Last year when I was a Rotary District Governor, we initiated projects primarily focussed on providing bore-wells, Reverse Osmosis plants and furniture to schools. The total cost of the project was US$150,000. These have been carried out with the support of The Rotary Foundation, Rotary District in South Korea (thanks to my friend and batch mate Governor Kim Jung Gill). Nearly, seventy Rotary Clubs in our Rotary District have participated in this program. As these projects are completing, l have been visiting various project sites in Vellore, Thiruvannamalai, Kanchipuram, Thirvallur and Chennai for inaugurating these facilities. It was an exhilarating experience not only dedicating the projects but also meeting my Rotary friends.
In one such a program that was held few days ago, I had been to a tiny village called Rangasamuthiram near Kudiyetram to inaugurate a bore well plant at a school. This project was coordinated by Rotary Club of Kudiyetram.
The purpose of the project was to provide water facility to students in the school. Once the bore-well was dug and water flowed through the pipes, the students were thrilled. On watching this excitement, a lady from the village approached the Rotary Club whether it would be possible to provide a tap on the other side of the school compound, where the villagers can also collect water. The President was then confronted by the woman, and she said with tears in eyes that the villagers (numbering around 1200) for the past 12 years had to walk nearly one and half kilometres to fetch a pot of water: that too, water was available only for an hour daily. Ironically, the name of the village is Rangasamuthiram and the word ‘samuthiram’ means ocean – where not a single drop of water could be sourced in the village. The President of the club gladly accepted the proposal and provided a tap for them.
When the inauguration was done, the villages came to us and said, ‘it is a significant moment for us: henceforth we do not need to walk miles to get water’. I could see the smile on everyone’s face. It was a small act by the Rotarians of Kudiyetram that brought a difference in the lives of many.
‘What have you achieved pa, having spent so many years in Rotary?’ My teenage son inquisitively asked me on the day I laid down office as District Governor; I had completed seventeen years in Rotary. The last decade of mine in Rotary, was hectic thanks to various assignments at the district level including the coveted Governorship. My son grew up in a world as any child grows up, together with a peculiar presence – with the family of Rotarians. Not a single event of mine in Rotary passed off without his knowledge. Therefore, it was not a surprise when he confronted me with such a question.
Is it service that I wished to give to the community that prompted me to join Rotary? The answer is an emphatic no. Rotary has done many things to me. First I got very many friends in every part of the world, and some of them are friends for life. Rotary taught me how service can be done in an organised way that will make a significant difference to the community. Further, Rotary taught me that a project need not always be an earth-shaking or a monumental one. Even a small project is worth doing if someone’s need is attended to at the right time.
When I joined Rotary, I was just a member and did not get hold of the spirits of Rotary. After few months of joining Rotary, one Sunday, when my President requested me to accompany a team of medical staff for an eye camp in our club’s adopted villages, I hesitantly accepted the responsibility. In the camp, I met a widow, 55 years old, who was blind due to cataract. The blindness not only made her unemployed but also made her life pathetic as she lost her dignity and self-respect at home especially with her daughter-in law. She was in tears when she was brought to the camp. I escorted her to the medical team, got her eyes tested and fixed up for a surgery. She was one among 125 who went for surgery the following week. After few months, when we went to the village, I met this woman again. Someone had by then told her about me. She walked up to me and said, “thambi (brother) I have not seen god in my life. It is you who by your action appears to me as god. Today I am leading a dignified life thanks to you”. I felt embarrassed, as I know to myself, how I was contemplating on my participation at the eye camp that Sunday. A small act of mine had dramatically changed the life of someone. That is the magic of Rotary. That incident totally transfaormed me from being a normal flamboyant member into a committed Rotarian.
Some sceptics ask what a small group of 1.2 million Rotarians can do when more than 50% of 7 billion populations live in misery. They should bear in mind the priceless advice of noted anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.
The shining example is the Rotarians crusade against harmful polio virus. Who other than Rotarians would have believed that we could achieve this fete, when we took up the ambitious programme of eradicating polio from the face of the earth? If we achieve that, which I am sure we will, would be considered as the greatest achievement by any Non-Governmental agency and that too since no disease other than small pox has been eradicated entirely from this world. The greatest news is that India is on the verge of becoming polio-free (the last of the few countries in the world to do so) as we have recorded no case for the last 11 months.
Therefore whether, it is an ambitious project like polio or restoring eye sight to a woman or providing safe and cleaning water to a village, Rotarians all over the world have committed in their own ways. After all, it is our attempt to build communities and bridge continents to make our society a better place to live.
Either you be part of this organisation or support Rotary.