“Speaking to students is something I truly enjoy. You make us feel young, and there are many, many things that we can learn from you — your new way of thinking, technology and your ability to master things.”
With these words, RI President K R Ravindran, on his first visit to India as Rotary’s head honcho, set a brisk pace for a series of meetings and inaugurations in both Delhi and Pune. He was addressing Rotaractors, Interactors, students and staff of Amity University, Noida, at the New Generation Intercity Meet. Along with RI Director Manoj Desai, DGs Sudhir Mangla (D 3011) and J K Gaur (D 3012) and several PDGs participated in the meet.
Rotaractors were doing a great job in reaching functional literacy to adults, Ravindran said. “It is not just teaching them to read or do arithmetic … you are actually putting them on their feet. Look at the way their life changes.” A lorry driver thus learns to read signs, know all about speed limits and traffic signs and road rules; “just imagine what a difference all this makes to him. A mother, whose life revolved around the fire and kitchen, now knows what vaccination is, when she has to take her child for a shot of polio vaccine, where she can get medicines, when she has to visit the doctor — she is an extraordinary warrior for the children. She didn’t have to go to Cambridge or Oxford. You just made her functionally literate.”
Saying that it is important for adults to be good role models, Ravindran said he once told a group of Australian Governors “to teach their cricket team how to behave on the field. Our children are imitating cricketers out on the paddy fields and in the streets.” He admires Kumar Sangakkara and Sachin Tendulkar, mainly for their gentlemanly act both on and off field.
Exceeding the target of 5,000, Rotaractors from these districts have pulled 8,450 adults out of illiteracy. “This is probably the highest in the country. We will bring back significant number of school dropouts too, to school,” promised DLCC Ajay Kumar Singh. A poignant moment in the programme was when Papu Ram Sharma (45) expressed his gratitude to the teenager Vanshika Sachdev for teaching him to read and write, and the auditorium burst into applause.
Describing her first-ever experience in teaching, Interactor Vanshika said her school had made it compulsory for all students to adopt an illiterate adult and give him/her functional literacy. “Those 45 days — 15 minutes a day — was the best time in my life,” she said, as Ravindran smiled on.
Importance of toilets
In Pune, Desai commended D 3131 for pledging to build 5,000-plus toilet blocks in girls’ schools. “It is phenomenal … that one District can commit to construct 5,000-plus toilet blocks in one year.” This was half of the 10,000 toilet blocks that Rotary India plans to build in a year … “a perfect answer to Prime Minister Modi’s call for Swachch Bharat Swachh Vidyalaya.” Five hundred toilet blocks have already been constructed, including one in a girls’ school at Panshet village and 206 at Ambi village, constructed by RC Pimpri, along with RC Durham, USA; RC Durham, UK; RC Bhubaneshwar Heritage, RI District 3261 and TRF, under Global Grants. Janaseva Foundation also partnered with the Rotary clubs in this endeavour.
“It is amazing to see what a set of toilets can do for a nation. Toilets, especially in girls’ schools, can contribute hugely to a nation’s progress. After driving out polio, sanitation is the next best thing,” said Ravindran in an interview to a media channel. He extracted a promise from the students to maintain the toilets built by Rotary. An enthusiastic ‘Ho…,’ (Marathi for ‘yes’) was the chorus.
In Delhi, school sanitation and Happy Schools stole the show with the leaders inaugurating toilet blocks constructed by RC Delhi Ashoka (D 3012) at Purva Madhyamik Vidyalaya at Gejha village in Noida, and Nigam Pratibha School at Sriniwaspuri, Delhi, built by RC Delhi Garden City (D 3011). The spanking clean school facilities got this comment from Ravindran: “I was wondering why they have to do projects in such a posh school. Then I realised that it was not a posh school, Rotarians have made it posh.”
The next day, the primary block of Rotary Public School at Gurgaon was inaugurated by the RI President.
Future of Rotary
At the ‘Future of Rotary’ meets in both Pune and Delhi, Rotarians displayed generosity in TRF and WinS contributions. Said Manoj Desai, “India gave 12 AKS members and 406 Major Donors in the first week of this year.” More than Rs 10 crore has been raised so far from the West Zone Districts for WinS projects, said Zone Coordinator Vinay Kulkarni (PDG 3131). MoUs were signed at Pune with Zilla Parishad President and with Pratap Rao Pawar of Sakal newspapers to jointly implement WASH in Schools around Pune and Raigad districts.
Ravindran shared with the starry-eyed youngsters the six lessons that have shaped his life.
1) No one ever achieves anything by himself. Don’t for a moment think you are self-made. I will never forget how my parents strived to send me to the university; or my friends who supported me; or the banker who lent me money because I was a Rotarian. Only God is self-made and we need His help in every walk of our life.
2) Keep yourself occupied productively. That you are using your spare time to teach the uneducated is commendable. When I was a kid, my father used to ask me whether I had any homework, and when I said No, he’d say, then assign yourself one! And even today when I switch on my computer I wouldn’t waste the time when it is booting — I would wear my tie or tie my shoe lace.
3) Money is not the only goal of life. Once a survey was conducted for a group — the very rich to the very poor — on how much ‘more money’ they need to be satisfied in life. Over 90 per cent said they are satisfied, ‘but if I have a little bit more, I’ll be very satisfied.’ This ‘little bit more’ was the same need for men earning between $300–$30,000 a day. Nothing you have is enough; you always need a little more. Money is the easiest thing to find, more difficult to find is ideas and good people to work with.
4) Don’t be afraid of someone disapproving of what you are doing. What truly matters is the people close to you, people who want you to come up in life, listen to them, and don’t worry about the rest.
5) Protect and cherish your family. However young you are, you still have a great role to play. As you start reaching for the skies, you must remember that your roots are on the ground. If your roots are not fixed, then the tree up there is going to fall. So keep those roots strong. Don’t miss occasions like your dad’s birthday, thinking you can go next year. Next year may not come. Spend your time with the people precious to you, and your precious time will become all the more precious.
6) Every human life is equally important. Referring to the Venetian mosaic sketch depicting Norman Rockwell’s Golden Rule in the UN Building in New York that says, ‘Do unto others what you will do for yourself,’ Ravindran pointed out that every religion propagates this.
“Mind-blowing,” said Suneeta, a Rotaractor, referring to President Ravindran’s speech at the New Generation Intercity meet at Noida. “The six lessons on life that he rolled out were inspirational,” said Rotaractor Manish Goyal.
At a press conference in Delhi, TRF Trustee and WinS Chair Sushil Gupta highlighted Rotary’s commitment to build and maintain 20,000 gender-specific toilet blocks in government schools in two years, and enroll 1 lakh children in schools. “The focus is on hygiene practices, hand washing and bringing about behavioural change in communities through school children. Just building toilets is not a guarantee that people will use them.”
Only when these children became “change agents, can we realise our dream of Swachh Bharat. We concentrate on girls schools so that they are taught menstrual hygiene habits too, because nobody is there to guide them and no suitable facilities exist in schools. So they drop out of school once they attain puberty. Delhi NCR will construct toilet blocks in 600 schools,” he said.
Hailing Rotary’s sanitation and literacy initiatives, UNICEF India’s WASH Chief Susanne Coates said hygiene messages inculcated in children last a lifetime and “interestingly where WASH in Schools exists, younger children stay in school longer. So it is just not about CSR money, it is about dedication and belief in investment in children.”
On the future of Rotary, Desai was sceptical about e-initiatives. “Can anything replace the warm hug or handshake of a friend? We will have robot Rotarians attending conferences, I am afraid. I’ll have a cold hug from a robot that will suffocate me to death.”
Desai said Rotary’s work on polio eradication deserved a Nobel award. “I have a dream that Rotary should become a ‘preferred partner’ for Government and other agencies.” He said that from a single CSR seminar held recently in Nagpur, Rotary had managed to get donations worth Rs 9 crore from corporates, including Rs 1 crore from the Central Surface Transport Ministry headed by Nitin Gadkari, the chief guest. Ravindran fondly recalled the late PRID O P Vaish, and his penchant to converse in Hindi despite the former telling him he can’t understand the language. “I wish he was here. I really miss him.”
Complimenting Rotary India’s “phenomenal work” in WinS, he said, “It is so simple, yet challenging. If it succeeds here, it is workable elsewhere in the world, particularly in Africa. When the world was apprehensive about eradicating polio from India with all its problems of poverty, illiteracy and sanitation, you did it. Rotary will now galvanise governments and other agencies world over to provide major thrust on sanitation simply because it is very economical to do this.”
Pictures by Jaishree