She rolls the car out of the parking lot, takes a left turn to the main road, drives over a kilometre, and takes a smooth U-turn back to the Maruti Suzuki Driving School in Chennai, where she is completing her four-wheeler driving course. It’s her third practical class and Saroja Devi (29) feels “confident and happy that I could drive the car so far without a single hiccup, that too with passengers in the back seat.” Thanks to Rotary, she will be able to “earn extra and support my family in a better way,” says the beneficiary of Project Vahini, an initiative of the women’s empowerment team of RID 3232.
Under the initiative, 250 women will receive professional car driving lessons. “We will try to provide them placements too,” says Sharadha Sundaram, chair, district women’s empowerment committee.
The beneficiaries are women aged 18–35 years selected by Dorai Foundation, the sustainability partner in this project. “We want to ensure that they take their training seriously and don’t discontinue the course. The Foundation keeps track of their progress,” she says.
Its founder Dr Sumithra Prasad says that “most of these women are school dropouts and work as domestic help or daily wage workers and suffer domestic abuse. This is an opportunity for them to turn things around.”
Ten Rotary clubs from Chennai have funded the training of the first batch of 20 beneficiaries at ₹10,000 per person. CARS India and Maruti Suzuki Driving School are the training partners in this initiative. “Partnering with Rotary will enhance our brand image and help us be part of an important cause that will improve our community,” says Syed Fahim, managing director of CARS India.
The training comprises 14 rigorous modules over a month and also includes personal grooming and communication skills training. “At the end of the first 21 days of training, they’ll know the basic traffic rules and have hands-on driving experience through simulators and on-road driving, and the confidence to take the driving exam at the RTO to obtain a driving licence,” says T R Rejith, senior manager at the Maruti Driving School where six beneficiaries are being trained.
Sanjana, a transgender and beneficiary of Project Vahini, thanks Rotary “for providing me an opportunity to learn driving. This is a welcome move to showcase the inclusivity of the LGBTQ community. The sponsorship gives transwomen like me a chance to learn a new skill that I wouldn’t have been able to afford.”
Sharadha says she has received requests from individuals and organisations to hire Sanjana for chauffeur service. “That is a win for Project Vahini. Rotary has not only changed the way people look at transgenders but will inspire more members of the trans community to take up decent jobs.”
The first batch of beneficiaries received their driving licence at the district conference of RID 3232. RIPR Elizabeth Usovicz, who was the chief guest at the discon was “happy to handover the licences to the beneficiaries. As the chair of the Empowering Girls Task Force, (which was established as part of PRIP Shekhar Mehta’s initiative) I know the impact of projects like this. This initiative does not just improve the lives of these women but their families too.” She urged that Rotary clubs in RID 3232 “should develop a framework and resources to participate in and promote service projects that focus on the health, education, safety, well-being, and economic development of women and girls.”
Uma Maheshwari V (33), another beneficiary, was brimming with joy on receiving her licence. “I couldn’t think of sitting in a car but Rotary put me in the driver’s seat and now I will drive my life to success.”