Small city, big projects This Rotary club is mesmerising the city of Ratlam with its bunch of highly impressive projects and taking Rotary’s public image to a new high.

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In a small but spanking clean room, there is fragrance emanating of freshly cooked food, and rotis being roasted on the tawa. Hemalata and her colleague have just begun rolling out the rotis, and as is customary in many parts of India, Rtn Rashmi Jain, from Rotary Club of Ratlam, asks Hemalata to give the first roti to the cow.

The little room called the Aahar Kendra, which is the club’s signature project being run from 1995, is bang opposite the Ratlam Civil Hospital and Mukesh Jain, past president of the club, and Rashmi’s husband, explains that the food is being prepared for the relatives and attendants of the patients who are seeking treatment in this hospital. “Many of them travel long distances to bring their loved ones to the hospital and we make available this freshly made food — both lunch and ­dinner — to them at a mere ₹5.” The meal includes two rotis, a sabzi — on that day, there is lauki ki sabzi (bottle gourd), dhal, rice and two rotis on offer.

Many people travel long distances to bring their loved ones to the Civil Hospital and we make available this freshly made and hygienic food to them at a mere ₹5.
Mukesh Jain, Past President, RC Ratlam

There are several small packets of a snack — bhujiya — lying in a tray as also a box of laddoos. Jain smiles as he explains, “Ratlam is known for its namkeen delicacies and the local people’s palates are used to that, so we put in a small packet of namkeen every day. As for the laddoos, they are to celebrate your visit! Whenever a VIP visits our Kendra, we offer a sweet in the meal.” And on their birthdays, anniversaries or other special occasions, Rotarians donate the sweet. About 100 fresh meals are cooked and served here daily; “you can see there is no fridge here.”

The Jains live close by, and Rashmi visits the Kendra every day to keep a watch and ensure both quality and hygiene are maintained. She also organises the purchase of the vegetables, foodgrains, etc.

Jain adds that earlier the food was being served at only ₹2, “but we made it ₹5, as everybody gives a ₹10 note and there is a huge problem about getting adequate change.” The meal has this nominal price tag as the recipients “shouldn’t feel they are getting charity through this project, started by PDG Sharad Pathak when he was the club president in 1995.”

A mother and son have a swinging time at the Rotary Garden.
A mother and son have a swinging time at the Rotary Garden.

Continuity of projects and Rotarians in clubs working together in harmony are unique features of two clubs of RI District 3040 — RC Sonkatch and RC Ratlam. Small wonder that where there is mutual respect and understanding among members, the clubs outperform. Both the clubs have given two DGs in succession — the present Dr Zamin Husain from Sonkatch and DGE Gustad Anklesaria from Ratlam.

In fact, Anklesaria’s family has been a huge benefactor of Ratlam city through RC Ratlam, which was chartered way back in 1945 and has 116 members, 25 of them women. It is the second largest club in the district after RC Meghdoot and the second oldest after RC Bhopal. The DGE is a third generation Rotarian.

 

An impressive dialysis centre

His father T S Anklesaria is an active Rotarian and though he lives in Mumbai, takes active interest in this club where he was a past president. Showing me around another signature project of RC Ratlam, their very impressive dialysis centre, where 11 kidney patients are undergoing dialysis, 75 per cent of them below poverty line, either free of cost or paying only ₹400 a session compared to ₹900 or more being charged elsewhere, he says it was started in 2002 with just one machine. In 2006, “we started a Trust (RC Ratlam has three different trusts to run its community welfare projects) and then bought new machines.” Today about 36 patients undergo dialysis everyday here; “it is always full and there is a waiting period. For a new person to enter, someone has to go,” he adds.

The portrait of his father, G D Anklesaria, whose contribution to the famous Rotary Hall in Ratlam is described later in the article, hangs in the dialysis centre. One day somebody from Mumbai, an uncle of past president Mukesh Jain, called saying he’d like to donate two dialysis machines for our centre. In those days the machine cost ₹6 lakh, “so I told him we’ll put up one machine and give us cash for the other one.” He gave ₹6 lakh which was put into two endowment funds, and thanks to income from those and government subsidies this centre is able to offer dialysis to the BPL patients totally free of cost and at concessional rate to the others.

Giving details of the dialysis centre, DGE Gustad says the Rotary Charitable Trust is responsible for running this centre under an MoU signed between the RC Ratlam Club Trust and the Civil Hospital. “It says that it is our responsibility to provide the manpower, dialysis equipment, consumables, and the Civil Hospital is supposed to provide the infrastructure, electricity and water. We have 13 technicians on our payroll.” In all 19 dialysis machines have been acquired, of which seven have now become obsolete. The project cost is above ₹1 crore, and it has been done with one matching and two global grants; the first matching grant being done in 2008.

DGE Gustad Anklesaria (right) oversees the preparation of healthy juices and salads at the juice centre in the Rotary Garden.
DGE Gustad Anklesaria (right) oversees the preparation of healthy juices and salads at the juice centre in the Rotary Garden.

I am shocked to see that most of the 12 beds are occupied by young men in their mid or late 30s. Says the DGE, “We even have a 5-year-old patient.” The main reason for kidney failure among these patients, apart from uncontrolled diabetes and high blood pressure, is indiscriminate use of strong medicine, particularly painkillers, without proper medical advice. The success of this dialysis centre run by Rotary can be gauged from its replication in 2012 by a non-Rotary private Trust in Vidisha, the constituency of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan.

“The trauma these kidney patients undergo is tremendous; we support them to the extent we can, the rest is in god’s hands,” says T S Anklesaria.

The DGE adds that the club is slowly trying to get corporate CSR funds for its projects. A small beginning has been made with the State Mining Corporation giving ₹1 lakh. “We are setting up meetings to get more funds from this and other corporates as well,” he says.

The dialysis centre run by RC Ratlam.
The dialysis centre run by RC Ratlam.

Ajit Shinde, a post office agent, has been undergoing dialysis here for 18 months free of cost as he has a BPL classification. He is 42, a diabetic and has high blood pressure. Bahadur, 37, has come for dialysis from a village about 60 km from Ratlam, and has been undergoing dialysis for 30 months. He is unemployed; ­Najmuddin, a retired businessman is 70 and admits that he ended up with a kidney problem “as I did not control my blood sugar”. His sons pay the ₹400 for each session and the patient says, “This is a top class facility with excellent equipment and service and we pray for the Rotarians who have set up this centre.”

Virendra Singh, who is in charge, explains that most of the people who have kidney disease lose their jobs and become unemployed.

 

Rotary Hall

At the gigantic Rotary Hall, a 4,000 sq ft facility, DGE Gustad Anklesaria explains that RC Ratlam is perhaps one of the few Rotary clubs which has three public charitable trusts to manage its various projects. The hall came up in 1962 and originally the space for a smaller hall was donated by his grandfather, but unfortunately, on the day he was to lay the foundation stone he passed away. His grandmother said the event should not be delayed and announced that she would donate more land to make the size of the hall four times larger.

“This was the vision of our elders; it has made such a difference not only to Rotarians — all the Rotary clubs in Ratlam meet here — but also others as we let out the hall to non-Rotarians as well,” adds PP Mukesh Jain.

 

Rotary Garden

But the most visible and impressive project of RC Ratlam is the Rotary ­Garden, spread across a whopping one lakh sq ft of space, and with an open air gym for women with functional, mechanical equipment. I find a dozen odd women exercising in this gym where the space is earmarked exclusively for women.

Saeeda Sheikh is a regular here and says she gets a minimum of 90 minutes exercise on the various equipment here. Mamata lives 2 km from the park and walks here every morning these days as the examinations of her two children are over. “I come at 7.30 as there is no rush to send the children to school.” Paridhi Patni, an MBA student, says she finds this open air facility, which is totally free of cost, really exciting and works out here daily. Kismatunnisa says she works out here in the morning “as that is the only free time I get. So I come here by 6.30 every morning.”

The trauma these dialysis patients undergo is tremendous; we support them to the extent we can, the rest is in god’s hands.
T S Anklesaria, Past President, RC Ratlam

DGE Anklesaria explains that all the equipment in the gym is locally manufactured. “We copied it from another garden in Nashik and since this town has excellent fabrication skills, we got it all done here at one third the price of what was available in the market.”

Apart from the open air gym for women, the other big hit at this park is the juice centre, operating since 2007. For a mere ₹5, you can get a glass of fresh juice made from carrots and other vegetables, aloe vera and seasonal fruits. Walking around the park in the morning with the DGE and spouse Rukhshana, I can see frenetic activity at the juice centre, with brisk sales. People not only enjoy the healthy drink here, they pack it up, along with salads made from tomato, sprouted moong, etc, again available for a mere ₹5. As he gets the salad packed, a youngster tells me: “In the market this costs ₹30, so I buy it from here every day.”

Fresh food being prepared in the Aahar Kendra.
Fresh food being prepared in the Aahar Kendra.

When asked how they can afford to price the juice and the salad so low, Anklesaria smiles and says, “Not only this juice centre but the entire park is self-sustaining. It is managed by one of our charitable trusts; we have taken it over from the municipality and even pay for all the staff employed here. The vegetables are grown here; and what is not grown is bought.”

The entire park is buzzing with activity; in the children’s play area the kids are on the swings and other play equipment; elsewhere yoga is going on. In another corner some clapping and laughter therapy are on, and there is an acupressure tract, apart from one for jogging. That a small town like ­Ratlam has so much fitness activity going on in the morning is an eye-opener, and Rotary’s role in that is appreciated by everybody. What better PR exercise than this, I come away musing.

“Not only this juice centre but the entire park is self-sustaining and managed by one of our charitable trusts. We pay the staff, grow the vegetables; what is not grown is bought.
DGE Gustad Anklesaria, RID 3040

It is also preventive health, the DGE reminds me. Rotary has been responsible for setting up many jogging parks in the city, and over 50 years “we have virtually changed the habit of people and given them a reason to wake up early and enjoy their natural surroundings.”

 

Another park

Following the success of the Rotary Garden, many more parks in the city have been renovated. RC Ratlam itself is now gifting the city another park. DGE Gustad and the current president of the club Pradyumn Majawadia take me to see the spot which the club has taken over from the local municipality.

“This place — over 20,000 sq ft — had become a dumping ground for kachra, so first of all we cleaned it up, raised the level by 5 ft, and are going to put up facilities here on lines of the Rotary Garden,” says Majawadia.

The jogging track has already come up; trees have been planted to make the area green, there is going to be an open air gym for women and a herbal juice centre. The play equipment for children has just arrived and remains unpacked. “We are installing water coolers, LED lights, etc. This is a ₹15 lakh project and will soon be operational”.

He adds that the club has also sent a proposal to the State government to renovate a Public Health Centre, make the building bigger and provide adequate health care facilities. It is a global grant project worth ₹1 crore, but the government sanctions are yet to come in.

Pictures  by Rasheeda Bhagat

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