Physically-challenged Gunasekaran was all smiles as I greeted him on a Sunday morning at the Builders’ Association premises. His radiance outshone his physical disability. “Today, thanks to these big-hearted Rotarians, I am in a far better position financially. Six months ago I was in dire straits literally, and the Covid pandemic only worsened the situation,” he said. Owing to his disability he could not get a steady employment and was surviving on odd jobs. Rotary Club of Chennai Greencity, RID 3232, provided him a push cart and working capital and he is now happy to be selling snacks and earning an average of ₹500 a day.
Gunasekaran is one of the initial beneficiaries of the club’s pilot programme — distributing push carts to help enhance the livelihood of differently-abled people. The project took shape in July 2020 when Dr P Simmachandran, president of the Tamil Nadu Differently-abled Federation Charitable (TNDFC) Trust, requested club member Haricharan to provide a computer. Further discussions brought to light the difficulties faced by the differently-abled, especially during the pandemic. “Some of them who were earlier engaged as domestic help and those selling wares at bus stands or railway stations took a hit during the lockdown. They requested us, through the TNDFC, to help them with a means to earn a livelihood and that is how we zeroed in on this project which we call Maatrum Thiran (Alternate skill enhancement programme),” said club member S N Balasubramaniam who is also the district chairman for community and economic development.
We thank each one of you for giving us a chance to help you. Rotary is all about service and we need a platform to serve. You have given us that.
— A S Venkatesh, RI Director Elect
With the success of the pilot he, along with the district director for community development and health Dr R Sriram, scaled it up to the district level and called for all Rotary clubs of RID 3232 to pitch in. DG S Muthupalaniappan urged the team to provide 100 push carts by the year-end. The clubs geared up to the proposal and by January 2021 forty carts were distributed with RC Chennai Sun City sponsoring the highest — 10 carts. The beneficiaries have put up various forms of stalls ranging from food to vegetable/fruits, books, plastic ware and other knick-knacks.
Fifteen more carts were distributed recently at an event in the presence of RIDE A S Venkatesh and DG Muthupalaniappan.
Kalpana, a polio victim, who was looking after children in a primary school had lost her job due to the pandemic. “This push cart is a godsend for me now. I plan to sell women’s clothing,” she said. Her neighbour Rajeswari plans to sell soups, pakodas and snacks prepared by her daughter-in-law on her push cart. The excitement and vibes of hope was palpable as the beneficiaries, some crawling and others limping, and some with little children in tow, gathered at the distribution hall where the carts were parked.
RIDE Venkatesh, speaking at the event, recalled an incident when he visited a medical camp in Kenya, Africa. “The US Rotarians who were the organisers thanked the African patients for giving them the opportunity to serve. Similarly, we thank each one of you for giving us a chance to help you. Rotary is all about service and we need a platform to serve. You have given us that,” he told the assembled beneficiaries and commended the community service team for providing “a complete package including the mobile cart and working capital to run the business. Providing them just the cart without giving them the means or the knowhow to do business would be a sheer waste.”
DG Muthupalaniappan said, “This is a perfect way to promote Rotary’s public image as one can see the Rotary logo in a hundred places across the city.” Talking about the district’s signature project — Project Orange — which will be addressing avoidable blindness in a big way, he said, “We are planning to establish 200 eyecare centres across RID 3232 at a cost of ₹30 crore. It is a huge milestone for, even in the last 15 years, only 70 centres have come up in Tamil Nadu.” He congratulated RC Chennai Greencity president S R Kumaran for initiating the project for the differently-abled.
The beneficiaries are identified and monitored for two years by TNDFC and the push carts are fabricated at the unit of Panjanathan, a member of RC Madras West at a cost of ₹30,000 each. Rotary clubs/individuals sponsoring the carts will pay the money to TNDFC and IT exemption under Sec 80G can be availed by the sponsor. The carts, painted blue, sport the Rotary Wheel and the sponsoring club’s name.
An orientation workshop was organised to teach the beneficiaries how to avail bank loan and the various government schemes available for them. “We even extend revolving fund assistance to the needy and assist them in solving business-related issues,” said Balasubramaniam.
Five initial beneficiaries were recognised with certificates for their performance at the event.