The gift of education…
I am sure thousands of Rotarians will agree with me that a single image that really cheers the heart is the sight of little children in smart school uniforms, particularly those in rural areas and from underprivileged sections of society. And when these include little girls, with neatly combed hair tied up in a vibrant red or green ribbon, it infuses a special warmth and cheer in the heart. What better image or testimony of a changing India than the assurance that at long last, we are on the road to giving every child her most essential tool for empowerment — literacy, and beyond that, hopefully, a sound education. So last fortnight it was a virtual treat to visit the small tribal village of Pitagadia, barely 15 km from Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha, and be greeted by a smiling group of boys and girls. They were dressed in their shining new school uniforms, and ready to greet the Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Bhubaneswar Confluence, which has adopted the village for over five years. The special guest was RI Director Manoj Desai, and we were greeted with tribal music, dance, etc. The club members explained how a primary school had been set up for the children, and Desai, who says with relish that these days at the RI he is known as the “Toilet Director,” inaugurated a toilet block and hand washing stations. More about this village and this great project in a subsequent issue of Rotary News, but my takeaway was the dramatic transformation Rotary is bringing about in the lives of tribal children, promising them not only decent primary education, but through the WinS programme, giving them more than clean toilets with water and soap. The real gift is much bigger, as WinS Chair in India and TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta never tires of stating … adoption of hygienic practices and behaviour change that will keep away preventable diseases which have a deadly trickledown effect in terms of both healthcare costs and mortality.
In a relatively underdeveloped tribal State like Odisha, more delightful changes are happening, and sometimes through admirable initiatives undertaken by solitary Rotarians. Elsewhere, in the tribal district of Keonjhar and deep into the forests a delightful initiative of Rtn Amiya Kumar Behera from RC Keonjhargarh in D 3262 is operating. Groups of little boys and girls, dressed in neat uniforms sit under a tree in 25 different centres, and get the gift of education from a teacher. But before classes begin, they all sing the national anthem, execute a smart salute and say with pride: ‘Jai Hind; I am a proud Indian.’ If we look around us and care to open our eyes and hearts, we’ll find so many such wonderful initiatives, both inside and outside Rotary. Yes, we have the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, and successive Governments who have been struggling to rid India of the scourge of illiteracy. Within Rotary, we have the mammoth Teach India campaign. But unless each and every Indian, blessed with such abundance … great education, decent livelihoods, minds that think and hearts that feel… embraces the pledge to make India totally literate as soon as possible, this goal will remain a dream. As Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi said at the last Literacy conclave in Kolkata, each and every Indian child deserves to be in school… not in restaurants, mechanic shops, or much worse, factories and vocations that require their nimble fingers. The day we start looking at the education of children beyond our own… a wholly literate India will no longer remain a dream.