We have been in Chennai just for 90 minutes, and I am seeing so many incredible projects being inaugurated tonight. I know every single one of the projects you do and every single dollar you spend promotes world peace and understanding. Because it is not just the absence of war, but also the absence of want… want for clean water and sanitation, a good meal and education… leads to peace. You’re tackling the needs and problems in your communities in a brilliant fashion.”\
With these words of high praise, RI President Jennifer Jones, barely a couple of hours within her landing in Chennai, inaugurated a bunch of large, meaningful and high-impact projects of clubs from RI Districts 2981, 2982, 3000, 3231 and 3232.
The oldest club in south India, RC Madras launched several projects that evening, including one focusing on women and children’s health. Giving details, club member Bobby Balakrishna, chairman of health projects, said women in rural India always neglected their health and wellbeing, even while taking good care of their families. “Keeping that in mind, our club has adopted five villages in a radius of 70km around Chennai, where we will focus on women and children’s health, by providing regular medical check-up and referrals to suitable hospitals when required.”
RC Madras restored 7 lakes, benefitting 8,00,000 people and 1,000 acres of farmland. Cost: ₹4 crore
That evening an ultrasound machine was being donated to the Government Periyar Hospital in Mayiladuthurai, courtesy MacDermid Alpha, which has donated ₹24 lakh for this equipment, and has been helping the club even during Covid times for welfare projects with additional funds. This is a district headquarters hospital with 612 beds providing healthcare to about one million people, he added.
Cancer detection remains a priority in women’s screening and recently, the club donated mammography equipment worth ₹75 lakh to the ACS Medical College Hospital in Chennai. “We are in the process of donating another mammography machine costing $120,000 to a Devakottai hospital, that covers the population of five big towns,” added club president Jayshree Sridhar. Medical camps will be conducted for screening about 10,000 women for breast cancer, and a mobile diagnostic van will also be given to the Chennai Corporation to address the health challenges that women face.
Giving details of the third club project being inaugurated, president-elect of the club, Sundaresan Ravi said it was a WinS project; the club had joined hands with the district — RID 3232 — to build 165 toilets, in segregated blocks, in five schools, and group handwashing stations. For girl students, sanitary napkin changing rooms equipped with a sanitary pad dispenser and disposal equipment consistent with UNICEF standards will be given. This project, costing ₹1 crore, will impact around 9,600 children.
Past president of the club P N Mohan said that during his year (2017–18) when he read a Niti Aayog report giving the “scary statistics that said 21 cities in India have gone dry, and these include the four large cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai, I thought our club should start restoring lakes in Chennai.” So far seven lakes have been restored at a cost of ₹4 crore, totally benefitting 8 lakh people and 1,000 acres of farmland. “We’ve just completed the seventh lake at Sithalapakkam, which is a 200-acre lake benefitting more than 200,000 people, and 500 acres of farm land, which President Jones is inaugurating today,” he added.
73 clubs of RID 2981 created 16,00,000 sqft area Miyawaki forests with a commitment to maintain it for 33 years
Giving details of the C-Arm project, the next from the club, at the 40-year-old, 200-bed non-profit Kanchi Kamakoti Childs Trust Hospital in Chennai, Dr Bala Ramachandran said an image intensifier or C-Arm “allows you to take x-rays before and during surgery, to aid the surgeon and is used extensively in general, neuro, paediatric, ortho and other surgeries. Along with it, other essential patient monitors for paediatric emergency and ICU were being donated. This project was done under a GG worth $78,000 or ₹64 lakh.”
President Jayshree added that during the pandemic, RC Madras had launched a Covid vaccination bus which “has helped vaccinate lakhs of people. With Covid and vaccination coming to an end, it will now become a women’s health bus, and will be used in rural areas.”
On TRF giving, past president Mohan Raman said that last year the club had raised and donated $540,000. Over the last few years this single club “has contributed over $2 million to TRF and received $10 million from it for our projects.” But, he added, the club was facing some teething problems with GGs, details of which would be shared with the RI leadership later. “If these are sorted out, $500,000 will soon become $1 million.”
President-nominee Chellakrishna gave details of the next water and sanitation project to make three villages open defecation-free, “an area of continuous focus at RCM since 2014. We are trying to transform 14 villages by building 1,680 toilets, impacting 10,000 residents. In three villages we’ll construct 180 toilets to benefit over 1,000 people, and are working with the NGO Nalanda to create awareness so that people use toilets and other good practices like handwashing. This project costing ₹50 lakh would be completed in six months.”
Project Shakti – RC Madras East
Introducing the iconic projects done by his club RC Madras East, its president T V Ramakumar said the club with 118 members “has been run from the very beginning on the highest values of retention and engagement of members, and on the principle that a happy and engaged Rotarian never leaves Rotary. We try and engage a maximum number of persons in our service projects every year, and have done so far projects worth ₹60 crore, including 31 GGs worth ₹14.06 crore or $2 million (at different exchange rates), impacting over 1 lakh lives.”
94 clubs of RID 3231 will economically empower 360 women every year, taking the total number to nearly 34,000
Its projects included feeding the poor, setting up smart or e-learning classroom in over 200 schools, renovation and upgradation of 25 schools affected by floods, and a heart surgery project titled Tiny Hearts, in partnership with the Apollo Hospitals for infants under which so far 500 heart surgeries have been done. Through Project Drishti, smart vision glasses with artificial intelligence have been given to 300 persons, each costing ₹30,000, cataract surgeries planned for 500 this year, along with blood donation camps and organ donation awareness programmes.
The club has also done environmental and water conservation and augmentation projects such as restoration of lakes, temples and community ponds to increase the water table, and set up Miyawaki urban forests. RC Madras East is known for its vocational service projects. “We have two community colleges where we enhance vocational skills through bakery, nurse and lab technicians training where 100 per cent job placement is done. We also have accounting, plumbing, tailoring and other training and job fairs,” Ramakumar added.
Another flagship project of the club is Wings to Fly, in which more than 40,000 children from Corporation schools participate and each year 8 to 10 children are taken overseas on an educational trip fully funded by the club. This year, apart from a sports meet for Corporation children, many new initiatives in membership, TRF contributions, and corporate partnership through CSR funding are on the cards.
Of the two GG projects being done this year, one is Shakti, an initiative to combat the alarming rise in cancer cases in women, through which an x-ray mammography system will be donated to the Voluntary Health Services in Chennai, along with training for the staff to use it. The cost is $80,000.
Miyawaki forest by RID 2981
An impressive, large-scale project inaugurated was the setting up of Miyawaki forests in a massive area of 16 lakh sqft in the districts of Thanjavur, Nagapattinam, Thiruvarur, Cuddalore and Puducherry. A unique environment protection and conservation project conceptualised by PDG S Balaji Babu (2020–21), this green venture was initiated to help this region which had suffered immense damage to its natural resources following not only the effects of the Tsunami in 2004, but also the devastation caused by hurricane Gaja and cyclone Thane, all within a short span of time.
During PDG Babu’s year, more than 73 Rotary clubs contributed to this project and the good news was that the project did not end with his year as DG in 2020–21. The involved Rotary clubs have committed to maintaining this green forest for 33 years, including fencing and water supply, as Miyawaki forests provide food and shelter to numerous species of plants, birds and animals, promote biodiversity, create a denser forest area, generate higher oxygen supply, bring more rain and reduce pollution.
RID 2982 has also generated and used CSR funds to provide screening equipment for cervical cancer, hearing, etc to government hospitals around Salem, Namakkal, Krishnagiri and Belur. Clubs in the district have also worked with government hospitals to combat hearing impairment in villages.
RID 3231 — Empowering women
Presenting details of RID 3231’s basic education and literacy project, DG J K N Palani said the clubs were working on literacy in government schools, community and economic development, environment and women’s empowerment.
One district project “to empower women involves training every month 30 women, by each of our 94 clubs, in tailoring, and sewing machines will be gifted to them. Every year, each club will help 360 women, so the total number will be 34,000. In 10 years our district hopes to economically empower three lakh women,” said Palani. The Rotarians will also use their personal contacts with companies and organisations to get job orders for these women.
In a major project to conserve water and our environment, rainwater harvesting awareness is being spread in the community, “and apart from restoring and maintaining water bodies, we will be planting 17 lakh saplings,” said Palani. Other projects include supporting child and maternal health initiatives in public hospitals, providing hygienic food, teaching yoga and building toilets and other basic infrastructure in schools, giving tablets to the students and conducting regular health screening camps. RYLA programmes were conducted regularly for Rotaract and Interact clubs.
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat
Thank you for the work you do: Jones
Addressing the Rotarians, President Jones thanked them “for the incredible work you do in your communities. I urge you to tell your stories to people to make them understand what our Rotary family does, what you do every day to touch other people’s lives in very profound ways.”
She said Rotarians “are often being told to do our good work quietly and not seek attention, and while that is noble, it really has kept us quiet and in the background.” When surveys were conducted about “the awareness of our organisation in the world, out of the 10 persons we asked, only two had some familiarity with our organisation. I don’t know about you, but my heart broke when I heard about that. Doing good in the world is part of our DNA, but we need the rest of the world to hear about it so that when we invite people of the quality we want into Rotary to be members, they know who we are and we don’t get the question what is Rotary.”
Rotary did not want only good people or people of action; “I’ve added on two more phrases to that, we are people of purpose and influence. There is no greater example of the influence we have, in a positive way, than what we have seen in this room today.”
The RI president asked the assembled Rotarians from the districts of Tamil Nadu to imagine the impact of their work… “when a young child is able to use a restroom and not miss school because of her menstrual cycle, think of the impact that will have. Think of the young boy who has access to clean water and doesn’t get sick, is able to go to school, learn, grow and thrive. Think of the young mum who was diagnosed with breast cancer fairly early, got treated and was able to have a family. Everything you told us tonight will impact generations to come. You’ll never know the true impact of your work, but I do hope that when you put your head to the pillow in the night, you know that lives have been changed, lives have been saved, families are intact and communities are growing and thriving because of the work you have done.”