In June 2022, RID 3232 past governor G Olivannan met Henry Wickramasinghe, a Sri Lankan, for business in Chennai. But the meeting was interrupted by repeated calls Wickramasinghe received on his mobile. “He explained that it was from the Sri Lankan Prime Minister’s office. There was an urgent need for food in his country that was grappling with its worst economic crisis. I told him about Rotary and that we could help,” said Olivannan.
A meeting was set up at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Chennai where Olivannan, along with Rtns Chakravarthy and Kumar Rajendran, met Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner in Chennai D Venkateshwaran. After the meeting, the Rotarians posted a message on their social media accounts asking Rotary clubs to help source food for Sri Lanka. It was decided that the funds for this initiative will be mobilised through the Rotary Club Madras North Trust.
PRIP Kalyan Banerjee contributed ₹30,000 for the cause and “boosted our morale through a video call to appreciate our efforts.” PDG Chinnadurai Abdullah (D 3212) donated food items worth ₹15 lakh. DG V R Muthu (RID 3212), an AKS member, donated 1,000 litres of cooking oil and RID 3291 contributed ₹2 lakh. Amma Trust, an NGO in Guntur, donated 100 tonnes of rice. DG J K N Palani (D 3231), PDGs Rajani Mukherjee (D 3291), Sampath Kumar (D 3231), his spouse Dr K Saiprasanna, and DGND N S Saravanan (D 3232) coordinated with their districts to collect funds and relief material.
Seven shipping containers of food items (including rice, wheat flour, oil, dal and milk powder) weighing 125 tonnes, valued at ₹90 lakh, and medicines worth ₹4.5 lakh were shipped to the island nation, he said. The Rotary Club Madras North Trust paid ₹5.5 lakh for shipping the containers through the funds collected from various sources.
“The deputy commissioner was amazed at the speed with which we worked and requested us to meet him at the embassy in Chennai again.” This time the request was for 10,000 charcoal stoves. The commissioner explained that the Sri Lankan government is running short of funds to import these stoves for its people who have gone back to cooking over firewood because of the unavailability of gas. As an initial commitment, the Rotarians agreed to export 1,000 stoves. PDG Sampath Kumar and Saiprasanna immediately got in touch with a vendor in Rajkot. “These are tough times. Be it Ukraine or Sri Lanka the world is looking at Rotary for help and we must do everything we can,” said Olivannan.