With their black and yellow tees, 12 men marked their presence at the Centennial Summit in Kolkata this February. They were felicitated by RI President Mark Maloney in the presence of RIPN Shekhar Mehta and Convenor of the Summit and RID Kamal Sanghvi and RID Bharat Pandya. The team led by Sunil Telkar arrived at Kolkata completing a rally called the ‘Rotary Literacy Ride 2020’ starting from Kanyakumari, traveling 4,600 km through 16 cities and 14 Rotary districts in 19 days. The rally was to promote Rotary India Literacy Mission’s Asha Kiran project to put children back to the school.
“What started as a mere fun ride turned into a once-in-lifetime experience for all of us,” said Telkar, member of RC Bangalore Kalyan, RID 3190. The rallyists are Rotarians of RID 3190, and members of the International Fellowship of Motorcycling Rotarians. Telkar is a former president of this organisation. This is the longest ride for the team which has gone on frequent short trips.
The idea for the ride was conceptualised by D Ravishankar, past president of RC Bangalore Orchards, who also pitched in with a contribution of ₹150,000 to meet the ride expenses. “RIPN Shekhar Mehta and RID Kamal Sanghvi supported our campaign to raise funds and promote Asha Kiran among the districts we visited en route. DG Sameer Hariani coordinated with the other governors,” he added.
The bikes were transported from Bengaluru to Kanyakumari where RID 3212 DG Sheik Saleem flagged off the rally. “He was just wonderful, leading us from Kanyakumari to Tirunelveli and Virudhunagar, and organising meetings with Rotary clubs. And at the end of it all, we had a commitment for 350-plus Asha Kirans from the district,” he said.
PRID C Basker gave them a rousing welcome at their next halt at Karur, RID 3000.
At the end of the ride, when the bikers reached Kolkata, they had pocketed ₹15 lakh worth commitments for sponsoring around 600 children and initiated crowdfunding to support nearly 4,000 children back to school.
“All through the tour, it has been an amazing experience. The bonds we established with governors and Rotarians in various districts and the sense of commitment each one has towards the cause of Literacy were remarkable and I could see that the dream of our RIPN to make India literate by 2025 can become a reality,” said Telkar.
He narrated an experience close to his heart. While riding with the team towards Jhansi he pulled over by the roadside to wait for the other members to catch up. Two young kids came to him seeing some balloons tied to his bike’s tail box, which was put by the Jabalpur Rotarians for the roadshow. “The younger one offered me a five-rupee coin in exchange for the balloons thinking that I was selling them. I was only too happy to give away those balloons to them.” He then asked them where they were from and if they were studying somewhere. The children said that they were from Rajasthan, and that their parents didn’t have enough money to send them to school.
“I wanted to offer some money but was not sure if leaving money with the youngsters was a good idea.” He looked for their parents but couldn’t find them. He then offered them the flowers he was carrying from the previous day’s event. And the kids left happily.
“The Asha Kiran project that we are propagating is actually targeted to get such kids back to school. While the incident made me sad, somewhere down, there was a sense of satisfaction that we were doing our bit to propagate the cause. My commitment to literacy projects just got strengthened,” said Telkar.
Public image rally
Ravi Manda, President of RC Vijayanagaram, RID 3020, with five other Rotarians from the district, along with an eight-member team from RC Chennai Meraki, an all-women’s club of RID 3232, and two riders from RC Sankagiri, on bikes and cars, reached Kolkata from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. The rallyists were spreading Rotary’s public image along the way. “Many youngsters were interested. Some even asked if it is possible to join Rotary even if they didn’t have the money. And we explained that it is not just money, you can give your time and ideas too,” said Manda, who had a cast on his arm.
He met with an accident at Ichhapuram while riding with his wife Vani, also a Rotarian, on the pillion. Vani’s foot hit a rock and her ankle twisted while they were riding along a stretch where road repair was under progress. “She is in ICU in a hospital in Ichhapuram but persuaded me to finish the rally. As soon as we reached the venue, I showed her the photos on WhatsApp and told her, ‘It is your spirit that helped us complete the rally’,” said Manda.