View more Images
On February 11 we went to Nere village and its environs to visit the projects championed by Rtn Nirbhay Jain and his wife, R/Ann Urmila through their SKS Chaksu Foundation (http://www.skscf.org). The group consisted of James, myself and our Swiss guest, Diana Moog, Rtn Sucharita Hegde, Rtn Rajendra Mane and his wife, R/Ann Sheila. We stopped first at the ophthalmic centre where cataracts and other eye ailments are handled free specifically through the support of the Rotary Mid-Town.
Our next halt was the training centre for the women’s self help group. We were received with warmth and treated to delicious rice rotis, accompanied by chutney and baingan that they had prepared. Rajendra asked the women what it was that motivated them to join the self-help groups. It was an open discussion with many questions and much back and forth. We learnt that the women feel empowered. Instead of wasting time, they are able to use their skills to make money and add to the family’s coffers. They have become entrepreneurs who produce and sell handicrafts, rotis, papads, chilli powder and more to make money for the project and themselves. While we chatted, Nirbhayji also filled us in on the history and structuring of the organisation. Sucharita put out an impassioned plea to reduce plastic consumption, and to stick to healthy fresh local food rather than factory produced packaged foods with little nutritional value.
After that wonderful experience, we moved to the Rakesh Jain Secondary School where vocational skills are taught. Imagine our pleasure when we were received by children lining the entrance welcoming us with a lazim performance. It was delightful. The school has a charm and spirit that is inspiring. The children demonstrated a range of skills from surveying, sample testing, and grafting, to workshop and electrical work. The students were represented both by girls and boys in all activities, a gender equality the Principal pointed out is a critical aspect of their programme. It was impressive to see how relevant the skills they learn are to their lives and those of their families.
It was an added bonus of fellowship and sharing that we joined the Inner Wheel and cheered in their ceremony of prize giving. In a fine moment of joint philanthropy, cheques were donated from the two organisations respectively by Jyothika Premnarayen and James. Monetary gifts were awarded by the President to teachers and administrators whose contribution to the school has been significant in the past year. The Rotary and Inner Wheel were joined on stage by local authorities.
James’ address to the 6th standard students was translated and enriched by Rajender. The children were excited to learn that James went to school in America. He asked the children whether any of them had been to Mumbai. Only a few have. When asked what impressed them about Mumbai, there was no answer until one voice said, seeing a plane. It was moving to recognise how fulfilling their lives are without the impingement of the city, which is so close, and yet so distant. It raises a conflict– is it better to stay unspoilt and isolated, or to have exposure to a world outside and make informed choices. James did promise to arrange a trip for the students to visit Mumbai – a conversation with our friends at the American School of Mumbai has already begun in this regard.
We ended this beautiful trip with a lunch organised by Urmila and Nirbhay Jain at their lovely farm for the Rotary and the Inner Wheel. The food was fine and the ambience was one of fellowship and warmth. Our thanks to them both, and to all those present.
It is a remarkable thing to stand in a class full of children with their open and shining faces. The eagerness and anticipation with which they view the world is truly a gift to see. Through our time at the Rotary, I have had that experience a few times. Each time has been a privilege. Each time has been humbling. I am grateful, and I suspect those Rotarians who have had the experience are too.