On Valentine’s Day four non-Rotarians were feted with Rotary India Humanity Hero Awards for their selfless work for humanity at the three-day Rotary Centennial Summit in Kolkata. More notably, the awardees were chosen through an online poll which received eight million votes over 45 days for 253 online applicants. “Rotarians speak different languages, but the language of love connects all the 1.2 million members of Rotary. On V-Day, we are recognising people who speak that same language with their selfless service and hope this award will motivate others to excel in service activities,” said the Session Chair RI Director Nominee A S Venkatesh.
RIHH Awards Chair PDG Bal Krishna Inamdar said the awards were given to non-Rotarians who had done some outstanding work in healthcare; basic education and literacy; water, sanitation and hygiene; and economic and community development. A seven-member jury panel evaluated the final shortlisted 15 aspirants after the online voting which ended on Feb 6.
Deloitte India former Chairman P R Ramesh, a jury member, said that the parameters for the selection of the awards included those working in difficult, dangerous and vulnerable geographic areas; being targeted for their work; those who strive on despite lack of resources; and those who make optimum use of available funds.
The key to the selection process was to look out for ‘unsung heroes of India’ and by rewarding them, motivate others to replicate their envious feat, said Sanjay Jain, Additional Solicitor General of India, another jury member. Here are the winners and their notable achievements:
- Bhrigu Borthakur won the award for his work in literacy. He has done extensive flood-relief work in Assam and as an engineering student, took informal classes for children in Kudrat. He now runs 13 schools for the benefit of marginalised families. “It is an honour to receive the Rotary award for the work I do at the grassroots level. But special efforts are needed to make the disabled specially-abled, and Rotary is doing just that,” he said in his acceptance speech.
- Adhik Kadam: A former Rotaractor, he was captured 19 times by terrorists and ultras in Kashmir for trying to rehabilitate misguided youth and making efforts to put them into mainstream society in the remote areas of J&K. Under the banner of Borderless World Foundation, he has rescued over 750 Kashmiri girls and 25 locals who were taken captive by terrorists for brainwashing sessions and then inducting them as militants to work against the Indian Army.
“I am living in Kashmir for the last 23 years since my student days. After seeing the mindless violence, I decided to stay put here and rehabilitate girl children by weaning them away from the influence of militants. Rotary must help in ushering in peace in this Himalayan community,” he said.
- Swapnil Gawande: It was a great shock for an 8-year-old boy when he lost his close friend to corneal blindness and since then, he took up a vigorous campaign against this preventable loss of vision. Through his NGO Deesha, he is executing various programmes against eye disorders over the last 15 years in Mumbai. A mechanical engineer with an MBA degree, he has started the Deesha Netralaya Eye Research Institute. “I dedicate this Rotary award to all those who donated the eyes of their deceased kin when the family was in sorrow,” he said. Deesha runs eye banks and a group of schools. Gawande is also an avid promoter of organ donation.
- Dr Shalini Saxena: As community development officer, she has worked extensively with the female victims of Bhopal gas tragedy. Through her NGO, Priyanshi Educational and Cultural Society, she had created a contraption to make sanitary pads and trained women in making and selling these pads over the last 10 years. Now she has expanded her work to women’s groups in Rajasthan and tribals in Chhattisgarh and Arunachal Pradesh who are being trained on menstrual hygiene issues. Each awardee received a citation and a cash prize of ₹1 lakh.
Pictures by Jaishree