The greatest gift we have been given is the power to touch a life, and together we can transform millions of lives if we set our heart to it,” said PRIP Shekhar Mehta at the Rotary Zone Institute in Visakhapatnam. “No more distribution of pencils, erasers and school bags. It is time we build and rebuild schools, work with the government and make such an impact that the next time the government wants to implement a policy – whether it is water, literacy or health programmes – it invites Rotary for suggestions,” he added.
Commenting on the Operation Imagine event which saw distribution of bicycles to 1,000 girls, 1,000 sewing machines to underprivileged women, 1,000 wheelchairs to the disabled and 1,000 smokeless chulhas to tribal women, he said that he was “happy to note that service is the mainstay of this Institute,” and complimented Institute convenor Mahesh Kotbagi and chair Kishore Kumar for the arrangements and the proceedings.
Mehta noted that this was his first address to a large gathering of Rotarians after completing his presidential term last year, and thanked them “for your cooperation in doing bigger, better service projects in your districts. It was because of you and your district leaders that membership grew in Rotary.” He thanked RI President Jennifer Jones and RIPE Gordon McInally for continuing the Empowering Girls programme during their terms. “In 46 weeks Rashi and I travelled to 42 countries. It gave us so much satisfaction to see the profound impact the programme was creating around the world. Stitching sanitary pads, programmes of self-defence and skilling girls – all the projects were outstanding,” he said.
Thank you for your cooperation in doing bigger, better service projects in your districts. It was because of you and your district leaders that membership grew in Rotary.
– Shekhar Mehta, Past RI President
As RI president last year Mehta had met 30 Heads of State. “These were not photo opportunities. On behalf of Rotary we made commitment to change lives in various countries.” As a follow up to this, on his recent visit to Ethiopia he met the PM and the President. “I told them to send 100 children suffering from CHD to India and we will perform heart surgeries for them.” The Rotarians of Ethiopia have worked out a partnership with the government and the Ethiopian Airlines to bring the children and their caretakers to India.
The first group of four children has reached Bengaluru for heart surgeries which will be performed in January, he said. “Likewise, we have promised treatment for 100 Ugandan children and 35 of them have already been successfully treated in Mumbai.” He thanked DG Sandip Agarwalla and PDG Rajendra Agarwal for the service.
“I know how it hurts the entire family if a child is suffering from a heart disease. When a child has a hole in her heart it will pierce a hole in all our hearts. We are people of means and we can afford the treatment. I have met parents whose monthly earning is just ₹7,000. That means they would have to wait for three years to get a surgery done for their child. But the child may not even live for three months. We are fortunate to be part of Rotary to be able to save the lives of these little children,” said Mehta, adding that Rotary India has completed 25,000 heart surgeries in the past 15 years.
Talking about the literacy programme, he said that Rotary India Literacy Mission (RILM) has a goal to make 10 million adults literate every year in the next five years. “This is in sync with the GoI’s goal. Together we plan to make 100 million adults literate by 2027. Let’s go all out to do that.” He noted that the NCERT was awarded UNESCO’s King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa Prize in July this year for the e-learning content put together by RILM for Classes 1–12.
An MoU was signed between RILM and BYJU’s for the ‘Lakshya Scholarship’ where BYJU’s will provide its learning app to one million students identified by Rotary clubs. The scholarships worth $1 million (₹8 crore) contains digital content for all boards from Class 4–12.
He thanked PDG Kiran Lal Shrestha of Nepal for organising 10,000 wheelchairs for India and 5,000 for Nepal, and committing 20,000 more wheelchairs for India.
He gave an overview of Rotary India’s landmark projects that included 50 eye hospitals, 100,000 eye surgeries and 100 medical vans across the country. “We will be doing 10 per cent of the GoI’s water projects and that includes building check dams and rejuvenating water bodies. This year we will implement 1,000 of the 10,000 water projects that we have committed to the GoI; in the next two years we will be doing another 4,000 projects, and complete our total commitment by 2027,” said Mehta.
Pictures by Jaishree