About 45 years ago, when an Indian, working in the UK had a problem in communicating while on a train in Germany, he was helped out by a fellow traveller who could speak English fluently. The German was a famous
numismatist (specialising in study or collection of coins/currency) Peter Berghaus, then the Director of Museums in Germany, and the Indian on that train was PN Pathak. The former was a committed Rotarian from the Rotary Club of Munster St Mauritz, then in RI District 85, and now RID 1870.
Pathak hailed from a place called Budge Budge, about 15 km from Kolkata city; “you can call it a suburb of Kolkata,” says PDG K Chandramohan, D 3291, adding, “and he was a bachelor who lived in extreme austerity.” By living so, the service-minded Pathak managed to save some money from Dr Peter Berghaus with the beneficiaries in a village – 1978.his humble income to carry out small welfare activities in his native village of Raghunathpur near Budge Budge.
The train contact between the German Rotarian and the Indian do-gooder came in handy in 1970 when the former wanted to ship a few bags of milk powder for free distribution to undernourished children in Budge Budge — remember those were the days when Western charities
and churches sent a lot of milk powder, cheese etc to the poor in India. Berghaus thought it best to send the milk through Rotary and contacted Pathak, who put him in touch with RC Budge Budge, “which took up the responsibility of bringing the donated milk powder and distributing it at the Biraj Lakshmi Charitable Trust, a service organisation started in the memory of Pathak’s late mother,” recalls Chandramohan. Rtn SB Roy, then the Manager of Hansa Lines, waived transportation costs.
Long and deep association
Thus began a long and deep association between the German and Indian Club through which, over the last four decades, thousands of poor people in the rural areas south west of Kolkata have benefitted. “This kind of partnership, which goes far beyond the quantum of money the German club has sent over the years to this area, is unique in the history of Rotary,” he adds.
Within two years, Berghaus made his first visit to India and RC Budge Budge in 1972, accompanied by the then Governor of his District Arno Jochums. This visit was a solid foundation for the annual visit of Rotarians from RC Munster St Mauritz. Travelling through the beautiful countryside, the Germans evaluated some of the fundamental needs of the local community which needed to be addressed. Drinking water was identified as top priority, and the ‘Sweet Water Programme’ of RC Budge Budge was begun in which over 232 deep tube wells, each costing, in today’s valuation, around $2,500, were put in, funded either directly by this club or TRF.
Berghaus’s visit to Calcutta became a regular feature and in all he has visited India 18 times with his wife Inge, bringing along with him several other German Rotarians too. “And every time they came, they would stay for around three days, interact with the locals, enquiring about their needs. The emotional rapport that Berghaus developed with the locals is unique; he did so specially by staying at the RK Mission Orphanage at Ashuti and sharing the food with the inmates, playing games, singing songs and thus endearing himself to the people here,” says Chandramohan.
A plethora of projects
The main building of this orphanage built in 1975 with German funds is known as ‘Munster House.’ At the Jyotirmoyee Children’s Welfare Society, German Rotarians and their families have adopted 30 girls, paying for their education, boarding and lodging. Similarly, 30 boys were adopted at RK Mission, Batanagar, where the play area is christened ‘Inge Park.’ A 10-bed hospital is another major initiative done with help from the German Rotarians and “now we have plans to convert and enlarge this as a better centre of medical help even for the whole locality in the memory of Dr Peter Berghaus who left this world recently,” he adds.
With the passage of time the ageing Berghaus passed on the baton to Dr Reinhard Fricke and his wife Waldtraut, who are now carrying on the former’s legacy.
If the quantum of help extended by RC Munster St Mauritz is aggregated along with the personal visits and close involvement of the German Rotarians, the colossal work done by RC Budge Budge to help the local community is priceless. While Swachh Bharat and building toilets in schools is a new project, over the last 30 years, more than 4,300 low-cost toilets have been built. “For over 10 years (1985–95) the club ran ‘A toilet a day’ project. This unique achievement lauded by organisations such as UNICEF is perhaps a record for any Rotary Club,” says Chandramohan, one of the oldest members of RC Budge Budge.
Apart from building a school, roads, and helping cataract surgery for the poor through temporary eye camps, now with support from the German Rotarians, RC Budge Budge has built the GRSM Rotary Eye Hospital, which serves over 35,000 patients annually. A big chunk of the money for this hospital came from Rtn Jagannath Gupta, a local businessman.
A training centre for poor unemployed girls through the Inner Wheel Clubs of IW District 87; the Rotary Annelie Dental Clinic; expansion of the ‘Missionaries of the Word’ which once had only 15 children of sex workers to an abode for 325 children; and the Fricke Dialysis Centre are other notable ventures put up with the help of the German Rotarians.
This collaboration between these two clubs has now extended further and an Indo-German Rotary Inter Country Committee was started way back in 1987 during the Munich Convention, and PDG Chandramohan now chairs the Indian Chapter of this committee.
Few noteworthy projects implemented by this committee include:
* Rehabilitation centre for children of Leprosy patients at Bhubaneswar, D 3250
* Rotary school for economically weaker children at Ambattur, D 3230
* Sanitation project at Kozhikode, D 3201
* Assistance to earthquake victims of Uttarkashi in Himachal Pradesh and Latur in Maharashtra, (Districts 3080 and 3132)
* Photovoltaic Roof for Kelavani Mandal School for solar power at Sion, Mumbai, D 3140
* Burn’s prevention clinic for children at Indore, D 3040
* Technical training exchange with clubs at Indore
* Boat Clinic ‘Jibontari’ in association with RC Dum Dum to serve the poor in the isolated islands of Sundarbans, D 3291
* Construction of deep tube wells at Dakshin Barasat (D 3291) to help the inhabitants overcome the problem of water salinity.
Recently when RC Budge Budge celebrated its golden jubilee, the German Rotarian contingent was present in full force to cheer their Indian friends. “Budge Budge is also special to Rotary India for another reason; past RI President Rajendra K Saboo was born here,” smiles Chandramohan.
RC Munster St Mauritz has also partnered RC Ambattur in many projects, two major ones being building a general hospital and a high school which the club runs.
Small wonder then that in 2013, at the 50th installation of the President of the German Club, a contingent of Rotarians from Kolkata and Chennai were present. Chandramohan recalls the warm hospitality, good food — including a barbeque of fresh deer meat — and fine wine during their stay in Munster. But the best part was meeting the special invitee at the event — Inge Berghaus. “Peter Berghaus will be remembered by all of us as the man who lit the lamp of friendship with RC Budge Budge in 1970; and we, the delegates from India, were indeed overwhelmed to be with Inge,” he adds.
Through a slim book titled, Where Hearts Dare, Chadramohan has catalogued this unique story of friendship and service sketched by the Indian and German Rotary Clubs.