From the Editor’s Desk – October 2016

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Rasheeda Bhagat

Peaceful world, Literate India

Rotary’s success in different regions of the world can be measured in many ways. In the developing world by how it is changing lives through water and sanitation projects, schools or homes it is building, villages it is adopting or the empowerment it is giving to the weaker sections, particularly women and children.

But in their wildest dreams, the Rotarians from across the world, including India, who put together a group of 377 teenagers in an exchange programme and sent them to the US in 1991, can’t even imagine the kind of deep impact their gesture — hosting of youngsters at homes of Rotarians across the US, the loving care their foster and temporary families took of these youngsters, and putting all of them together in 8 buses for a 5-week tour across the country — has left in their minds.

I got a glimpse of the recent reunion of about 100 of these members from the 1991 Rotary Youth Exchange Group, from a blog post I chanced upon on the RI website, and contacted its writer, Emma Naas, a delightful teacher from Sweden. She is one of the livewires behind the July reunion in Spain. A chat with her, and a few others from the group, resulted in the cover story in this issue of their magical reunion. Whether it is Emma, Gunaar Braun, Valerie Nys, or the others, all of them speak in one voice about the invaluable gift Rotary gave them when they were so young and impressionable.

And that wasn’t just the opportunity to come together, have fun, sing, dance and form friendships. It was much more, as these Rotary exchange students explain earnestly. That trip taught them to trust strangers, and “the trust on which we based our friendship 25 years ago still continues, and we help each other in big and small things,” says Emma. Just imagine the cascading effect of this little seed of trust that was sown by Rotary 25 years ago. Thanks to it, today there are 377 young people across the world who can trust strangers and peacefully co-exist in the world without fear of suspicion of different cultures, religions or regions.

And if Rotary is interested, they want to tell their unique story, which needs to be heard in a world that is tormented by conflicts and fear, particularly in the backdrop of the refugee crisis and politics of hate and division that some nations propagate. In a letter addressed to governments of the world, these world citizens are saying: “We stand for trust and friendship across borders, across cultural differences, different languages and different religions. We are the world, just a smaller and more peaceful one.” Can there be a more powerful, or more meaningful message?

On a different, and yet related, issue, Indian Rotarians celebrated September 8, World Literacy Day, with a bang. The usually unflappable PRID and RILM Chair Shekhar Mehta is all excitement as he shares the mega success of this day. He is overwhelmed at the impact that was created across the social media on September 8, with video clips of senior Rotary leaders such as TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee saying: “My club is sending 50 children back to school; what are you doing?” Celebrities such as Sonakshi Sinha, M S Dhoni and Kabir Bedi applauded Rotary’s TEACH programme. Mehta is happy that 120 reports of the Literacy Day were carried by the media, 500 projects were started or completed by Rotary clubs on that day, and commitments given to start 1,997 e-learning centres and 416 libraries, and 1,306 pledges taken to send children back to school.

Yes, the world needs peace. And India, more than anything else, needs to ensure that every Indian is literate and no child will miss the gift of education.

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Rasheeda Bhagat

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