A week before the COVID-19 lockdown, Rotarians of RID 3060 got their act together to ensure that the eight Rotary Youth Exchange programme students in their district reached home safely. “We wanted them to be back with their families,” says Nehal Shah, District IYE Co-chair and member of RC Surat. Everyone except Heloise, an exchange student from France, is back home safe. “We could not send her back because the lockdown was imposed a couple of days before her scheduled flight.”
Heloise’s home club, RC Dijon Toison, RID 1750, decided to let her remain in India. She is hosted by RC Baroda Sayajinagari. Her host parents Mayal Bhayani and Vaishali were initially worried about how she would take the news of the lockdown but were amazed that “this child displayed such courage and confidence,” says Mayal Bhayani. His wife Vaishali adds, “We are bonding so well.”
I enjoy making Chakri (a Gujarati snack) and practise Bharatanatyam.
– Heloise, an Exchange student hosted by RC Surat
The French girl was a little anxious when her team members headed back home at a time when the number of infections in her hometown was increasing. “I learnt that one of my classmates back home was infected with the virus, and realised that staying indoors was the best way to fight it. My host parents are making me feel comfortable in every way.” The 16-year-old is learning to cook Indian cuisine. “I enjoy making Chakri (a Gujarati snack) and practise Bharatanatyam. I learnt the dance from my first host parent Charmi Shah.”
She is in touch with her family and batchmates through social media and hopes to reach home safely “after my exchange term in India that ends in June 2020.”
Rotary clubs in RID 3060 have joined the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. PRIP Kalyan Banarjee’s club RC Vapi raised ₹334,000 to supply 200 food packets every day, throughout the lockdown. At the request of the District Collector, the club’s Rotary Haria Hospital provided 500 units of hand sanitisers to the Valsad District Administration.
Three Rotary clubs take care of more than a lakh migrant workers in a region known for manufacturing yarn and polishing diamonds.
Within the first two weeks of the lockdown club members Munna Shah, Kirit Mehta, AK Shah, Ashraf Nathani and GL Modi donated a total of ₹95 lakh to the PM CARES Fund, while Mahendra Shah donated ₹2.25 lakh to the CM Relief Fund.
Over 500 food packets were distributed to migrant workers struggling to return home. The club will be distributing kits containing food grains and essentials to the needy till the end of the lockdown,” says RJ Singh, the club president.
RC Baroda Metro distributed food packets to 300 migrant labourers and masks and snacks kits were provided to police personnel. Safety kits were provided to the medical and paramedical staff of the Baroda Medical Union. Club member Vrajesh Amrit, a hotelier, has been distributing 800 food packets in three slum areas in Vadodara.
RC Surat runs a food and medical helpline and do home delivery of medicines, groceries and vegetables for the elderly and sick.
RC Surat Seaface provided food worth ₹5 lakh to 4,000 underprivileged families. RC Surat gave 6,000 food packets and safety material worth Rs 10 lakh to the needy. RC Udhna distributed 2,800 food and safety kits worth ₹23.75 lakh to 11,200 beneficiaries. These three clubs have carried out distribution in a region known for manufacturing yarn and polishing diamonds where more than a lakh labourers worked to earn a living but are now stranded.
RC Ankleshwar has so far distributed 40,000 food packets and 300 litres of hand sanitiser for the police, healthcare workers and general public. The club has also disinfected Jitali, Vataria and Dahej villages near Ankleshwar. With the permission of the local authorities, the club’s Rotary Women’s Empowerment Centre is making face masks to be distributed across the district. Club member Vipul Gajera has donated ₹10 lakh to the CM’s Relief Fund.
Dry ration kits worth ₹10 lakh were distributed by RC Bharuch to 2,000 daily wage workers. RCC Bharuch Femina and Bharuch Narmada Nagari with support from RCC Mangrol are continuously providing food kits to the poor in the region. Rotary clubs in Dondiacha and Dhule also gave sanitisers and masks to slum dwellers, truck drivers and healthcare workers.
The Rotaractors have also pitched in to mitigate the effects of the lockdown on the poor. RAC Amreli, in association with local organisations and the police, is running a feeding van. RAC Vallabh Vidyanagar, along with RAC Chandigarh, RID 3080, is running an online COVID-19 awareness campaign.
“The restriction is on our feet, not pockets,” says DG Anish Shah who is constantly in touch with “my guiding force PRIP Banerjee, who has urged not just the Rotarians of my districts but every club in the country to give as much as we can in the name of Rotary.”
To the rescue in Dang
Kakshala is a tribal village in Dang district with about 700 families scattered across a dense forest. During the initial days of the lockdown, Nikhil Madrasi, President of RC Surat, RID 3060, received a call from the District Forest Officer saying “the villagers were suffering from hunger and requested us to provide them some grocery. We are already associated with the village and go there regularly to distribute clothes, books and stationery for schoolchildren.”
The club members swung into action and arranged a tempo-load of groceries and vegetables for the villagers.
Two members — Chirag Gandhi and Ketan Patel — then set out on a 135-km drive to the village after getting necessary permissions.
The villagers are illiterate. Some of them do not even have ration cards and so could not avail the free ration given by the government. With no industries in the vicinity, they are engaged in a little farming and cattle grazing for their livelihood.
The Rotarians drove through a rugged, muddy path to reach the village on the Gujarat-Maharashtra border. At least now there is a tar road up to an extent; it has been laid recently, says Gandhi, adding that the nearest petrol bunk is 40 km away, and the market area is 25 km far. “The villagers have to cross over a hillock by foot to access the nearest civilisation. Life is very tough for them here.”
Gandhi and Patel distributed the grocery kits in two locations where the tribal people had assembled. “We were amazed to see their discipline — maintaining physical distance and using cloth masks to cover their nose and mouth. Their gratitude and relief were worth the ride,” says Gandhi. Each bag had 5 kg of atta and rice, 1 litre oil, spices, 2 kg potatoes and onions, tomatoes and other vegetables, enough to last for a fortnight for a family of four.
“The lockdown is now relaxed in the village as there is no COVID cases there and life is back to normal for the tribals now,” says Club President Madrasi.
Gandhi had posted a video of this visit on YouTube and was flooded with calls and offers to help. In no time he had ₹1 lakh in his kitty, with friends and relatives pitching in. “This is being used to feed the hungry in Surat now,” he says.
The club members, 25 of them, along with their spouses, are still reaching out to the homeless and the hungry, with food packets and will continue to do so until the lockdown is lifted.
On sourcing the food Madrasi says that “we ask for just five rotis from each house in the residential societies but get 10–20 rotis. We have a kitchen in our Rotary Hall and have hired a cook to make the subzi or dal.” Around 3,000–3,500 food packets are distributed every day to sweepers, street-dwellers and other lower income families. We also distribute grocery kits to some families so that they can cook food to their taste,” says Madrasi.
The club also runs a food and medical helpline and takes requests from the elderly and sick, who do not have access to help, and do home delivery of medicines, groceries and vegetables, he says. Two Rotarian doctors offer consultancy services over phone and have the medicines delivered at the patients’ home. More recently, the club has introduced spectacle repair services. “We pick up broken/faulty spectacles, get them mended and deliver them,” says Gandhi, past president of the club, a former Rotaractor and an avid biker.