Posted by Margaret Shibley
In the space of 12 very full days we adapted to a new climate and significantly offset time zone; saw 14 projects; attended 7 meetings; enjoyed 8 formal dinners, innumerable lunches, and breakfasts with attentive hosts hovering to see what your reaction was to this morning’s new dish; and spent 4 days exploring temples and cities in Southern India.
 
 
Between the five Rotary Clubs whose meetings we joined, the many other Rotarians who hosted or came to meet us, as well as the people involved in either delivering or benefitting from the projects we visited, we met more extraordinary people than I can possibly remember.  I am relieved not to be the one responsible for thank you notes!
 

Reflections of a new Rotarian 

We saw projects
 
(1) Medical and hospital services
Rotary is involved in providing services in a full range from basic community services (a rehab facility in the middle of an ashram), to services that had not been available in India, to world-class science research and teaching facilities. Transportation seriously affects accessibility for much of the Indian population.  In addition to services provided at the primary facility, most also had staffed outreach buses to surrounding communities. Doctors and nurses provide local attention or retrieve patients who need more specialized care.
 
 
The Margaret Sydney Hospital is a 20-bed community hospital, with 4 dialysis beds, an eye clinic and   glasses dispensing facility, a pharmacy, and a visiting community bus. Run by Rotary since 1983, 40 volunteer doctors provide specialist services serving about 5000 outpatients a month and 100 inpatients a day – usually in addition to putting in full hours in regular hospital and clinical practices. 
 
The Bone Bank, inaugurating in Spring 2019, is the first of its kind in India. In association with the Adyar Cancer Institute, allograft bones substitutes will replace the use of metal prosthesis, resulting in one-time permanent procedures at 1/5th the cost, and considerably less pain for the patient.
 
The Aravind Eye Hospital is a national and international model for extremely efficient delivery of services. The underprivileged receive these services at no or steeply subsidized rates, but the hospital itself is financially self sustaining. Started in 1976 as an 11-bed hospital in Madurai, Aravind now has branches in 12 other cities in Tamil Nadu (State). Aravind-Chennai handled 48,496 outpatient visits and performed 4,354 surgeries from April 2017 to March 2018.
 
The Sooriya Heart Institute and the associated Pediatric Care Unit began as the Madras Medical Mission, funded initially with only local funds. Until recently, it was the only cardiac facility in India.  Internationally recognized, with surgeons and super-specialists, it is now a teaching institute as well, again with surgeons coming from other countries for training by Dr. Kumar, head cardiologist.
 
 
About 50% of interventions can be done through a groin puncture procedure, and children are home in 1 or 2 days, so quickly back to school. The other 50% are more complex and require surgery. These patients typically spend a week in intensive care and a week on the ward. Costs for surgery range from USD $4K to $10K.
 
At the other end of the technological scale sat a Rehabilitation Centre, nestled in a small bright building at the edge of an Ashram and a peaceful garden away from an ancient temple, physiotherapy services made use of machines and treatment tables provided by Rotary, requiring little to no electricity and often referencing principles of yoga.
 
(2) Education
Yet another area of focus for projects involved education, either formal or informal.
 
The Vexcel School for autistic and learning-disabled children provides specialized curriculum complete with music and play, with loving and respectful care, in an atmosphere of low light level classrooms with subtle designs and colours. 
 
The Heartfullness Meditation Centre sits in extensive grounds surrounded by the noisy and busy city, but somehow sound is muted or absent. A place for learning, teaching, meditation, and living, all who come are welcome and fed. Again, this is a 'pay if you can, don’t worry if you can’t' facility, where those who can in effect subsidize those who can’t.
 
Computer Programming for Visually Disabled This project is tucked into a relatively small room in a large office building belonging to a local Rotarian. Provided with specialized equipment and training, these young adults will be competent programmers, placed and supported in their first jobs to ensure their employability continues.
 
A Community Radio Station sits in a fishing village on edge of Bay of Bengal, where people were not getting the weather and news they needed. All programming is generated locally. One particular area of effort by the daughter of the Project Manager to involve the women of the community was met with fear and scepticism. The women were concerned for their reputations, the men not sure they wanted their women ‘out’. The first few programs began with interviews on classic topics – food, health, education etc. After the first couple of broadcasts, the men on the boats were saying “That’s my wife!!” and it grew. Local women now produce an entire regular series on broader topics.
 
Kannankottai Boys Town is a boarding school, full of enthusiastic youngsters from the nearby village, some of whom are orphans. Interviewed before they are admitted, these boys will be taken as far as they want to go with their educations.
 
(3) Water and sanitation
The toilets are stand-alone, with a water basin outside, and composting septic tanks whose contents will eventually be safe to use on fields. Although this has an enormous sanitary impact, make no mistake. These facilities also provide safety to women who are vulnerable to attack and privacy for changing and cleaning. That means girls no longer miss 25% of their school class time once a month where they previously had to stay home.

In both Kannakottai village and Pandur village we were met with warmth, smiles, gorgeous labour-intensive floral displays, enthusiastic local music, and impeccably groomed people in their best clothes. I never did figure out how they did that, given the homes they lived in.

We saw Rotary Clubs
 
With other international partners, other local clubs and members of the 1929 Clubs, we were invited to join the 90th Anniversary celebrations of the Rotary Club of Madras. (See photo at the beginning of this article)
 
We saw temples and people
 
 
We saw joy, kindness, community, generosity, poverty, need – and people working to meet the need
 
We found community with people whose core philosophy was to help others
 
We came, we saw, and we were conquered