We are just six months away from setting off the fireworks to celebrate the century of one of the greatest Foundations that exists on earth today,” said PRIP and incoming TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee, addressing the Jaipur Institute on Doing good in the world.
Rotarians have ample cause to be proud of TRF; “after all which other Foundation is 100 years old, works in every country of the world, takes care of, or tries to, all aspects of human life, whether it is health, education, hunger, home or human development. We leave out nothing.”
Even though TRF ranks among the top five in the world, in its global impact, both short and long term, it probably outdoes all other Foundations in the world, said Banerjee. “Which other Foundation has brought our world on the brink, the very cusp, of getting rid of one of the world’s deadliest diseases, one which has lasted for almost 6,000 years? Which other Foundation works hand-in-hand with governments, individuals, corporates, NGOs, with anyone and everyone to make one fifth of the world fully literate, safe and healthy,” he asked.
Banerjee said TRF was unique in that “it asks for our money, demands our time, exercises our imagination to fully utilise and stretch our resources to do good for people, solving problems that don’t really concern us directly.”
For example, polio doesn’t really threaten Rotarians’ families, nor do they have problems in sending their children to the best schools. “Each of us has enough water in our homes for all our needs, and a little more to water our gardens/flower pots as well. So why do we all feel so excited and elated when we spend our money to look after people who don’t have all this,” he asked.
The obvious answer was the happiness it brought them to help others. Banerjee related a World War II story as told by Past RI President Bob R Barth (1993–94) about an event he had attended in Germany in the early 1950s. Those were uncertain times and young Europeans had gathered to talk about their future, and speaker after speaker talked about the meaninglessness of their lives, when they knew that all that they had … homes, careers, families … could be destroyed at any time by forces totally beyond their control. So why marry, why have children, why raise families if everything could vanish and be destroyed in a flash, they asked.
A Nazi prisoner
One of the attendees at that seminar was Professor Victor Frankel, a Jewish psychiatrist, who had survived four years at a Nazi concentration camp. He was asked the purpose of life and Frankel replied that at that camp he had spent four years not knowing if that day would be his last, and he’d be sent to the gas chambers the next morning. “But after a few days of feeling hopeless, I took to comforting other people in the camp, people who were sick, had lost their loved ones, or knew they had little hope. Then it hit me like a flash. I really saw that life itself has no meaning or purpose unless you care for someone and make him value his own life so he wants to live on.”
Relating this story, Barth added, “I think that’s why we all love Rotary. It is Rotary which often gives us a reason to exist, to look forward to tomorrow. Just as Swami Vivekanand said, they only are alive who live for others. The rest are more dead than alive.”
This principle, embedded in Indian culture and ancient values, was also the Rotary principle. He was happy that RI President K R Ravindran in his “highly acclaimed speech” at the World Parliament on Religions had talked in detail about Vivekanand. The latter’s guru, Ramakrishna Paramhams, had said that when you serve mankind you serve the almighty better.
“Someone had once said that in Rotary, serving mankind is our business.” This year is the 99th year of TRF and the TRF annual fundraising goal is $130 million and total fundraising goal $220 million. Along with President-elect John Germ, TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta and senior RI staff, some months ago “we thought the next year’s target needs to be something that brings out the best in us in our Centennial year.”
No figure or target was too high, said the incoming Trustee Chair, and referred to a poem which had been handed out in the welcome kit. “Challenges are high, dreams are now. The world out there is waiting for you. Dare to dream, dare to fly. No goal is too distant, no star is too high.”
Soch me badlav
On his vision for TRF’s 100th year, incoming Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee said different countries would look at it differently.
American Rotarians could move to a higher level of giving … “half to one million dollars, and then link it to maximum tax benefits” which are possible in the US. And then extend TRF support to projects in Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala or Panamas; “places close to you which you can visit easily and see what they’ve done with your money.”
African Rotarians would hope for greater support from TRF “because in your country the needs seem never to cease; actually, they are increasing.” As many African Rotarians were also part of the government, now that polio had been done with, they could look at malaria or the ever-rising tuberculosis.
Rotarians in South Asia — India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka — have come together to do many things — literacy, safe water, TB prevention. In the last, DG Subhash Kulkarni was doing “tremendous work,” getting another District involved too.
“So when you ask me for my vision, I try to imagine the vision of other countries, their problems and how to manage them … systematically, cogently and of course successfully. It’s going to take some doing, but with a bunch of committed Trustees, who are also visionaries, I hope we’ll find more solutions more quickly.”
Reiterating his favourite phrase: ‘One size does not fit all,’ he added that our main challenge is to bring about soch me badlav (change our mindset), as Amitabh Bachchan says in the ad to promote agriculture.
An affair to remember
TRF Centennial Convention would be held in Atlanta, and “I hope many of you will be there. It will be an affair to remember, I promise you that.” Promotion committee members and PDGs Ashish Roy and Vinay Kulkarni were coaxing more people to attend it.
A highlight of that Convention would be a Peace Symposium with a difference. Along with the Jimmy Carter Peace Foundation headquartered in Atlanta, and the City Council of Atlanta, TRF was trying to rope in a few Nobel Peace Laureates for that conference. “We are still working on it; if that happens, it will be an event you may never see again.”
Another aspect of his vision was “how do we make it a year which is special and stands out. Can every club everywhere take up a project to enhance its community, a project that is known, seen and appreciated? The size or amount doesn’t matter; what matters is that it makes a difference,” Banerjee said.
Whether it is inculcating a traffic sense in the young, sinking tube wells in drought-prone areas, helping children of farmers who have committed suicide, “you have to move quickly to see how you can mitigate their suffering and trauma. So let each club have a Centennial project that leaves a mark, makes an impact. If we do that, we’ll make our Centennial a very special year,” he added.
Start planning for TRF Centennial
Urging the assembled Rotary leaders to start planning for the TRF Centennial and make an early start, Banerjee said the goal for India this year was $27 million. He hoped in the coming year Indian Rotarians would raise the Indian per capita average of giving to $100. “I know this is a challenging goal, but I am available and totally at your disposal to help you achieve it. We will need all hands on deck for this.”
He also cautioned districts to sort out stewardship issues (misuse of TRF grants); those with Pakistan had been resolved with the help of the Pakistani delegates at Jaipur. “I thank them for this. Some Indian districts too have got involved in this issue. Let me tell you that on issues of stewardship, the Trustees will come down like a ton of bricks whenever required.”
As the Centennial approached, the Trustees were looking at two things — building low cost shelters using global grants, and reviewing Rotary peace scholarships.
Peace scholarships being reviewed
After 17–18 years of awarding peace scholarships the question begging an answer was if “our peace programmes are really helping to promote peace or promote only more peace scholars! Does the process need to be reviewed and reset? These are important issues, given the tremendous donor support for it from all over the world.”
Wrapping up his vision for TRF’s Centennial, an animated Banerjee told the 900-odd delegates: “This is what we are and this is what we do. So get set, go home and get the fireworks ready. We are going to make it a year mankind will remember forever.”
Pictures by K Vishwanathan