A Rotaract club sustains an annual event for special children for 19th year

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If sustainability is the crucial factor in getting an award, then one should go to the Rotaract Club of Akash, sponsored by RC Madras Fort, RI District 3232. One of the few Rotaract clubs in India with most of its 45 members being young professionals, the club was established 24 years ago, and for the 19th year in succession, it recently organised its most loved annual event in Chennai. Providing differently-abled — both physically and mentally — children a platform to showcase their talent.

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On Oct 12, this year too, the Asan Memorial Senior Secondary School in Chennai was abuzz with activity, fun and excitement as it had about 600 young visitors from different schools for special children in the city. They were here to sing, dance, paint, perform all kinds of feats and acrobats… and generally let their hair down. When I get sketchy details but great pictures from the Rotaract club’s President Poornima Sundararaman about the event titled Punnagai (smile in Tamil), I turn to the club’s Facebook page for more details.  Here, two photographs and a video clip catch my attention.

One is a pookalam (floral design) done in vibrant colours such as red, yellow, green and orange titled ‘Save me’. It is an image of India that the child wants to be saved; the other is titled ‘Save Nature, Save Earth’. The environmental concerns of the younger generation are amply demonstrated by these two images.

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The video is of a teenager with an amputated leg performing the most amazing dance and acrobatic movements on the stage; his confidence and style takes your breath away!

Poornima, now in the US for personal reasons, says the club has 45 members, but only 30 are really active. Punnagai is an annual event in which the club’s Rotaractors get totally involved. Club Secretary Arjun S says that for this event, they get about 500 to 600 children from different schools in the city. For the whole day event, the children are “our responsibility. Right from picking up the kids from different schools, providing them with breakfast, lunch, followed by high-tea and dropping them safely back to their schools is our task.  While doing all this we have to ensure that the children never lose their smile!,” he says.

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This is more a ­community-based rather than a college-based club, with most of the members working. While Poornima is a data analyst, Arjun works in a corporate. He says every year they organise this event in a grand manner and this year the cost was ₹4 lakh. “We raised the money through corporate sponsorship and donations from Rotarians,” says Arjun.

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Poornima adds that this one-day cultural show includes both the physically and mentally challenged children. “On this day, every year, we provide a platform to these children to let down their hair and enjoy themselves as they put up various performances in music, dance, painting, Rangoli/kolam and a host of other activities in a creative and innovative fashion. It provides them an inter-school platform to display their talent to the world, which boosts their morale and kindles their creative spirit,” she says.

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What is even more striking than the fact that a Rotaract club has nurtured and sustained a single project for 19 years, is that they take care to invite prominent people from the world of art and culture, so that when they spot talent, they can give those children a much bigger platform and possibly a livelihood in the furture.

Adds Poornima, “We find this event so purposeful and enjoyable, both for us as well as the children, that we wish we could replicate Punnagai in other cities as well so that more special children get this platform.”

Really enthusiastic about community service, this Rotaract club is also conducting another event titled Sangamam, a RYLA-like programme for government school students to develop leadership qualities in them, and a sports tournament for rural children.

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