Five social activists were given Rotary India Hero Awards for their exceptional service to humanity at the RI Presidential Conference in Hyderabad. “Inspiration to serve the less privileged must come from within. The more you see the other side of life you will learn to appreciate your life,” said RI Director Dr Mahesh Kotbagi, hosting the session. He recalled how he got inspired to reach out to people after meeting a wheelchair-bound little girl Puja at a Rotary camp in a village. Having been carried to the toilet all her life, “all she wanted was to go to the toilet walking.” Following a Rotary-sponsored corrective surgery, Puja was on her feet and she “was ecstatic to be able to realise her dream. This struck a chord in me.” When Puja was discharged from the hospital, she gave Kotbagi a chocolate which he considers “the most expensive and cherished fee I’ve got as a doctor,” he said.
The recipients include Maya Vishwakarma for her work in enabling menstrual hygiene and women’s empowerment in the tribal areas of MP. While on a short visit from San Francisco where she was working, to her native village Mehragaon in MP, Maya was aghast to see the sorry state of women there. She decided to stay back and eight years ago, founded the Sukarma Foundation that focuses on menstrual hygiene for girls, and women’s empowerment through computer education and tailoring. The Foundation makes low-cost sanitary napkins and provides medical care to the population in remote villages through its Telemedicine Primary Healthcare Centre.
Wheelchair-bound Kanubhai Hasmukh Tailor champions the cause of the disabled in Gujarat through his Disable Welfare Trust which provides education, rehabilitation and vocational training. “If you come across a disabled person or if someone requires a corrective surgery or any kind of treatment, direct them to my centre and I will take good care of them,” he said. On his birthday on May 17, Tailor will be laying the foundation stone for an exclusive old age home for the disabled in Bharuch. “I value this award more than the Padma Shri that I received from the Indian government. Only people chosen by the Almighty become Rotarians, no ordinary person can become one. You are all blessed to be serving humanity,” he said.
Founder of the Sparsha Trust R Gopinath was honoured for providing education to 1,000 orphaned or abandoned children in Bengaluru. “I started my work 10 years ago in a cowshed with a donation of ₹5,000 from the Inner Wheel Club of Bangalore. Now the trust is worth ₹50 crore and I thank you all for your belief and support,” he said. He is planning to start a holistic institute that will take care of children right from birth to 18, supporting them with physical and mental healthcare.”
Chewang Norphel is a civil engineer from Ladakh, who has built 15 artificial glaciers, earning him the nickname Iceman. Recounting his journey, he said that years back he noticed that a small stream had frozen under the shade of a group of poplar trees, though it flowed freely elsewhere in his yard. He realised the reason for this phenomenon: the flowing water was moving too quickly to freeze, while the sluggish trickle of water beneath the trees was slow enough to freeze. Based on this, he created artificial glaciers by diverting a river into a valley, slowing the flow by constructing checks. Artificial glaciers increase the ground water recharge, rejuvenating the spring and providing water for irrigation. He constructed them at lower elevations, so that they melt earlier, extending the farming cycle. Norphel’s largest glacier supplies water to 700 people at the Phuktsey village.
Shyam Sunder Paliwal won the award for his work in water conservation and protecting the girl child. In 2006, Paliwal, a former sarpanch of Piplantri village in Rajasthan, lost his daughter Kiran. In her memory, he initiated a campaign where the villagers plant 111 saplings every time a girl child is born and the community nurtures these trees. Over four lakh trees have been planted under his guidance. He has also constructed check dams on nearby hills. These initiatives have helped recharge the groundwater level significantly in this village which was once an arid landscape ravaged by marble mining.
He also launched the ‘Kiran Nidhi Yojana’ in which the panchayat opens a bank account with an initial sum of ₹21,000 in the name of the girl child. The parents have to sign an affidavit affirming that they will not practice female foeticide or marry the daughter before she is 18, and will educate her.
PDG Rajendra Rai anchored the session. Each award carried a cash prize of ₹1 lakh which was sponsored by PDG Zameer Pasha (RID 3000), Vaithianathan (2981), Tasleel Mohammed, Somasundaram and Velupathy (3190).
Picture by Jaishree