January 13, 2010

View from Bhavnagar- There's no guarantee names are pronounced the way they're spelled

(Accompanying photo taken in Rajkot. Tree planted in dedication of DG Roy Strickland- District 6900- Georgia)

The title speaks for itself. So much to learn. We discovered a source of amusement for our Rotarian hosts, hearing us try to pronounce their names, especially at Rotary meetings. Luckily, the gesture can move in two directions. (See previous post where 'Blake Beyer' has become 'Black Bear'). To Blake's possible dismay, this moniker may stick, if with no other group than his GSE team.

I cannot add much to the broad brush strokes provided here by the team. Our travels have taken us through three stops in Gujarat: Rajkot, Porbandar, and now Bhavnagar. With each city we discover a level of dedication and giving that redefines 'Service Above Self''. Our Rotarian hosts have become a powerful force in the social environs of their communities, with education and attention to the needs of those less fortunate being the order of the day.

Our hosts are pleased with the team, as well. They are engaged and engaging and there isn't meeting or vocational visit we attend where we aren't complimented for our level of participation and interest. I am proud of each one.

I will also add here that last night, with no prep whatsoever, Renee lent new meaning to the word 'professionalism'. Her rendering of our national anthem was the finest; a consensus among the team and our Rotarian hosts here in Bhavnagar. She denies it, but it was very moving.

There's my two cents for now. I do hope you'll continue following the more detailed postings by the team.

Bill Barney GSE Team Leader

Bhavnagar - Day Two

Last night our team presented at the official Rotary meeting with three Bhavnagar clubs present. Renee sang our national anthem in closing, which moved not only the Rotarians, but also our team. It is such an honor to be on this life-changing trip with such talented, inspiring people. Additionally, it is humbling to see firsthand the selfless work the Rotarians throughout Gujarat are doing each day in their communities.

We've enjoyed spending a great deal of time with our host families in Bhavnagar. We've heard about this city's reputation for hospitality and in just two days we know it is true.

In Porbandar we visited Gandhi's birthplace, and today in Bhavnagar we enjoyed perhaps the most comprehensive collection of photos, letters and interviews chronicling Gandhi's life. We could've spent all day here.

January 12, 2010

Sights and spirit

It would be impossible to share all our team has experienced since our arrival in India Jan. 3. But I would like to recount some of the sights and spirit through photographs I have taken:

Touring a school in Porbandar with Shastree Swami Bhanuprakashdashji.

Observing morning exercises at the school in Porbandar, Swaminarayan Gurukul.

Catching sleepy asiatic lions at the Gir Forest.

Witnessing the impact of the Rotary Club of Bhavnagar's Ray of Hope project that provides free education to slum children.

Feeling peaceful at a meditation center just outside Rajkot.

Seeing women work at the limestone factory of my host in Porbandar, Nimish Shah.

Dancing a traditional dance with schoolchildren on the rooftop terrace overlooking Bhavnagar.

Capturing small moments of real life.

Establishing relationships with Rotarians and gracious hosts like the Joshi family.

This does not begin to express what I have experienced but hopefully it gives a glimpse of the tremendous opportunity Rotary has bestowed me.

Why we are here


We've talked a lot about our experiences, the warmth of the Indian people, and the neat things we've seen. But, the primary reason for us being in India is to see all of the good work and camaraderie Rotary is achieving worldwide. Before I start, I'd like to apologize for not posting pictures with this post, as I have some amazing ones. I'll have to edit this post later when I have access to a card reader that works.

As many of you may not know, Rotary set out in 1985 to rid the world of the crippling disease Polio. They have succeeded in curtailing the disease by 99% and have drawn the attention and support of the World Health Organization, the UN, the Centers for Disease Control and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but there are four countries left where the disease has continued to hold on; Afganistan, Pakistan, India, and Nigeria. Rotary has contributed over a billion dollars since then, and hundreds of thousands of man hours, and that has been multiplied by the extra support they are receiving from those great organizations.

We were fortunate enough to be in Porbandar for one of two Polio vaccination days for the whole year. In every city Rotary is in, they set up enough walk-in areas to cover the population, and will also go door to door afterwards to ensure the children of their towns and cities are vaccinated.

We also witnessed blood drawing to test for Thalassemia and HIV. Thalassemia is a genetic, inherited blood disease that has major and minor carriers. Minor carriers are unaffected, as only one of their parents was a carrier. A major carrier has both parents affected, and there is no treatment other than regular blood transfusions that lose effectiveness over time, and they will suffer a shortened lifespan, not to mention putting further strain on the blood supply. They test to inform children so that they won't marry another carrier and hurt their offspring.

In Rajkot, we were given a presentation on a literacy effort to ensure children are achieving at their grade level within government schools, which are sorely lacking in standards and basic equipment. They distribute one kit for each classroom, which consists of a binder to test proficiency, and a trunk for of story books and interesting reading to hook children on the joy of reading.

We witnessed a number of permanent projects. We saw a several kilometer long dam built with Rotary funds to supply 100,000 Rajkot citizens with drinking water. We toured an English language library to help children and young adults with English skills. We were shown a doll museum created by reaching out to Rotarians around the world to donate dolls that represent their culture, and as we were shown around by the projects' progenitor, we saw several classes of children come through and they were absolutely delighted.

There was also an 'all in one' clinic for the poor that had an x-ray room, a doctor's examination room, a dental clinic, a diabetes center, and a drug collection and distribution room. To get the drugs, they reach out to doctors to donate the sample they get from pharma companies, and they go door to door to collect medicine that people aren't taking anymore, taking care to discard expired pills. This allows them to give cheap and effective medical care to people who would otherwise go without.

Now we are in Bhavnagar, and last night we saw something pretty remarkable. The club here has convinced the parents of 75 slum kids to allow their children to come to the Rotary meeting hall in the evenings, where they are bathed, provided with school clothes, a home cooked meal (literally, food is brought from Rotarian family kitchens), and lessons for several hours on everything from English to the sciences. These children would otherwise be aimless, getting into trouble or begging, and now their future has been opened up to untold possibilities.

In India, after 7th grade, called standard in India, school is private, so you have to pay. The children that show discipline and good work ethic are then sponsored by the Rotary club to go to high school, as long as they continue to perform well. They have been doing the project for ten years now, and are just about to graduate their first students from high school. Their hope is that they become successful contributors to society, bring their family up along with them, and join Rotary to give the same chance to others.

In Rajkot, they do something very similar. In India, the poor produce a lot of children primarily to help them earn money, either through begging or collecting trash. Rotary is helping the children earn the same amount they were earning picking up trash and recyclables all day by arranging for a dealer to seek the best price for them collectively. They were being taken advantage of by shady dealers before, because they didn't know the going rates for what they were collecting. Now, they earn the same amount of money in half a day, so their parents are appeased. Rotary fills the other half of the day with education, a bath, clothes, and a warm meal.

Today in Bhavnagar we visited another one of their major projects (this club tends to focus their funds on a few major projects), where Rotary is supplying school benches to the public schools of Bhavnigar. They visited a number of schools several years ago and noticed that the most basic needs of these schools weren't being met by the government. There wasn't clean drinking water, there weren't always bathrooms, and the children sat on the floor of the classrooms.

Rotary has stepped in to provide for all of these needs within the city, and for desks that meant coming up with 8,000 of them. They have trimmed the cost of each desk in half by having a carpenter member, and have supplied 5,000 of the desks to date, with the remaining 3,000 to be delivered over the next 2-3 years. We saw a few of the bathroom 'blocks', a separate building with his and hers bathrooms that may have been the cleanest public bathrooms we've seen here in India.

It's hard to talk about these things, not to mention experience them, and not be moved. Rotary here, and invariably around the world, does a multitude of amazing things, some on a global scale, but most on a local scale that helps fill in the holes not being addressed by government.

I speak for our whole team that we have been overwhelmed (seem to be using that word a lot for this trip!) by all the good that is being done by these people, who through the blessing of success in this world have taken it upon themselves to help others at least have the opportunity to do the same. It's something we take for granted in the United States, where we have all of our basic needs met, and a clear path to success, provided we choose to take it. We are truly grateful to Rotary for this opportunity, and I feel it has already changed our lives for the better. We are constantly told we say thank you too much, but we can't help it. We have been moved.

January 10, 2010

Polio Sunday

One of Rotary's most impactful projects is the Polio Plus eradication program. Through the mass distribution of  oral vaccine, Rotary has rid most of the world from the crippling disease. However, India is one of  four countries still afflicted.

Today, we went to a hospital for women where our Team Leader Bill Barney gave a small girl the two-drop Polio vaccine. It's a truly noble cause, so it was great to see the process firsthand.