Service above self during a global pandemic

The speed, alacrity and heart with which the entire Rotary world, particularly Rotarians in India, responded to the COVID-19 pandemic is heart-warming. Without any nudging from anybody, India Rotarians quickly reached relief in terms of critical hospital equipment, sanitisers, masks, PPEs, and cooked meals to lakhs of impoverished migrant workers, daily wagers and homeless people across the country. These are times when organisations’ core values are tested, and during this horrific pandemic Rotarians proved Rotary’s central motto — Service Above Self — is more than mere words.

What is more, RI President Mark Maloney’s theme Rotary Connects the World has been tested during these trying times as never before. Rotarians across the world are coming together quickly to do meaningful work, and forging critical and valuable partnerships to reach relief to the worst affected. The Rotary Foundation quickly tweaked its grant models to offer a disaster management grant, under which all the 525 Rotary districts are being given a special grant of $25,000 for COVID-19 related relief work.  For India it has approved global grants worth a whopping ₹7 crore, for supplying critical hospital equipment such as ventilators to treat patients infected by COVID-19.

In online interactions with both Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, RIPN Shekhar Mehta disclosed that against a target of donating ₹25 crore to the PM CARES Fund, Rotarians had already donated ₹30 crore. If the amount donated by corporates headed by Rotarians were to be included, the sum would go well above ₹100 crore. Add to this the relief work — hospital and safety equipment and cooked food and foodgrains — and Indian Rotarians had done relief work totalling over ₹75 crore by mid-April. All this by dipping into their personal savings.

The warmth and camaraderie that reigned at these meetings was palpable. Dr Vardhan has of course worked closely with the Rotarians of Delhi, as the State’s Health Minister for polio eradication and acknowledged Rotary’s help in ridding India of Polio. And Javadekar welcomed Rotary’s offer to green India through massive tree planting.

That brings us to the one lesson this pandemic should teach us. The way the trees at home and plants on my terrace are blooming — a dozen-odd pomegranates suddenly appearing from nowhere, lemons making an appearance, the sickly karuvepillai (kari patta) plant transforming into a smiling bright green umbrella of fresh leaves, the return of the parrots and other birds, the spectacular sunsets every single evening during the last few weeks, is a message of hope among the doom and gloom. As we, petrified human beings have locked ourselves up, our car keys as well as dreams of buying bigger, fancier models, gathering dust, airplanes remain parked in their hangars, and huge cruise ships have lost their charm and cheer, Mother Earth is slowly reclaiming her space, and its other inhabitants are able to breathe, live, and thrive.

It required a tiny virus to bring our arrogance down several notches and give back some place and privileges we had usurped to other forms of life on our planet. The real test will come when this pandemic is behind us, as it is bound to be. Hopefully a better clone of the arrogant, selfish human being will emerge when we slowly begin to come out of our homes… and along with physical freedom, our locked down brains, hearts and souls will emerge free too.

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Rasheeda Bhagat

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