As the hills went in for a stringent lockdown during the first and second waves of the Covid pandemic, members of Rotary Club of Kodaikanal, RID 3000, got into action and did a clutch of community service projects targeted at relieving the distress of the local community.
As immediate past president of the club Kripa Soans points out, “Kodaikanal, being a tourist town, was terribly affected as everything shut down due to Covid. Without tourism there is virtually no livelihood here.” The 50-odd Rotarians of this prestigious, 48-year-old club started giving grocery kits to all those who were heavily dependent on business from tourism… taxi drivers, shopkeepers, fruit and vegetable vendors, workers in hotels and restaurants, etc.
Kodaikanal, being a tourist town, was terribly affected as everything shut down due to Covid. Without tourism there is virtually no livelihood here.
— Kripa Soans, immediate PP, RC Kodaikanal
In no time it became a very big project. “I don’t know how the money came in, but it did come and for a long time we gave lots and lots of food to the local people. In the first phase, food kits worth about ₹14 lakh were distributed for four months, and we gave food to some 2,500 people at the peak of the pandemic when tourism had totally stopped and the hills were locked down.” Totally, the members of RC Kodai raised and spent ₹1.13 crore to provide relief to the local community during the pandemic.
Next, right from March onwards, the members embraced vaccination against Covid, “and forged a firm partnership with the government. Thanks to this partnership, we are proud to say that the entire population of Kodai has been vaccinated against this virus,” says Kripa.
In between, she adds, “we had four months to breathe and had fellowship and some events and then the second wave, much worse than the first, hit us. And once again we got involved in service.”
Focus on environment
For this year, says club president G Bala, the focus is mainly on conserving the environment, Rotary’s seventh focus area. A passionate environmentalist, Bala has been an integral part of the Palani Hills Conservation Council since its inception in 1985, and this writer vividly remembers interviewing him along with the other council members in the 1990s and writing a series of articles in The Indian Express, focusing on the dangerous degradation in the hills due to indiscriminate activities which were having an adverse effect on the delicate ecology in the region.
“This year, our club’s main projects will be the restoration of the Kodai lake, river management and stream studies. The Kodai lake has been badly affected by tourism and we have to ensure that fresh water gets into to the lake.”
He adds that the club also wants to do restoration work on the Pambar river. “Another project of the club this year will be to protect the Gymkhana marsh which is like a sponge for the Kodai lake,” explains past president Selvakumar. Kodai lake has a fencing all around it, but the marsh, unfortunately, is open, and apart from encroachments, building material is also being dumped into the marsh.
“So our Rotary club has planned to take up fencing all around the marsh and provide a nice and thick green cover of trees on the boundaries,” adds Bala. The project, which involves about 2 km of fencing, will cost around ₹40 lakh.
“For the local environment this is very important; we have already conducted studies, collected data and have a firm plan, but we need government permission for which we have already submitted the application to the district collector,” he adds.
This year, our club’s main projects will be restoration of the Kodai lake, river management and stream studies. The Kodai lake has been badly affected by tourism and we have to ensure that fresh water gets into the lake.
— G Bala, club president
Kripa adds that the club members have been feeding around 37 kids in a tribal village called Perangadu that the club had adopted three years ago. For some reason these children have been left out of the government’s noon meal programme. So we raise money to provide nutritious noon meals, and it costs us ₹15,000 a month.”
Assistant governor of RID 3000 and past president of RC Kodaikanal Rajkumar Raman says the club is continuing to focus on the welfare of the tribal communities in the region. During his year as club president (2016–17) “we adopted the tribal hamlet of Vallankulam about 22 km from Kodai. We have been trying to improve healthcare and literacy level there. But the highlight of my year and my dream project was to bring solar electricity to this village, and when they finally got solar power, the villagers were so happy. They said our ancestors have been living here for 250 years, but this is the first time that we have seen electricity in our homes.”
Thanks to the solar power the villagers now do not have to go to another village to charge their mobile phones. “The project cost some ₹4 lakh, and I funded it in memory of my father who was the headmaster of a government school in Ooty, and 32 families benefited from this work of ours,” says Raman.
He adds that this year RID 3000 DG R Jeyakkan had earmarked some special projects to help tribal villagers in the areas of literacy and environment. “Hence the cleaning up of the Kodai lake is very high on our priority,” he adds.
President Bala and Kripa add that as the lockdown exposed the adverse side of the Kodaikanal population depending primarily on tourism income, the Rotarians are concentrating on improving education levels under the RILM programme and are setting up vocational training courses.
Says Bala, “During the Covid pandemic we realised as never before that almost all the local people are dependent on tourism for their livelihood, hence we have to think of giving them alternatives. So in partnership with the NGO Suraksha Bandhan, which runs a self-help group, we are going to hold tailoring and embroidery classes for women and also provide them marketing support to sell their products.”
Selvakumar adds that in Perangadu, which the club adopted, “so many nice things have started happening. Good roads, water supply and electricity have reached the village with the support of our club.”
Former club secretary Jaswanth says, “We have also built a new classroom there, put up a vocational training centre and also built a shelter for a family that had lost its breadwinner. We’ve also built a bus shelter in Naidupuram, near Oothu.”