Patricia Hilton, Vice-chairman, National Association of Inner Wheel Clubs of India, recently handed over seven newly built primary schools at Usada, Falasi, Swari, Ladauli, Kwilakhal, Kedha and Dharkot in Rudraprayag district, Uttarakhand, to the respective School Management Committees. This fulfills Rotary’s commitment to the children of Uttarakhand to construct 32 new schools for them. The National Association of Inner Wheel Clubs contributed towards the construction of two schools.
Thousands of families from all over the country still shudder to think of their presence at Kedarnath on June 16, 2013, when the holy shrine was experiencing the year’s peak rush. After two days of rain, a flash flood washed away and killed thousands of pilgrims within minutes. Many were injured, widowed or orphaned. Buildings tumbled down like houses made of cards. Cars and buses were washed away and the area was cut off from the rest of the world. It was one of the worst tragedies ever. If it were not for the swift action by the Army that helped evacuation of the pilgrims the death toll would have been higher.
Rotary’s immediate response was to provide food and support to the evacuated pilgrims. Some districts rushed in shelter boxes for the local population left homeless. Medicines were provided to the government hospitals at Chameli and Uttarkashi. The clubs resolved to cut down on the usually lavish installation functions and contributed towards rehabilitation activities. Rotary decided to help rebuild schools that would make a great difference to the children for years to come.
Rotary Uttarakhand Disaster Relief Trust was constituted in August 2013 with Past RI President Raja Saboo as President and general officers in India as Trustees to oversee the project.
The initial visits to the devastated area were discouraging. The roads were broken, approach to the sites almost impossible. One wondered how the building material would reach the site and a school built. The sites were far apart in an unfriendly terrain.
Gradually determination and a spirit of innovation set the work going. Sites at Kyunja, Chameli and Banyadi were selected to build the first three schools. As the work progressed, six new sites were evaluated and work started. The first three schools were handed over on Children’s Day — November 14, 2014. The progress led to the selection of another eight sites. Fourteen schools were handed over to the respective village committees by Harish Rawat, Chief Minister of Uttarakhand in October 2015. Another eight schools were handed over to the public by the then RI President-nominee Ian Riseley and spouse Juliet. The current presentation completes the handing over of 32 schools.
These schools have been built conforming to the design prepared by Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee. Since the area is prone to earthquakes, extra care has been made to safeguard the structure from calamities. Every school has been provided with steel doors and windows, pre-painted sheets for the roof, blackboards and furniture for the children. The schools have a kitchen to cook mid-day meal and separate toilets for boys and girls. Wherever necessary, retention walls, boundary walls and steps have been provided.
These schools will make a great difference to the people of 32 villages in some of the remotest areas of Uttarakhand. A happy Sushila Devi said, “I was unfortunate not to have gone to school. Both my children attend school now.” Girls giggle when asked if they liked the idea of separate toilets for boys and girls. All the children agree in unison on ‘Swachh Vidyalaya Swachh Bharat.’
Trivendra Singh, a teacher in a remote school did not hesitate to say, “I have been teaching for over 20 years. This is the first time that I will teach in a well-built school. This will encourage more parents to send their children to school.” Another teacher desiring anonymity said, “Rotary has set a benchmark in what a village school should be. I wish the government follows this standard for construction of schools in the future.”
Shaila Rani Rawat, the local MLA, extended full support to Rotary in building these schools. She was equally generous with her praise, “Rotarians are dedicated and determined people. I have not seen such people in other organisations.” The District Magistrate agreed, “While other NGOs left after the initial support after the disaster, Rotary continues to fulfill its promise.”
Rotary will always look back with satisfaction for having completed a project that at one time seemed impossible. This was made possible by good teamwork. Both Hari Har Singh Rawat from Guptkashi and Vinod Kumar from Rudraprayag who supervised the construction of schools agreed, “We enjoyed working with Rotary. We never felt we were at work. The Rotary spirit was infectious. We built these schools as though they were for our children.” Manish Dwivedy and Arvind Kumar who supervised the technical aspects of the project said, “For us it was a great learning process. Each school was built in the same design, but each site offered new challenges. Support by Rotary taught us the value of determination and hard work.”
For the Rotarians following up this project, the completion and handing over of the schools was the end of another chapter in service. They move on to serve to make a difference in the lives of others.
(The writer is Past District Governor of RI District 3080)