From thatched huts … to shining homes

Jyothilingam and his family prepare to shift from his old thatched house to the new one.
Jyothilingam and his family prepare to shift from his old thatched house to the new one.

The two little nondescript villages of S Mambakkam and Manampathi, about 80 km from Chennai, wore a festive air on Sunday, and sprang to life on a scorching March morning with drummers and aartis heralding the arrival of VIPs. A merry group of Rotarians — many of them ‘Peace’ Presidents from the era of 2012–13 when RRFC V Raja Seenivasan was the DG of 3230 – drove into these villages in a dozen-odd SUVs and sedans.

The pride of the pack was a glistening BMW transporting PRIP Kalyan Banerjee, who had flown down from Mumbai to inaugurate some low cost shelters built by the Rotary Clubs of Chennai Galaxy, Mamandur and Chennai ­Thiruvanmiyur, with help from TRF Matching Grants and Districts 3680 (South Korea), 1880 (Germany) and 3590 (Korea) respectively.

DG ISAK Nazar, RRFC Raja Seenivasan, PRIP Kalyan ­Banerjee, Happy Village District Chair Y ­Sudarsana Rao, with the new houseowners.
DG ISAK Nazar, RRFC Raja Seenivasan, PRIP Kalyan ­Banerjee, Happy Village District Chair Y ­Sudarsana Rao, with the new houseowners.

In each of the villages 13 houses—about 165 sq ft—have been constructed, along with toilets, at a cost of Rs 2 lakh, excluding labour which was provided by the beneficiary families. The quality of the construction—plastering, ground tiling, roofing and electrical works was exemplary and noted by Banerjee, who has long years of experience in low cost shelters, particularly in Kutch battered by the 2001 earthquake.

Addressing the meeting, Seenivasan recalled how during his term as Governor in 2012–13, 115 clubs in D 3230 had adopted 115 villages, bringing to life the “Happy Village” project. If today 39 quality shelters had been completed in these three villages at a cost of Rs 1 crore, it was thanks to the intervention of Banerjee “who fought with the RI top leaders” to ensure the matching grants came through. He also gave credit to the then Happy Village District Chair Y Sudarsana Rao for working relentlessly to see this project through. RC Thiruvanmiyur is now building 10 more homes.

(From Left) AG Elect Shanthi Selvam, Rtn Anuradha Giri, President Elect of Rotary e-Club of Chennai ­Jayanthi Seenivasan.
(From Left) AG Elect Shanthi Selvam, Rtn Anuradha Giri, President Elect of Rotary e-Club of Chennai ­Jayanthi Seenivasan.

Addressing the Rotarians and ­villagers, Banerjee said such shelters were also being built in two other places, as well as Pakistan which he had visited last month. “But this is probably the best quality, best materials used; it is absolutely perfect! Such shelters change the way the disadvantaged people think. It gives them confidence and hope in the future.”

Lauding District 3230 for always doing “fantastic work,” he said that the projects DG ISAK Nazar was doing — such as getting into the Guinness Book of World Records through My Flag My India — “are now making RI Presidents come all the way from Evanston to see what he is doing!”

He promised to come back to Tamil Nadu every time “you do ­shelters, build schools, toilets, as this is the work of Rotary; this is what I live for and so do all of you.”

Kalyan ­Banerjee, ISAK Nazar, RC ­Chennai Galaxy ­President Nikhil Singhi, RC Chennai Thiruvanmiyur President Dhakshayini V.
Kalyan ­Banerjee, ISAK Nazar, RC ­Chennai Galaxy ­President Nikhil Singhi, RC Chennai Thiruvanmiyur President Dhakshayini V.

Banerjee ended his short speech making light of the heavy bamboo pole of the shamiyana that had come crashing down a little earlier, barely missing him but brazing his shoulder, with: “Let me finish before another bamboo is thrown at me!”

DG Nazar, DGE C R Raju, and presidents Nikhil ­Singhi of RC Galaxy, Elumalai of RC Mamandur and V Dhakshayini of RC Thiruvanmiyur also participated.

After the dust of the departing motorcade settles down, Jyothilingam, who works as a daily wage labourer, his wife Devi, and their two bright-eyed little daughters — Indumathi and Harini — will have a brand new, pucca house to live in. And so will Manohar (a driver earning a wage of Rs 8,000) and his wife Malathi.

Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat

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RI Director Bharat Pandya is Treasurer for Rotary International for 2020-21, when Holgar Knaack will be RI President, JohritaSolari will be the Vice President and Stephanie Urchick, the Executive Committee Chair.