubert
Karuna Pai: You have grown Horizon Travel from a Start Up to a Successful business today; however, did you take any training before starting your career as Travel Consultant?
Heena Sampat: My Journey started when I got an opportunity to work as a travel consultant. In my ﬁrst interview the hiring manager asked about my work experience, I told him “I don't have experience but if you give me a chance, I will prove myself.” I think it was my ﬁrst step towards creating world of my choice.
Karuna Pai: When did you decide to go into business for yourself and launch Horizon Travel?
Heena Sampat: In 2001 the tragic attack of 9/11 shook the nation. One of the aftermaths was travel took a setback and businesses were closing down including the travel company I worked for. I realized that travel business and customer service is my passion and I started Horizon Travel LLC in 2001. As I always believe, "business plans can be written on paper but not life plans".
Karuna Pai: During the course of growing your business what were some of the challenges you had to overcome?
Heena Sampat: My biggest challenge was devising online and social media marketing strategy. Today online marketing is the most eﬀective tool to promote any business including travel. We are not only reaching out to baby boomers but also focusing on Millennials and Gen Z. We are trying to explain the diﬀerence between online travel agencies and the ones who We grew our business while adding the latest technology including an online portal www.horizontrip.com where we sell best airfares, beating any online price. Online may get you the cheapest deals but not necessarily the best deals. Our consultation will get you both. we serve as travel concierges who plan your dream vacations, customizing and ensuring your trip is perfect. All of your travel plans are always specially designed as per your budget, interest, time. We diﬀerentiate by providing best quality of hotels & tours spending less amount of money. As the CEO of Horizon Travel LLC, I can assure our service starts at your ﬁrst call & we are committed to providing the best service all the way till your return. We have a Dedicated Team to cater to you 24/7 for all your travel needs. For example, our travel expertise helps clients to decide between selecting Kruger National Park or Serengeti National Park or knowing the diﬀerence between an Ocean View vs. Ocean Front room in a beach resort.
Karuna Pai: You have won several awards and in 2018 you were the winner of the ‘Enterprising Woman of the Year’ award. What advise do you have for anyone starting a new profession?
Heena Sampat: First, before starting any career think twice. Pursue the career where your passion lies, because you will give your 100% and will be the best at it. Secondly, check market data. Even if you have the best product but there is no demand for that product you may not be successful. Thirdly, make your plans for the next 2 to 3 years and take tiny steps. I never say think big but take a tiny step with perfection, honesty and most importantly transparency with your Clients.This will bring success in business. And lastly, never get greedy to make a quick buck. Entrepreneurship comes automatically. For any Entrepreneur the path is never designed the way they would ideally want it, but it is in their nature to overcome the diﬃculties in their way and this makes them successful.
Karuna Pai: What are some less known spots that will gain popularity in 2019?
Heena Sampat: Havana Cuba and Andaman Islands, India. These are two destinations that will gain more popularity. Cuba government is doing a lot to promote tourism and the same with Andaman. All of us have heard of Maldives, going to Maldives on a smaller jet is an exciting experience. While talking to one of Maldives resident, who shared “our islands are so tiny that if I stand on one end and shout, you can hear on the other end” (laughs). For me Capri Island, lake Com,o Amalﬁ coast was my dream destination which I visited last year.
In my various presentations; blogs about different ways to explore Alaska. I mentioned that Alaska can be toured via rail, road or cruise. So, if clients want to visit Denali Tundra Wilderness Tour or Gold Dredge Tour in Fairbanks we can guide them accordingly. Horizon Travel is a travel store where we oﬀer all travel related services. Our team has updated knowledge of latest hotels, resorts, cruises etc. and we keep giving updates to clients of the new features.For instance this year there are 6 new cruise ships coming out - Viking Jupiter, Sky Princess, Carnival Panorama to list a few.
Karuna Pai: What do you love most about your work and what’s one accomplishment you are proud of?
Heena Sampat: A smile on my client & face, comments/compliments shared by them, often I receive ﬂowers and gifts thanking me for a vacation they enjoyed. At the same time, when I receive a phone call from a client who tells me I helped them see their loved one, one last time before their demise, which brings tears to your eyes but I feel lucky that I am able to help people.
Karuna Pai: What is one Give Back initiative you are passionate about and involved within the community
Heena Sampat: Creating Bone Marrow Registry awareness in South Asian Community in US & India. Cancer is a disease which is very serious problem of the community and Bone marrow registry awareness is one thing we are spreading, especially in Asian and Indian community which is large in America, India and other parts of the world. 52% of Americans do bone marrow registry while only 20% of Asians and Indians are registered. So, when looking for a match it becomes really tough due to lack of people registering. We sincerely urge the youth especially within the age range of 18-30 years to register. It will help save someone's life. Bone marrow is not related to bone, the doctor just draws blood, saves your record and will call you if needed. You have the capability to save someone's life without any risk to you.
Karuna Pai: You have grown Horizon Travel from a Start Up to a Thriving Business, what is the secret of your success?
Heena Sampat: Secret of my success lies in steady and continuous growth, understanding niche market and giving best customer service. We approach small businesses that really need travel services and we are successfully increasing in numbers. International business is increasing day by day. Companies are realizing the value of personalized meetings and interviews. I am really thankful to my coworkers & entire Horizon Travel team for making my company successful and I also want to thank my clients who spread the word about our services, giving us repeated business & sharing through social media.
Message for the Toppick viewers
“Path of success does not have short cuts. Find a good mentor from whom you can learn. Take smart decisions in your business and life and you will create a world of your choice”.
Candid Conversation with Stephen Baldwin – The Least of These
The film, The Least of These is based on the remarkable true story of the Life and Work of Australian missionary Dr. Graham Staines. This is the debut film by Dallas-based Skypass Entertainment. The movie was released on February 1, 2019 coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the tragic event that shocked the world.
Actor, Producer and Author Stephen Baldwin plays the role of Dr. Graham Staines in this heartfelt movie. Stephen Baldwin is no stranger to Hollywood and the entertainment industry. His claim to fame came from the double Academy Award-winning film THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995). Additionally, his more than 100 film roles include BIO-DOME (1996) and Barney Rubble in THE FLINSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS (2000).
TopPick Media caught up with Stephen Baldwin in this exclusive interview, where he shares more about his role in this film, his experience and working with costars- actress Shari Rigby (October Baby), and Bollywood star Sharman Joshi (3 Idiots) .
Karuna Pai: So, Stephen, in this movie you play the role of Dr. Graham Staines. Can you share some insight into Dr. Staines and what went through your mind when you were approached for this role?
Stephen Baldwin: Dr. Graham Staines is a missionary who felt quite humbly, a very simple calling to India, to be of service to those suffering from the physical disorder of leprosy. He also did that with the understanding that, there was the reality of those people being healed. Simultaneously, he was a Christian, so in India at that time, to openly preach that to others is illegal. It is okay if you are working a medical clinic and to share your faith with those, if somebody asks you to do so. Unfortunately in 1999, there were some radical individuals that determined in their own judgment that Graham Staines was really using the medical reality just as a reason or an excuse to try and convert people to Christianity. Those radicals took it upon themselves to murder Dr. Staines along with his two young sons in 1999. It was a global tragedy, unfortunate obviously. This incident sent shock waves throughout India and around the world. And, interestingly enough no matter who you are, if you are a mother or a father or a sister or brother and when you hear about something like this, the horror of how these people lost their lives, in my understanding, it really is something that kind of connects us all! Yes, this is a very powerful, very dramatic and telling of the testimony of the life of Dr. Graham Staines and the ultimate sacrifice he made.
The movie stars Sherman Joshi who in my opinion, quite possibly will win many awards for hisperformance in this film, I mean that! He really was of the skill set as an artist, to carry this film with great boldness. It was a pleasure to work with him. This film, now titled ‘The Least of These’ -you can go to www.leastofthese.movie to watch the trailer and find theaters near you playing the movie.
Karuna Pai: In what ways did playing this powerful and transformational role of Staines impact you personally?
Stephen Baldwin: Graham Staines was one of these born again Christians who walked the quiet walk.You know, there are all different types of individuals and functions in ministry. But, this guy chose to just go over and very simply, humbly and quietly serve the way he did. It's depicted in the film; it really does come across almost mysterious, to a sense. He must have been odd to some people in India, he wasn't afraid to deal with lepers and such issues.
But, that being said I think what was interesting for me was I am quite the opposite of Graham (laughs). I am a skydiver and I do adrenaline junkie kind of things. I don't think Dr. Graham Staines was as much of an extreme sports enthusiast. But, that really was most interesting for me as an actor and a performer. It was kind of cool for me to watch films of him, see pictures, hear stories and research. I never met his family because I got enough of a sense to portray him with this ensemble cast. Shari Rigby is so wonderful as ‘Gladys Staines’ and for me it was understanding playing Dr. Staines within this story and this ensemble, subtly as I did. I just felt that was the most important thing to share about who Graham was- he was a very serving-hearted person, it wasn't about him; he didn't want it to be about him etc.
Karuna Pai: This movie was shot on location in India. Can you share any memorable incident that took place in India?
Stephen Baldwin: Interesting question (pauses), I think other than what I share with people when they ask me of my experience during the film, and I am not just saying this, I am a people-person! When I get in certain environments, I like to study the people. I think being 70 miles outside of Hyderabad and the countryside, it was definitely the people for me; the people were the most charming and meaningful for me.
But, there were a couple of incidents where a ‘high ranking official’ of the production (that’s the quote), “so no one can be identified and stays anonymous”. A ‘high ranking official’ within the production had an experience driving to location at night, you know how the traffic is when you get in certain areas, and this person relieves themselves of their lunch. I don't know what the Indian expression for that is, but that was rather memorable (chuckles).
Karuna Pai: How did you have to prepare for the role? Did you have to do anything differently?
Stephen Baldwin: Actually yes, if you think about it “Let’s say you have a friend, however, they are a little more hyper than you, so they move more like a hyper person”, that would be similar to describing me. I wouldn't say I am completely hyper, though my wife would say, “Are you kidding me? You are out of your mind” (he states -kudos to her)!
But, if you think about playing a person who's kind of quieter, then subconsciously this would be something to consider in your movement and in your behavior, “Do you move fast or do you move slow?” So, yes there was a little bit of a choice and deliberateness to how I chose to play him “he moved a little slower and listened a little longer, he was just a little bit calmer”.
Karuna Pai: In closing, can you share your wishes with TopPick Media audience and why this is a must see movie.
Stephen Baldwin: This film is motivated to honor the legacy of this man who unfortunately lost his life. It was a random act of unnecessary judgment, but it doesn't mean that people shouldn't know the story and it doesn't mean that we shouldn't honor the lives of those lost, is really how I feel about it. Those two young boys, who lost their lives, hearing their story 20 years later, would mean something to anybody who's a parent or a brother or sister or anyone. It's a wonderful film, it is beautifully made and it is in a beautiful place. It is very compelling, because after all that happened, the wife of Graham Staines-Gladys Staines came out of her house where they lived and while all the media of India stood in front of her, one of the first things she said was, “We just want the world to know we forgive the people who have done this”.
It doesn't matter who you are, where you are from or what your belief is, it’s just a compelling story of great faith that honored a very humble man. So, we hope all of India will come out and see the film. In my opinion, equally as important is we honor the legacy of Graham Staines. Also, Sharman Joshi is unequivocally one of the greatest talents in all of India and people should come see him too.
Conclusion: “The Least of These” beautifully illustrates the power of love, hope and forgiveness to
overcome hate. For more information or to purchase tickets to a showing near you, visit