Sparkling service by RC Chandigarh

There is a striking parallel in the growth of Chandigarh, the union territory and the capital city of both Punjab and Haryana, and the 65-year-old marquee club, RC Chandigarh, RID 3080, the first one to be chartered in this region in May 1958. It was the time when the city was being created by French architect Le Corbusier with an urban design having unique buildings, roads divided into sectors and a huge space for a thriving ecosystem, so that 65 per cent of the total land area (114sqkm) has lush green cover.

From L: Usha and PRIP Rajendra Saboo and PRIP Barry Rassin and Esther with PDG Praveen Goyal, his spouse Basu (on his right), RC Chandigarh past president Vijay Wadhawan, PDG Madhukar Malhotra and past president Manmohan Singh Kohli at the Rotary Peace Monument on the banks of Sukhna Lake.

In this city, Rotary projects have transformed the living conditions of underprivileged families. Project Rahat (comfort zone) has brought holistic development tor 650 people at a slum colony in Saketari village in Panchkula through an MoU signed between RC Chandigarh, Sewa, an NGO, and Bhavan Vidyalaya in March 2017. PRIP Rajendra Saboo and his wife Usha were moved by the plight of the underprivileged families when the couple came here to distribute blankets to them in the winter of 2016. “The Saboos adopted the slum colony and did the spadework; the Sewa workers undertook the field work; and we trained 13 local people to do a house-to-house survey, create awareness on education, hygiene and sanitation. The salaries of teachers hired by the club were paid by Bhavan Vidyalaya,” said Neenu Vij, chairperson, Project Rahat.

Soon the field study came out with some alarming findings: Around 100 children were not in school; pregnant women avoided hospitals; domestic abuse was common with husbands not going to work, gambling, getting drunk and often beating wives; and pathetic sanitary conditions. After five years of work by the club and several medical camps, all parameters have improved.

(From L) Project chairperson Neenu Vij, coordinator Dr Seema Gupta and club president Anil Chadda at the skill development centre in Saketari village. Trainer Sonia Yadav is present in the background.

Project Rahat is going strong with the women and children being engaged in productive activities, such as tailoring, beautician, computer and adult literacy courses, and further training is planned. With a confident smile, Geeta (23), who was a paid worker of the club, said “Now I don’t depend on others for my daily needs, as I have a regular income.”

During the five-year MoU period, the annual expenditure of ₹14–15 lakh was shared by PRIP Saboo, Rtn Jagesh Khaitan and the club. “Now the annual expenses have come down to ₹5 lakh,” said Anil Chadda, club president. “Most women have become financially independent.”

Around 50 toddlers and schoolchildren of female domestic help, construction workers etc are taken care of in Bal Bahar, a creche, and a modest fee of ₹500 a month is charged by the club, said Col (retd) Alok Batra, club secretary.


WASH in schools

Since 2016–17 a hygiene and sanitation awareness programme, is benefitting students in 20 government schools through a GG project ($82,000) in a tie-up with RC Seoul Namsan, RID 3650. Till now, three schools have either got new toilet blocks or repaired existing ones; and the club plans to distribute 50,000 sanitary pads this year. In five years, the club has distributed more than one lakh sanitary pads.

Front row (from left): Club president Chadda, Arun Aggarwal and community services director Teena Virk.
Back row (from left): Club secretary Col (retd) Alok Batra, vocational centre director Sartaj Lamba and treasurer Pawan Pahwa at the club’s Rotary House.

Around 950 students are engaged in WinS programmes at the Government Senior Secondary School, Khudda Lahora. Kanwaljit Kaur, WinS coordinator, says regular handwash demos are held and in the last two years, WinS programmes have reached 2,000 students at this school.


Human milk bank

Thanks to a CSR grant of ₹31 lakh from Ruchira Papers, Haryana, a Rotary human milk bank was inaugurated recently to treat newborns with low birthweight in Mohali. “The Punjab government has sponsored machinery worth ₹1 crore and the balance amount was met by club members. The human milk bank with a capacity to store 500ml of breast milk is the first such facility to offer effective care to low birthweight infants across the Tricity area and beyond,” said Dr Bhavneet Bharti, director-principal, Dr B R Ambedkar State Institute of Medical Sciences.


Project Aashiana

In a touching gesture, Aashiana, a home for abandoned infants run by the Social Welfare department, was revamped with cots, wall paintings, curtains, colourful blinds, toys and PVC ducts at a cost of ₹1.5 lakh. Fourteen children (up to three years) are under the care of three midwives. A cradle is available here for unwanted babies. Sneha Tickoo, superintendent, Snehalaya, a destitute home for girls under which Aashiana is housed, profusely thanked Anil Chadda for the makeover.

(From R) Project chairperson Neenu Vij, Arun Aggarwal, coordinator
Dr Seema Gupta and club president Chadda at the after-school classes being held at the skilling centre of Project Rahat in Saketari.

In 2003, then RI President Jonathan Majiyagpe unveiled a Rotary Peace Monument at the Sukhna Lake, with SBI sponsoring the monument at a cost of ₹6 lakh to mark the club’s golden jubilee. Project Heartline has sponsored 771 heart surgeries for children since 1996 through a series of global grants. “With the latest GG of $98,000, we plan to do at least 20 child heart surgeries this year, of which four were already done. Our global partner is RC Hall County, RID 6910, Georgia, US,” said Chadda.


Rotary blood bank

In partnership with the Blood Bank Society (BBS), a modern blood resource bank — Rotary and Blood Bank Society Resource Centre — was set up in Nov 2004. While the two-storey building was constructed by BBS, the club sponsored the first set of machines through a 3-H grant worth ₹1.75 crore, said PDG Madhukar Malhotra.

Recalling the Covid times, Malhotra said that the club set up an 18-bed critical care unit in quick time for Covid patients (GG: $60,000) at the Government Medical College Hospital. Since inception, the club would have done 45 global and matching grant projects worth $6 million, he said.


Community initiatives

After renovating two toilet blocks at the cremation ground (₹45 lakh), “we have entered into an MoU with the municipal corporation for the upkeep of the sanitation blocks, spending ₹30,000 a month,” said Teena Virk, director, Community Services. Rotarian couple P J Singh and Dr Rajinder Kaur have donated 200 apheresis kits (₹16 lakh) to the Rotary and Blood Bank Society for separating blood components.

The monthly fun programme since July at the Senior Citizen Home is much awaited by its 37 inmates as they are given fruits, food essentials and grocery bags. Around 5,000 patients, mostly women, have benefitted from the health melas being held regulary from July at the Mauli Jagran, a slum cluster. Cervical cancer detection and vaccination for girls are being undertaken. Protein powder is given to lactating, pregnant women and weak adolescents; nutritional diet bags were distributed to TB patients who are counselled, along with oral hygiene kits, antibiotics and painkillers.

Over 5,000 sweet boxes are being sent to soldiers at Ladakh and Siachen subsectors at the Sino-India border ahead of Diwali in the seven-year-old ongoing project initiated by PRIP Rajendra Saboo.


Rotary House

A sparkling two-storey Rotary House on a 12,300 sqft plot is a landmark. Skill training is being given in batches to 65 students in computer programmes, beauty parlour and tailoring at the vocational centres in this building; and over the last 15 years, “around 8,500 youth would have benefitted from our skilling courses,” said Sartaj Lamba, director, Vocational Training Centre. “We will train 250 youth in gardening, and 80–90 students in soft skills this Rotary year,” she said.

Anil Chadda wants to add 20 new members, and increase the number to 182 by June next year. Over 150 RYLAs were held for 20,000 school and college students; and “in the last four years, special RYLAs for visually-impaired students (100 each year) strived to bring them to the mainstream society. We gifted Cuckoo FM, an audio book subscription to 100 blind students.”

Over the decades, the iconic club has sponsored nine Rotary, six Rotaract and 54 Interact clubs across the Tricity area, which now has around 900 Rotarians in 19 Rotary clubs.


Pictures by V Muthukumaran

The Godfather

Jogging down memory lane, Charanjit Singh, past president, RC Chandigarh, and RID 3080 chair of Young Generation, said, “I call PRIP Rajendra Saboo as the king of hearts for he connects with the people through an emotional bond. His connection with the global humanity is phenomenal.”

PRIP Saboo and Usha with Rwandan children who were treated for cardiac disorders by the club at the Fortis Hospital, Mohali, in 2015.

When Saboo was RI director (1981–83), “our RID 308 was so huge that it spread from Delhi to Uttar Pradesh covering Punjab, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh. He touched the lives of many people through innovative, action-oriented programmes and projects.” One of his hallmarks is his specific instructions to Rotarians on “how to execute specific projects,” said Singh. After being DG in 1976–77, Saboo became the second Indian to hold RI presidentship (1991–92) following Nitish Laharry who led the Rotary world in 1962–63.

Rotary PGI-Sarai is the first hostel for patients and their attendants built by RC Chandigarh in 1986–87 at the PGIMER Hospital. “Around 40 Rotarians went around shop-to-shop and house-to-house to mobilise funds. We raised ₹20 lakh through public funds and member donations to build the Rotary PGI-Sarai. Saboo was right behind us, motivating the project team,” he said. Rotary PGI-Sarai is now a three-storeyed, 50-bed accommodation for patients.

Saboo will be remembered forever in the Rotary world for his pioneering work in organising Rotary Medical Missions in 1998, which later on became popular by the acronym RVTTM — Rotary Vocational Technical Training Mission. He led many such missions with doctors, volunteers and Rotarians to Africa, Cambodia and Mongolia. “We have done 48 RVTTMs till now; and 17 medical missions within India since 2007. The primary aim is to reach medical care to backward, remote parts of the world, mostly in Africa, and some pockets of India,” said Singh.

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