Rotary was one of the participants at a two-hour ‘Telethon’ organised by NDTV in association with the World Vision India. The live programme titled ‘Together with Children’, aired across the country, was a fundraiser to support millions of children facing hunger and other forms of abuse during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.
On behalf of Rotary India RIPN Shekhar Mehta committed ₹1.5 crore for the campaign.
“Several children are living in such precarious situations; the pandemic is only making it worse. All our programmes — education, nutrition, sanitation — revolve around them,” said Mehta. He first made initial commitment of ₹1 crore and revised it to ₹1.5 crore towards the end of the programme, saying, “We want to be the highest contributors”.
Rotary India Sanitation Mission Chair Ramesh Aggarwal, also on the programme, spoke about Rotary’s sanitation and WinS programmes. Here again, Mehta invited contributions from the public for installing handwash stations in schools and announced that “Rotary will match public contribution with an equal amount. We will install handwash stations worth ₹1 crore in 1,000 schools this year.”
He touched upon the sad plight of children forced to travel on foot, along with their parents, who were badly caught during the lockdown. “Watching the exodus of migrant workers and seeing them trudge wearily on the highways, with children sleeping in suitcases, some bawling from hunger and thirst, is a heart-wrenching experience. They are the most vulnerable members of our society and it is our duty to ensure that they are safe and get proper nutrition. Their education must not be hampered,” he said. During this pandemic, Rotary is focusing on food security and education for India’s poor in a big way, he added.
“Rotarians have been spending nearly ₹35–40 lakh feeding the hungry, about ₹15–20 crore in providing medical equipment and supplies. There are 4,000 Rotary clubs in India and they have provided around one crore masks. We have given ₹105 crore to the PM CARES fund and more is flowing in. The value of the work Rotarians have been doing to tackle the pandemic will be worth ₹75 crore. For people taking this money out of their personal savings, is a huge effort, ” he said.
Referring to Rotary’s literacy programme, Mehta said, “With more than 10 years of experience in online education, we have suggested to the government that we can provide our curriculum for Classes 1–12 for every State.”
Aggarwal highlighted the long-standing partnership shared by World Vision and Rotary in executing several sanitation projects.
NDTV’s co-founder Prannoy Roy complimented Mehta and Aggarwal for Rotary’s huge contribution. “The pandemic can turn into a child rights crisis as children are exposed to abject poverty, hunger, malnutrition and worst of all, abuse. Even a cup of tea is a luxury for them and sleep is a mode of escapism from hunger. It is only pertinent that we rise to the challenge and reach out to these innocent little children,” he said.
The initiative garnered about ₹5 crore including ₹20 lakh from Archana and Anil Gupta, members of RC Delhi Asoka, and ₹10 lakh from G S Kochhar, past president of RC Delhi Midwest, besides ₹1.35 crore and ₹95 lakh from two anonymous contributors. Shobana Khamineni, Executive Vice Chairperson, Apollo Hospitals, bought the paintings done by child artist Aarav Varma (13) for ₹2 lakh which he contributed for the initiative, saying, “I am grateful that I have a family who can feed me.” Film maker Kabir Khan offered to sponsor 50 children.
The funds will be used to provide nutrition and healthcare, restore and improve livelihoods, and educate vulnerable communities and families on Covid-19 prevention.
The telethon exposed other heartbreaking challenges faced by children during the lockdown.
Henna, an HIV-positive child from Mumbai, highlighted her plight saying, “We are not able to go to the hospital for treatment nor get medicines.”
“Children of labourers are surviving only on biscuits for over 20 hours. That is horrific,” said NDTV Journalist and Magsaysay Award winner Ravish Kumar. At this point many children go through mental, physical and emotional trauma and “we need to save them from malnutrition. Many of them are walking miles and miles with their parents and this will remain in their memory forever. This is a crisis of an unprecedented scale,” he said, and suggested that the PM should video conference with the child development ministers of the States to take care of children’s welfare.
World Vision International Regional Leader Cherian Thomas, its National Director Madhav Bellamkonda, Nobel Laureate Abhijit Banerjee, A R Rahman, Zomato Chief Chandan Mendiratta, Apollo Hospitals Executive Vice Chairperson Preetha Reddy, Fashion Designer Ritu Kumar and actor Sonu Sood were few other participants on the telethon which ended with a soulful rendition of the title song of Taare Zameen Par by Shankar Mahadevan.
Child Pianist Lydian Nadhaswaram opened the telethon with a live performance.