To give the slum children of their city an exposure to a slice of Indian culture, members of the Rotary Club of Allahabad Midtown, RID 3120, conceived of a special project — take about 100 of these children, in small batches to the country’s first state-of-the-art Ganga Gallery.
This gallery was inaugurated in 2011 in Prayagraj at the National Academy of Sciences India (NASI). This unique museum houses an interesting range of exhibits that offer the viewer a 360 degree explanation of all aspects of River Ganga. Says Dr Divya Bartaria, president of the club, “Our main aim was to sensitise these children about a wonderful heritage they had inherited, but which, over the years, had been allowed to rot away for so many different reasons, the main one being that we are yet to inculcate pride in our national treasures.”
In a discussion with the club members, the executive secretary, NASI, Dr Neeraj, explained to them that though “the holy Ganga occupies a unique position due to its socio-economic, cultural, scientific and ecological significance, the very existence of this river is under threat due to the enormously increasing loads of pollutants that are dumped in it year after year.” Hence the council of NASI decided to make the people aware of the need for conservation and restoration of the Ganga by establishing a Ganga gallery, using a scientific approach in order to highlight the religious, cultural, socio-economic and scientific aspects of the river.
Move over to the Rotary club; the members had to find transport to pick up the children from their homes and take them to the Ganga Gallery and then drop them back home. In came a good Samaritan in the form of club member Arun Bagga, who offered his Maruti cab, aptly titled ‘Blessings’, for the ferrying of these children free of cost. “It was a privilege for me to offer my free cab services towards this endeavour,” he says. Seeing its success, and the interest and joy of the children, both Divya, he and other club members have decided to continue this project, extending its reach to more children.
As batches of children were taken to this museum, and were explained the need to be conscious of and treasure and cherish their heritage, Priti, a student of Class 12 and living at the Gau Ghat slum, expressed her happiness on two counts; first to get an outing such as this during the pandemic, and secondly, to learn something new about the river that they all had taken for granted. After the visit to the museum, each batch of children was taken to a Rotarian’s house and given a sumptuous lunch, and a return gift too.
Added Bharati, one of the children: “It was really fun being a part of this project. We enjoyed the winter outing and also got an overwhelming experience with Rotarians’ families.” All the children cherished the moment by playing games, exploring nature, having refreshments, sharing experiences, and generally having a good time, added Divya. “And in the process, we all learnt something so valuable too.”
Coordinator and guide at NASI, Meera Shukla, was honest when she said that “although the children were not really capable to grasp all the scientific aspects of this museum, it was good to see that their curiosity has been roused. They were asking questions and trying to understand the various facets about the river, something they had not been exposed to earlier.”
But as with all practical experiences, the children were fascinated with the cultural, religious, economic, socio-scientific and related aspects of the river Ganga that are explained graphically here. As the gallery is equipped with landscapes and sculptures, animated models, multimedia graphics and designs, the myths and legends connected to the origin and voyage of the holy river, it gripped their interest. Keeping in mind social distancing norms, in each trip only 6–7 children, in the age group 8–18 were taken. Started in November, this project has already covered 100 children.