Canadian Rotarians help RC Madras to build toilets

John Gale from RC Cataraqui Kingston presenting gifts to an elderly woman at Kannankottai village. Also seen are RC Madras President Ranjit Pratap, President-elect Dr Vijaya Bharathi and Rick Fiedorec (right), President of the Canadian club.
John Gale from RC Cataraqui Kingston presenting gifts to an elderly woman at Kannankottai village. Also seen are RC Madras President Ranjit Pratap, President-elect Dr Vijaya Bharathi and Rick Fiedorec (right), President of the Canadian club.

For years to come, the 38 Rotarians from the US, Canada, Sri Lanka and Malaysia will cherish their interactions with the Irulas, Yadavas and other tribals at Kannankottai village, a remote hamlet in Gummidipoondi block of Tiruvallur district on the Andhra Pradesh border.

In the first phase, 80 toilets were inaugurated by the 12-member Canadian team from RCs Cataraqui Kingston, Montreal Clayton and Watertown Montreal–Lakeshore, RID 7040, as global partners of RC Madras (RCM), RID 3232, which is implementing this Water and Sanitation project over the last five years.

The club hopes to complete 321 toilets in Kannankottai, and has already inaugurated 223 toilets at Pandur village in Kancheepuram district and work is on to complete 120 such units at Paiyanur. “We want to do 665 toilets in three villages ­benefitting 6,840 people this Rotary year. In these hamlets open defecation is common and toilet use needs to be promoted for better hygiene,” said S Ravi, Director, Community Service.

Our vocational centres at Gummidipoondi, Selayur, Sembakkam and the Rotary Nagar in Mylapore offer a range of skill development courses like tailoring, computer data entry and spoken English to women and jobless youth.
N K Gopinath, Past President, RC Madras

Till now 774 toilets have been built by the club through Term Gifts, district designated funds of both the host and partner clubs, and global grants since 2014–15 when the first 100 pilot toilets at Amarambedu village in Tiruvallur proved to be a “game-changer,” he recalled.

Now the 90-year-old club, third oldest in the country, is setting up toilets at remote hamlets in ­Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts where open defecation is rampant.

At the inaugural ceremony, RCM President Ranjit Pratap thanked ­fellow club member PDG J B ­Kamdar, the first AKS member from South India, whose term gift of $30,000 was “the seed money for completing 321 toilets in ­Kannankottai village.” The remaining phases would be completed in two months. Kamdar was also part of the delegation that visited the project site.

A Canadian interacting with a villager and holding her baby.
A Canadian interacting with a villager and holding her baby.

Club President-elect Dr Vijaya Bharathi urged the beneficiaries to keep the toilets in good condition and make effective use of these amenities for a clean environment. “It is important for children to use only toilets for defecation,” she said.

Past president N K Gopinath said RCM has contributed 18 DGs and sponsored 20 clubs. “Our vocational centres at Gummidipoondi, Selayur, Sembakkam and the Rotary Nagar in Mylapore offer a range of skill development courses like tailoring, computer data entry and spoken English to women and jobless youth.” Way back in 1944, the club had adopted a slum colony behind Queen Mary’s College and developed a community centre, more popular as Rotary Nagar, and it is celebrating its platinum jubilee this year.

Global partner RC Cataraqui Kingston President Rick Fiedorec said they have partnered with five clubs in Chennai to implement 16 projects across Tamil Nadu in five years at a total cost of $2 million. It was PDG S Krishnaswami’s breakfast meeting in June 2002 with PDG Bill Gray that led to successful ­partnerships for a number of community projects.

RC Chennai Chola President S P Ramesh and Secretary A ­Venkata Reddy stressed the importance of behaviour change for social transformation. Nalanthana, an NGO, has been engaging the villagers through street plays, puppet shows and word-of-mouth campaign on the need for using toilets for better living.

With a modest ambition of doing just two projects in Chennai and Coimbatore, PDG Krishnaswami discussed the idea with his counterpart Gray from RC Cataraqui-Kingston, which turned out to be a “path-breaking tete-a-tete, as it was helped by PRIP Wilf Wilkinson,” said the PDG, recallng how it took Gray only eight hours to respond to his request.

 

Boys Town Society

In 1989, a residential complex for rural boys was started at Amarambedu over 35 acres of thick jungle which was cleared for a hostel for students. PRIP Wilf Wilkinson, then a TRF trustee, inaugurated a building block in 2009.

“We provide all the basic facilities including boarding, lodging, nutritious food and clothing for all the students who are going to two government schools on the main thoroughfare,” said Ravi.

Over the years, more than 2,800 boys had left the hostel campus after completing their schooling to do higher education. “We have many plans including setting up a vocational centre that offers technical, hands-on training in a number of fields for the boys here,” explained Ranjit Pratap.

Besides the Canadians under a week-long friendship exchange programme, eight Americans, RID 7570; 10 Sri Lankans from RCs Colombo, Colombo West; and eight Malaysians from RC Seremban, RID 3300, visited the hamlets in Tiruvallur district.

Pictures by V Muthukumaran

Timeless legacy of RC Madras

RC Madras President Ranjit Pratap releasing a special postal stamp to mark the golden jubilee year of the club in the presence of (from L) N K Gopinath, V Sriram, an India Post official and Nikhil Raj at the book launch.
RC Madras President Ranjit Pratap releasing a special postal stamp to mark the 90th year of the club in the presence of (from L) N K Gopinath, V Sriram, an India Post official and Nikhil Raj at the book launch.

Indians rarely take time or efforts to read historical books and history as a subject was much neglected in the country which was rather unfortunate, said V Sriram, a Rotarian, Chennai historian and Secretary of The Music Academy.

Speaking at the launch of the third edition of A Timeless Legacy, a book chronicling the milestone events and mega projects of RC Madras, he said that its Charter President G G Armstrong, a former chairman of Madras Port Trust, had played a pivotal role in the development of the city since World War-II. “While Madras was the only city to be bombed in World War-I, in World War-II, it was the only harbour that escaped any attack in the country. As a result, Madras became a transit point for Allied forces in Southeast Asia and after the war ended in 1945, the city’s population doubled from eight lakh to over 16 lakh, and the credit goes to Armstrong for the efficient management of Madras harbour, whose history in a way runs parallel to RCM,” he explained.

DG Babu Peram said documenting the legacy of a club like RCM by going back to its past and sifting the archives is an invaluable task. He lauded Club President Ranjit Pratap and Archives Committee Chair N K Gopinath for bringing out an updated version of the history book.

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