As incoming RI President Ian Riseley unveiled his theme for the Rotary year 2017–18 — Rotary: Making a difference —, before the mind’s eye flashed a rapid series of projects that Rotary has done in India and which I’ve seen up and close during the 28 months that I’ve edited Rotary News.
Who can forget Rotary’s lightning response when the flash floods devastated the Garhwal Himalayas, particularly Kedarnath. “We learnt of it before the government; the CM was not here; the Rudraprayag Collector was hospitalised,” PDG Prem Bhalla from D 3080 said. The very next day, June 17, 2013, all the 82 clubs in the District were asked to go into austerity mode, the July 1 installations were done on low key. The money saved, and more collected, was pooled to help the Uttarakhand flood victims. The Rotary Uttarakhand Disaster Relief Trust, headed by PRID Yash Pal Das, was formed and it undertook the task of building 32 quality schools. And even as I am in San Diego, Das tells me proudly: “Just now we’ve handed over the last batch of the 32 schools to the Government, and these schools will make a difference in the lives of about 1,600 students in remote areas.”
How can I forget the toothless grin of an old woman from a remote, interior village in Rajasthan’s Sikar district, and her whisper: “This year I made Rs 1 lakh by selling fish which a contractor had put in the check dam built by Rotary?”
It was virtual greening of the desert that these check dams built by the Rotary India Water Conservation Trust (RIWCT), under the leadership of TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta, and in partnership with the PHD Rural Development Foundation, that created this magic. When I visited a few check dams in November 2014, the availability of the precious commodity called water had multiplied the income of over 600,000 villagers in farming families in Rajasthan’s Sikar and Alwar districts. Instead of the earlier single crop, the farmers were now harvesting three crops. The ultimate benefit: the project had not only stopped migration; it had reversed it and children of farmers who had already left the villages to work in menial jobs in Delhi and other cities were returning.
Then there is the School for Special Children built by RC Trivandrum, D 3211. Established in 1964, the 52-year-old institute had classrooms and hostels for boys and girls and served as a multifocal treatment-cum-training centre for mentally challenged children. Take Karunashraya (abode of compassion in Kannada) set up by Dr Nagesh Simha, a former consultant surgeon at Manipal Hospital, that provides professional palliative care to advanced cancer patients. A joint endeavour of RC Bangalore Indiranagar, D 3190, and the Indian Cancer Society, Karnataka Chapter, it gives dignity and care to the dying.
Cross over from the South to the West and the village of Katarvad near Baroda in Gujarat, and the matching grant project of over $105,000 implemented by RC Baroda Metro, D 3060, in partnership with RC Ashiyana, Japan, has totally transformed the lives of the villagers. Check dams, community wells, model houses, and training in profitable farming practices and a host of other activities had totally transformed the village, shooting up confidence levels of the villagers. Here I met Leelaben, whose twinkling eyes will stay in my memory forever. When she advised the women of the village never to undermine themselves, but work alongside their men to create a better future for their children, she was not mouthing empty homilies on women’s empowerment, she was a living example of it.
Indian Rotarians can be proud that they are transforming lives and making a real difference. What the 2017–18 theme will do is to further enthuse them to do even more.
[Editorial for February 2017]