For the last 11 years Rotary Club of Nagpur, RI District 3030, has been making Feb 14, Valentine’s Day, very special for some 800-odd specially-abled children in an attempt to spread joy and cheer in their lives, says Kapil Bahri, immediate Past President of the club.
“Aptly named Udaan, which translates to taking a flight, this event helps these special children to soar above their day-to-day mundane challenges.”
This project is so very special to the entire club that “many of our members keep the entire day free for this event and take immense joy in serving these children and assisting them in various activities. Once they have experienced the joy of bringing smile on the faces of these lovely children, it addicts them to a life of service,” he adds. Last year 10-year-old Gaurav Thakur (in long red shirt), who has a mental disability, won the hearts of the Rotarians by his cheerful disposition. “Ever smiling, he made us realise what happiness is” said a member of the club.
An arduous process
RID 3030 DGE Shabbir Shakir, a member of this club, who like all other members of RC Nagpur is very proud of this signature project, says it is not an easy task to get these children together and bring them to this event, so help from the schools for special children, particularly their teachers, is crucial. Planning for this festival of joy begins two months earlier, as over 800 special children — physically or mentally disabled — from various schools across Nagpur district in Maharashtra, have to be gathered for a full day of sports, cultural activities and music. “More than 150 teachers from their respective schools join the children to help and assist these children in their activities. The affection, care and the pain taken by these teachers need to be seen to be believed and to understand the full impact of the service they render,” he says.
Elaborating on the detailed planning required to give these children unlimited joy, he says first of all this activity has to be approved by the Social Welfare Department which lays down strict guidelines to be followed. Next the Rotarians approach the schools that have specially-abled children across Nagpur district and seek the permission of both the school authorities as well as the parents to take their children for the activities planned.
“Based on the activities planned for that year, the schools identify the children who will participate in Udaan. We always endeavour to get children from as many schools as possible so that we can offer them a joyous experience,” says Bahri.
Wholehearted Rotaract participation
Acknowledging the immense role played by the district’s Rotaractors, Shakir says, “they are very enthusiastic, come from 6 to 7 Rotaract clubs and are of great support to us because so many technicalities are involved in organising this event, beginning with permissions from both the government and the schools and the children from as many as 38 schools have to be brought here.”
Endorsing the support of Rotaractors, Bahri adds, “The implementation and success of this annual event is possible only because of the support by our Rotaractors. These youngsters from various colleges look forward to this opportunity of service and are ever willing and ready to support us in this event in every manner possible. It is remarkable to see the compassion in these bright, young students.”
Each year a different activity is chosen by the organising team and this year Zumba, a fitness programme, was chosen and the children were trained for over two weeks. “It was a beautiful spectacle to see 845 children performing Zumba for 45 minutes; and this went into the Limca Book of Records,” adds the DGE.
After registration the Rotarians serve a delicious breakfast to all the children, teachers and the support staff. The children are then divided into groups according to the activities/dance they would perform or the game they’d play. And if you have seen and felt sorry for hundreds of children, who wait patiently out in the sun to receive a Rotary dignitary for a big event planned in their school, RC Nagpur doesn’t put you through that. Udaan was held at the Mankapur Indoor Stadium, a swank air-conditioned sports facility.
Cricket match for blind children
This year, a cricket match was conducted for the blind children in the group, using balls with sound specially designed for them. Volleyball, handball, wheelchair races, carrom and chess were other games that were organised.
“The children really enjoyed playing musical chairs, a simple activity for us but a great challenge for the mentally or physically deficient. The enthusiasm and participation in these events brought tears to the eyes of many and each smile on the face of a child etched a memory of a lifetime,” says Bahri.
After a round of games, the children were served a sumptuous lunch, sponsored by a leading hotelier of the city, Hotel Centre Point. Every year the children are served their breakfast and lunch and helped and monitored in various activities by about 100 Rotarians and their Anns and 100 Rotaractors.
After a brief rest following lunch, a fresh set of lighter activities begin, and after the prize distribution ceremony, it is music time for them. “So intense is the response to music that it becomes very difficult to convince the children to leave when it’s time to return home. Having spent the day so closely involved with these children from breakfast to fun to games it becomes extremely heartbreaking for us also to let them go. We have to remind ourselves that next year again we shall have another soul-satisfying journey with these kids,” he adds.
The entire event costs about ₹7 lakh. Bahri adds that this has now become such a popular event in Nagpur that the local community also pitches in with support, both financially and otherwise. Both corporates and philanthropic individuals also contribute for it.