President Mehta strikes a nostalgic note at Hyderabad conference

Left: RI President Shekhar Mehta and Rashi, along with RIDs Virpi Honkala, A S Venkatesh, Conference convener PRID Kamal Sanghvi and chair Ravi Vadlamani, honouring a Rotary India Hero Award recipient Maya Vishwakarma. Also seen  (from left): Rajyalakshmi Vadlamani, Dr Amita Kotbagi, TRF Trustee Aziz Memon and PDG Dr Zameer Pasha (extreme R).
RI President Shekhar Mehta and Rashi, along with RIDs Virpi Honkala, A S Venkatesh, Conference convener PRID Kamal Sanghvi and chair Ravi Vadlamani, honouring a Rotary India Hero Award recipient Maya Vishwakarma. Also seen (from left): Rajyalakshmi Vadlamani, Dr Amita Kotbagi, TRF Trustee Aziz Memon and PDG Dr Zameer Pasha (extreme R).

Thanks to the incredible work done by you, Rotarians, our membership (in this zone) has increased by a net 19,213, which is equivalent to the total growth Rotary in India has had over the last five years. And we have two more months left before the year ends. The total membership in South Asia stands at 184,000, just 16,000 short of the magic mark of 200,000.”

With these gung-ho words, RI President Shekhar Mehta set the tone of the inaugural session at the RI presidential conference in Hyderabad. Congratulating the governors for this tremendous feat, he said an addition of 20,000 new members to the Rotary family would mean an additional contribution of a whopping ₹11.25 crore or $1.5 million to the Rotary exchequer every year, year after year.” Add to this a contribution from our region of nearly ₹22 crore or $3 million to TRF. And the growth of Rotaract in South Asia too is nothing short of miraculous; till today, for this year, the figure is 23,000 Rotaractors.”

Congratulating the conference convener and past director Kamal ­Sanghvi and conference chair PDG Ravi ­Vadlamani for pulling off “a spectacular event with a participation of 3,000 Rotarians, which makes it the second biggest event in the Rotary world this year”… the biggest will of course be the RI convention in Houston, he added that the work done by the Rotarians of South Asia is “matchless”.

“All these new members will help us do more and grow more. The work we have done over the years is outstanding and unparalleled. I do not exaggerate when I say Rotary in India is the Kohinoor in the crown of Rotary International. Just consider the numbers…. in the last 10 years we’ve done 20,000 heart surgeries, 200,000 eye surgeries, constructed over 100 hospitals across India, and we run over 50 blood banks. And we have done surgeries for over 7,000 polio-affected children, ­conducted scores of medical camps and treated lakhs of people.”

RI President Mehta, Rashi, Sonal and Conference convener PRID Sanghvi.
RI President Mehta, Rashi, Sonal and Conference convener PRID Sanghvi.

Mehta added that when it came to combating the Covid pandemic, Rotarians of India were in the forefront. “Our fight against Covid has been exemplary with a contribution of ₹105 crore to the PM Cares Fund and projects double that amount on the ground. ­Thousands of oxygen concentrators and a few thousand hospital beds were donated and some amazing stories of service to people across India were created. Our work in disaster management through shelter kits is path-breaking; we have served over 70,000 disaster victims in the last 20 disasters in India.”

Indian Rotarians’ work in other areas of focus has been as impressive too. “RILM has become a name to reckon with both in the corridors of power as well as service. Millions of children benefit everyday through our e-content broadcast through the PM’s e-Vidya and other channels. Our initiative in empowering girls has been innovative and impactful and I credit the governors for this work. The water and sanitation work has also been enormous and thousands of check dams, rejuvenation of water bodies, thousands of WinS programmes in schools, all tell the story of dedication of Rotarians in South Asia.”

The crowing glory, the RI president added, was that despite the eradication of polio from India in 2011 and being certified polio free in 2014, “we relentlessly contribute to the polio eradication programmes.”

The generosity of Rotarians has ensured that India has been the second largest contributor to TRF for several years. “If Grow More, Do More is to be seen at its best, it is here. This presidential conference is a celebration of Service Above Self and work in seven areas of focus.”

Mehta said Rotary instils in people the desire to change lives and it is here that “I got the mantra of my life — Service is the rent we pay for the space we occupy in this world.” But service was not his mission when he joined Rotary at the age of 25; “Just married to the love of my life Rashi, life was on a roll, I was leading a happy family life, blissfully unaware of the issues the others were facing.” It was only when he got involved with his Rotary club did he start understanding the meaning of the word ‘service’, caring for ­others, sharing with others. “Going from village after village, I realised we make such a big fuss over little things which are only a dream for these people living just 50km from our homes.”

All the world leaders acknowledged and praised the work of Rotary; I was just the face in front of them, they were complimenting each one of you.

Shekhar Mehta, RI President

Striking a poignant note, the RI president said: “We often wonder how high the ceiling in our homes should be, but when Rashi and I visited homes in several villages, we couldn’t even stand straight in those huts. We didn’t like getting into a shower without hot running water, whereas these people had no toilets in their homes. We wonder whether our water is boiled or filtered; they drank water from the pond where they and their buffaloes bathed together. Rashi and I often discussed how big the campus should be in our children’s school, but the village children’s school often functioned under a tree. Soon I realised that there were two worlds; mine was a comfortable one, and just 50km away, comfort was just a dream. And in between lay my Rotary club which was trying to serve to change lives.”

Rotary also gave him leadership opportunities. Spelling out in detail the path of service he had taken in Rotary, Mehta said, “I became a club president at 29, district governor at 39, RI director at 49 and RI president at 59. But I always believed that leadership is service and not a position. Each milestone in leadership gave me opportunities for bigger projects and my horizon expanded constantly.”

The crux of this was to find solutions for problems; “the bigger the problem the greater the challenge and satisfaction of helping the community and the country. We set up some crazy goals 10 years back, such as 5,000 heart surgeries. I am happy to share we’ve done 20,000 instead of 5,000. We wanted to set up 50 eye hospitals, I don’t know how many we did set up, but I was involved in setting up 19.”

Among the other achievements of Rotary in this zone was setting up the shelter kit programme “which has become a premium disaster management programme in India.”

In making India literate “we might have started with baby steps but we have taken giant leaps. As the size of the projects became bigger, so did the horizon of my work; the programmes became bigger and it became a complete circle of service.”

Above: Rashi Mehta and Sonal Sanghvi with students who received Tablets.
Rashi Mehta and Sonal Sanghvi with students who received Tablets.

Along the way, hundreds of “DGs, PDGs, and thousands of Rotarians joined to make the projects bigger to change more lives. This buoyed my confidence to go ahead and I started meeting heads of state and designing large projects, which were not just national but international as well.”

When he met Prime Minister ­Narendra Modi, “as I was departing, he said: ‘Go and serve the world; in India, please work on the nutrition of women.’ Here was the PM of the country, having faith in the work of Rotary.”

This year had been a gamechanger year for Rashi and him; “we have already visited over 30 countries, covered more than a few lakh km, every third day we were in a new country, losing track of the day, week, and even the month, as we travelled. It’s a back- breaking job but also one of the best jobs on the planet. The joy of meeting thousands of diverse people in every part of the world, getting their love, affection, respect, seeing service at its best, gives greater pride and inspires me to do even more.”

As they traversed through different nations and met over 25 heads of state and senior officials, “I offered to do service projects for them on behalf of Rotary. In Uganda, I offered the president that we will be happy to do heart surgery for 10 Ugandan children. The first children are today (April 29) in Mumbai in RID 3141.”

When he met the president of ­Seychelles, he promised to do 50 free heart operations for 50 of their children. “I didn’t know who would do it; I just had to put one message in the official group of DGs, many hands were raised and finally all the 50 surgeries will be done in Nagpur, RID 3030. We also offered to set up eye hospitals, blood banks, toilets etc. Every opportunity I got, I tried to convert it into action for service.”

At the Glasgow climate summit, he was fortunate to lead a roundtable discussion, and there “I committed that Rotary would work on setting up ­mangroves in 12 countries; work has started in many countries, including our own.”

Mehta said that once “firm resolve and commitment are displayed, even the high and mighty will want to work with you.” He met Prince Charles in London and “he showed keen interest in working with Rotary in India for empowering girls. The president of Kenya was so happy when I offered on behalf of Rotary to set up eye hospitals in Kenya. Each of these world leaders acknowledged and praised the work of Rotary; I was just the face in front of them, they were complimenting each one of you.”

The RI president concluded by saying that though he was very lucky to get the opportunity to serve so many communities through Rotary, “but as exciting a journey it has been, I will be happy to be back with all of you on July 1, because there is so much more work that needs to be done here.”

Addressing the inaugural session, conference convener and past RI Director Kamal Sanghvi said every generation has its own share of doomsday pandits, and this time too lots of warnings were sounded about the pandemic doing its worst. “And yet, we are all here for this wonderful event. Humanity keeps surviving and growing in consciousness because we Rotarians sincerely believe we can make the world a better place because the past is history, tomorrow is a mystery but today is a gift. And we believe our future will be better than the past.”

To ensure this, “we Rotarians will have to become catalysts for a much better future. Life is constantly evolving, changing. Something is dying, something is being born… to protect yourself from the dangers of tomorrow is to miss the beauty that is existing now.” Maintaining that the Covid pandemic had its own set of positives, Sanghvi said, “for the last two years, while fighting with the invisible, we have all started making so many positive changes to our lives, which we had ignored for a long time. This pandemic has finally filled in so many gaps in our lives… particularly in relationships. Nature is healing, and got time to breathe because of minimum movement of human beings and vehicles. We saw flamingos in Bombay, and the Himalayas were seen from ­Jalandhar in Punjab. Delhi started having crisp blue skies. Nature reflects man; if we love the world, the world gives back three times that love. That’s why Rotary has survived and thrived for 100 years, but it has to keep changing… evolving. Change is always good, it invigorates, excites, keeps us on our toes.”

But the fact remained that “change or the idea of it makes you feel unsafe, insecure and even unsure. But now is the time to embrace that which is difficult. Let us together bring about a change. Today the needs are numerous and more diverse.” To make the world a more equitable place, “we Rotarians have to tighten our belts and make the steep mountain climb.”

“Let us greet the new Rotary year with a sense of joyful anticipation. You have the power to create the coming year as you choose… unleash your imagination and choose the most exciting work and dedicate this conference to knowledge and service.”

Welcoming the delegates, conference chair PDG Ravi Vadlamani said following the “clarion call given by our world leader, RI President Shekhar Mehta, to do good in the world and Serve to Change Lives, we have done 10 projects (details in another article) of scale to celebrate this presidential conference.” Thanking the entire team involved in the projects, he said all of them were “large, sustainable projects which demonstrate the magic and power of Rotary.”


Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

kenslot kenslot kenslot slot thailand kenslot asia99 kenslot pragmatic88 pragmatic88 asia99 slot thailand kenslot kenslot kenslot eslot gb777
Message Us