This is a fascinating story of the journey of 44,000 books, which literally travelled all the way from a far-off place in the US, Atlanta, to the Tuticorin port by sea. From there they travelled to Bengaluru by road.
It all began in 2018 when Ravishankar Dakoju was president of RC Bangalore Orchards, RID 3190, and was introduced to Dr Vijay Raghavan from Atlanta, a friend of late Indian President A P J Abdul Kalam.
Raghavan is committed to promoting Kalam’s dream of distributing knowledge and eradicating the poverty of education throughout the world through his organisation called We Serve Foundation.
Cross over to India where in 2018, Dakoju was passionately involved in implementing his club’s iconic project — 126 Rotary Happy Schools, and books are an integral part of any literacy initiative. Hence Dakoju and wife Paola, through their own charity organisation, the Paola Dakoju Ravishankar Foundation undertook the mission to ship these books from Atlanta to India, bearing the expenditure of nearly ₹8 lakh.
From Bengaluru, these books were then sent out by the couple to various parts of India; the only condition was an assurance that these books would be put to good use and enrich lives through the knowledge contained in them.
Theft is the only skill prison inmates have. Having served a prison term leads to their social ostracisation. So we are setting up a skilling centre in the Central Prison in Goa.
— Ravishankar Dakoju
One of the dearest projects of this couple, who hit the headlines two years ago not only in the Rotary world, but throughout India and beyond, by donating ₹100 crore to The Rotary Foundation, is building school and libraries in Manipur. From this stock of books, some 5,000 books were sent to Sangai village in Manipur, which were received by Sonal Sethi of Sunbird Trust, which is partnering with the Dakojus for their projects in the state, to be distributed to several open-door libraries. Similarly, about 25,000 books were distributed among several schools, orphanages, old age homes and other libraries in and around Bengaluru in RI District 3190.
For finding the right home for the remaining 11,500 books, Dakoju contacted PDG Jorson Fernandes from RID 3170, who also shares the same passion of this couple to “give back to society selflessly,” says Dakoju.
Fernandes got in touch with DGE Gaurish Dhond, RID 3170, a member of RC Panaji, the first club in Goa which was chartered in January 1963.
Dhond assured the Dakojus that Goa would be an ideal place to receive their generous gift as it is not only one of the most literate states in India, but its people also have a strong reading habit.
RC Panaji president Carlito Martins quickly responded and it was mutually agreed that these books could be distributed through the Central Library in Panaji. On Jan 30, the club’s 59th charter day, and during the official visit of RID 3170 DG Sangram Patil, it was decided to hand over the books to Panaji’s Central Library. The event was presided over by Goa chief minister Pramod Sawant, who is an honorary member of RC Panaji.
DG Patil appreciated the efforts made by RC Panaji to organise the handing over of the books and thanked the Dakojus for their gesture. The chief minister also thanked the couple and congratulated Rotarians for their selfless service to the community. He said to get maximum benefit from the generous donation of 10,500 books, they will be distributed to 11 government libraries and 140 libraries run by NGOs across the state of Goa. Rotarians from RC Bangalore Orchards led by president Narasimha Dwarkanath participated in the event.
Addressing the meeting, Dakoju said he and his wife Paola were very happy that the books had found their rightful place in a region like Goa, where the reading habit of people is relatively high. He added that earlier this month, over 1,000 books were distributed to RC Kudal.
Dakoju later told Rotary News that he has assured the Goa CM that his Foundation will be doing two more projects in Goa. The first, to be done in partnership with PDG Fernandes and RC Cuncolim, is aimed at skilling prisoners. “So many thieves are in prison because that is the only skill they have. And the fact that they served a prison term leads to their social ostracisation. So we are setting up a skilling centre in the Central Prison which is located in the CM’s constituency where the prison inmates will be trained in making files. We have also given a commitment that we will buy all the files they make.” The hope is that when the inmates return to the community after serving their term, they will have a useful vocation to make a respectable living.
Dakoju said that as building schools is close to his heart he volunteered to build a school in partnership with the government for which his Foundation would donate one acre of land. “But after a discussion, we agreed to first build a home for senior citizens. As you know, this too is a subject close to my heart. So we will be donating the land and our Foundation, in collaboration with RC Panaji and RID 3170 will build that home.”
The plan is to lay the foundation stone for this home in July at the installation of DGE Gaurish Dhond in the presence of RIPE Shekhar Mehta, he added.