They are ordinary people with extraordinary will; they share a common passion of driving out illiteracy from India. These unsung heroes were felicitated by RILM at the Rotary South Asia Literacy Summit. Not deterred by numerous hurdles and the daunting task ahead of them, all the six recipients are role models worthy of emulation.
A six-member jury led by Justice Munish Bhandari of Rajasthan High Court picked the winners from 155 applicants. “We received 7.5 million online votes on our website in the People’s Choice category,” said the Awards Chair Anil Agarwal. The award carries a citation, plaque and cash prize of Rs 1 lakh.
Lauding the winners, RIDE C Basker recalled his participation, as DG of D 3000, in a project where the Rotarians of RC Tiruchirapalli transformed a government school which was in a pathetic state, with a TRF matching grant. The school was renovated and the students were given new uniforms, shoes, stationery, etc. “I still remember the smiles and happiness on the faces of the students who felt they were at par with other schoolgoing children,” he said, expressing confidence that in the next five years, India would become fully literate.
Achyuta Das has been working in nearly 300 remote, tribal villages of South Odisha and runs three tribal schools, educating tribals, dalits and other underprivilged. “Literacy is the only tool for empowerment which will transform tribal lives, tribal society and the way they are being governed.”
Khimjibhai Karsenbhai Prajapati, though physically challenged, begs on the streets of Mehsana in Gujarat, on a tricycle. The money he gets goes to educate nearly 2,500 girls in 14 schools. He provides them with uniforms, shoes, stationery and sweaters.
Rajesh Sharma has empowered 1,500 children through his school started under a Metro railway line in Shakarpur, Delhi, in 2007.
Shima Modak has provided education to 2,000 children since 2010, through her NGO Spark at Anjali and Rangmen villages near Shillong. “Though we have the RTE Act in place, do we see children of beggars, ragpickers in school?” she asks. Her students were also trained in martial arts like Taekwondo and have won medals in competitions abroad.
Aspire, an NGO, with a network of 600 volunteers, has reached out to 400 villages that had not seen a school and has trained 2,000 teachers from 1,500 government schools.
Sarath Puppale (People’s choice) is taking care of destitute children through his orphanage Manchikalalu since 2007. With counselling, quality education with moral values and homely stay, he provides a healthy childhood for orphans. His munificence has benefitted 15,000 children so far and 2,000 children are now studying in schools and colleges.
“Each one of the 155 applicants need to be applauded and the winners are the true defenders of RTE (Right to Education). Rotary’s huge work has inspired the families of first-generation learners who don’t have cultural capital at home to support school education,” said Shanta Sinha, the Chairperson of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and a jury member.
The awards sponsor Sandra R Shroff, Vice-President, United Phosphorous Ltd, comparing Rotary’s literacy project to the polio eradication campaign which knocked out the disease from the country, said it was just a matter of time before illiteracy was history in India.
A torch for Literacy
RI President John Germ received the Flame of Literacy from a 10-member team that arrived at the summit venue after driving 20,000 km traversing through 26 States and five UTs, spreading the message of Rotary’s Literacy mission along the way. The Flame was passed on to a four-member women team — Meenakshi Arvind of RC Coimbatore Texcity, Rukmani Shekhar of RC Aakruti, Mookambiga Rathinam and Priya Rajpal. These women will take the flame to the UK on a car expedition, crossing 24 countries in 70 days. Later the flame will be taken to the US, and brought from Evanston to Atlanta in time for the July Convention by Rotarian Prashant Babu and spouse Shoba.
Germ flagged off the women’s team in the presence of RID Manoj Desai, Shekhar Mehta, TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee and PRIP Rajendra Saboo.
Pictures by K Vishwanathan