This June, the Rotary Club of Pune South, one of the oldest clubs in RI District 3131, and with 100 members, completed its golden jubilee with a rush of remarkable service projects in areas such as health and hygiene, women’s empowerment, education and skilling, etc.
According to the golden jubilee president Abhijit Joag, one of its most impactful projects during the year was to bring dignity, self-respect and recognition to sanitation workers. He said, “through Swachh Bharat, India has achieved phenomenal success in building new toilets and creating awareness about cleanliness and hygiene. But the people in the forefront of this drive, the workers engaged in sanitation and drainage cleaning, work under almost inhuman conditions. That one such worker dies every five days in India due to suffocation and other hazards is an embarrassing statistic for every Indian.”
Moreover, due to lack of knowledge, these workers are careless about safety measures they should undertake and hence end up with all kinds of infections, resulting in a much lower life expectancy. Recognising that all these workers are a demoralised lot, who feel that nobody cares for them as they do a menial job, the club decided to take up their welfare and improvement in their working conditions, and providing enhanced safety measures for their health and hygiene.
We felt that universally a person in uniform gets attention, recognition and respect. The workers who attended this programme discovered this too, and probably for the first time in their life, felt good about themselves and their work.
— Abhijit Joag
president (2019–20), RC Pune South
The club, in partnership with the KAM Foundation, domain experts in this field, conducted a 12-day pilot training programme in the field and classroom for 35 “sanitation soldiers”, as it called them, to bring about in them behavioural change, inculcate self-respect and pride in their work, and follow strict safety measures.”
The workers were given a set of personal protective equipment that included a cap, goggles, mask, hand gloves, a jacket and gum boats. “We felt that universally a person in uniform gets attention, recognition and respect. The workers who attended this programme discovered this too, and probably for the first time in their life, felt good about themselves and their work,” added Joag.
The club was quick to strike up another important partnership with the Pune Municipal Corporation, which supported this activity and actively encouraged their employees and contract labour to get trained. Enthused by the positive feedback from the participants and “the tremendous impact the programme had on their self-esteem and safety habits, the club extended it to 1,000 sanitation workers and the amount of ₹ 20 lakh required for this project was funded by Andreas STIHL, a German MNC, from its CSR funds.
The first two batches that completed the training course were given certificates and safety kits in a meeting attended also by Parind Prabhudesai, MD, Andreas STIHL India, senior officers of Pune Municipal Corporation, club members and their Anns. “The grateful and overwhelmed workers said for the first time they felt their work was important and recognised.” He added that such training programmes will bring a positive change in the lives of people at the bottom of the pyramid. The past president added, “we also wanted to give them a machine, costing around ₹ 10 lakh, that will dignify their labour. Andreas STIHL, which gave us the ₹ 20 lakh, is so happy with this project that they want to be further associated with us, but the corona pandemic has upset and delayed our programme. But it will be done.”
Making soap from goat milk
Another iconic project of RC Pune South is helping farmers’ families to make soap from goat’s milk. Joag explains that due to frequent droughts resulting from scanty rainfall, “in the Osmanabad district of Maharashtra, mere survival becomes difficult for farmers and suicides are rampant here, posing a huge challenge both for the government and the voluntary sector.”
To the rescue came the Shivar Foundation, a group of youngsters, who took on this challenge head-on to offer a sustainable supplementary income to the families engaged in farming. Joag explains that the Osmanabadi goat is a unique breed, and “its milk has exceptional properties that are really good for nourishing and taking care of the skin.” One of the youngsters, who is in advertising, first approached Joag on a commercial venture for making soap from goat’s milk. “But I felt that we should make it a service project Rotary should be involved as it is a farmers’ welfare project, and hence our club took it up.”
Under the Suvarnakanya project ₹ 20,000 was put into FDs for 50 girls below the age of five. This amount, which will grow to over ₹ 1 lakh, will be given to them once they turn 18, to help with their higher education.
Shivar (‘farm’ in Marathi) now buys goat milk, which would otherwise be thrown away, and it is now used by the agri-families, mainly women, who add to this milk, organic herbs and other natural ingredients, to make goat milk soap. The Foundation helps the farmers to market this soap, costing about ₹ 150, and it is also available on Amazon.
This project is linked to the larger project of the golden jubilee milestone. Named the Rotary Udyojak Mitra, its objective is to enhance livelihoods and increase income “by leveraging the vast experience and knowledge of Rotarians in various areas of business and industry to help budding entrepreneurs and mentor them through the difficult initial period of their business,” says PDG Arun Kudale.
Thus, Rotary Udyojak Mitra worked closely with the Shivar Foundation to develop a brand for the goat milk soap, design its packaging, develop a marketing strategy and plan the launch. Rotarians also helped in patenting the product and printing the packaging boxes, with one Rotarian volunteering to place this soap on retail counters across India.
The soap was launched in November 2019 in Pune by popular Indian cricketer Ajinkya Rahane.
Kudale adds that as the sales from this soap may not be that substantial, the club also has plans to donate four female and one male goat, costing ₹ 40,000, to farmers’ families in the area, “providing them an end-to-end sustainable solution that will prevent farmer suicides.”
Currently goat milk is being purchased from 250 families in one taluka of Osmanabad district, and in one year, the Shivar Foundation, with RC Pune South’s help, plans to cover 10,000 families across all the eight talukas of Osmanabad. district.
A surgical camp in Ethiopia
The club also conducted an endoscopic surgery camp in partnership with the Lokmanya Hospital for Special Surgeries, Pune, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at the St Paul’s Hospital from Feb 10 to 15, 2020.
Operations were done in general surgery, urology, orthopaedics and gynaecology. A team comprising four specialist surgeons, two anaesthetists and several Rotary volunteers worked with “both speed and commitment, and did about 100 surgeries, most of which were highly complex and critical,” says Joag.
As doctors skilled in endoscopic surgery are not available in Ethiopia, many of the surgeries were being done for the first time in the African country, giving great relief to the patients living with pain and discomfort for extended periods.
One of the operations performed was on a young boy, who injured a ligament in the knee while playing football, and was “in huge pain for the last three years. Dr Bhushan Ganvir conducted knee arthroscopy on him and he will be able to play football again after four months. A woman suffering from a huge hernia could not get treatment for eight months. Dr Suprashant Kulkarni treated her with a bloodless, endoscopic surgery.”
Another traumatised patient who could not pass urine and stools normally as he was badly injured in an accident and had to live with the indignity of two bags attached to his body, which needed to be cleaned regularly, had Dr Sandesh Surana coming to him as an angel, and reconstructing both his tracts. Now the grateful patient will be able lead a normal life.
These doctors, along with Dr Mukund Thatte, Dr Rajendra Gosavi and Dr Ganesh Ghongate, gave hands-on training to local doctors to perform these procedures and also gave lectures to both doctors and medical students. “This knowledge transfer and training was highly appreciated by the local medical fraternity. Our press conference, attended by India’s Ambassador Anurag Srivastava, was widely covered by the local media. We were invited to a meeting of RC Addis Ababa West, and met the presidents of all the Rotary clubs in Addis Ababa, and they all expressed their happiness and gratitude to us for helping the poor and needy patients in Ethiopia. We understand that this was the first ever international surgical camp organised by a single Rotary club in India, without any help or assistance from Rotary International,” he added.
Of the ₹ 20 lakh spent on this medical camp, ₹ 10 lakh was donated by the Lokmanya Hospital in Pune and the other half was raised by the Rotarians. He added that the local doctors were “so grateful and overwhelmed that we wanted to do this camp every year but thanks to Covid, we might continue this project after a year’s gap.”
For gender equity
Another worthwhile project which could be done thanks to the active involvement of the Anns, was a gender equity programme for girls from poor families titled Suvarnakanya project planned and executed independently by the women. Under this, ₹ 20,000 was put into an FD in the names of each of the 50 girls below the age of five from low-income group families. This amount, which will grow to over ₹ 1 lakh, will be given to these girls once they turn 18, and help with their higher education. The strict condition is the girls should not be married before 18.
Other projects include publishing a book in Marathi on 15 iconic entrepreneurs which was distributed to over 125 schools in and around Pune, the purpose being to inspire senior students to consider becoming entrepreneurs instead of being job seekers. The book reached about 50,000 students in these schools; to ensure they are read, a written test based on this book was conducted in about 50 schools. Over 5,000 students participated and the top three winners were given cash prizes of ₹ 10,000, 7,500 and 5,000.
In Nov 2019 40 Rotarians and Anns from RC Pune South went on a car rally from Pune to Goa to promote the message of Swacchh Bharat. During the Covid lockdown too the members did service such as distributing food packets to migrant workers, sanitisers, PPE kits, masks, etc to others.
It’s not all work for these Rotarians. In Sep 2019, 50 members of the club enjoyed a three-night Mediterranean cruise and five nights in Spain. “Our club has a history of such tours for 10 years; this creates a strong bond of fellowship amongst members.”