This year’s presidential theme is creating hope in the world; and I have loved it from the outset, because without hope, and dreams, what life is worth living? And it fits so perfectly with all the focus areas of Rotary; be it improving health and sanitation, promoting peace, enhancing livelihoods, protecting Mother Earth, or giving education to children.
I am sure each of you has his/her most favourite Rotary focus area; mine is literacy and education. Education — meaningful one — has the magical power to lift millions out of poverty. The power of the human mind is phenomenal, and the spirit, limitless. But the cherry on the cake is education. Most of us can look back to our school and college days… to that favourite teacher, who saw some spark/potential in us, and encouraged us to fine-tune or enhance that particular area that kindled our enthusiasm, excitement and interest. And that gentle push brought us to where we are today.
Last month we saw the transformation of an ordinary, decrepit panchayat middle school in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu by a bunch of passionate Rotarians from RC Nilgiris into a model school complete with computer training, science lab and library. This time, our cover story focuses on a single Rotarian, Lalita Sharma Anant, supported by her husband, also a Rotarian, both from RC Indore Adarsh, District 3040, who has no school or structure, and yet is successfully touching and transforming the lives of hundreds of poor children. She runs classes under the open sky, in a park opposite her house for 250-odd underprivileged children at any given time, and then links them to mainstream education — either private or government schools, and in many cases, colleges — paying their fees herself, where necessary. Adolescent girls who were, or would have been, pulled out of school to clean vessels and work as domestic help, along with their mothers, have become nurses, or found jobs with iconic companies such as Cipla and Flipkart. Her most successful student yet is Mayank Katara, who has graduated from IIT Palakkad, and has got a job in Bengaluru at an annual ₹18 lakh package. About 35 such successful alumni of hers now volunteer as Bhaiya and Didi teachers, whenever they can find the time, to teach other children in her open sky school.
Even though not a Rotary project, the success of this project, which has sustained for 14 long years, shows how just a single individual’s passion and persistence give hope… and a future… to so many youngsters. The toughest part was convincing the parents to keep their children in school. Unfortunately, many parents battling poverty don’t see any value in education. Hunger and poverty kill dreams.
Elsewhere too, Rotarians are giving people a reason for hope… through better education. In Chennai, RC Madras South has done a wonderful project by creating space for special children in mainstream schools. In Dharamshala, Rotarians of RC Dharamshala have improved adolescent girls’ education, by gifting them good quality reusable sanitary napkins. They found that in rural areas, many girls were missing classes for several days as they couldn’t manage their menstrual periods due to non-availability of sanitary napkins.
If a spark of hope can be ignited in the hopeless and the downtrodden… the sky is the limit.