VANAKKAM! In India, it is common to see the greeting (“Namaste”) where the two hands (palms) are pressed together and held near the heart with the head gently bowed as one says, “Namaste” or the Tamil “Vanakkam”.
I recently returned from a trip to southern India. Rotary District 2980 is geographically positioned in the State Tamil Nadu. Helping India achieve its national priority of becoming 100% literate by 2018 is a goal that Rotary District 5330 (San Bernardino and Riverside Counties in California), and in particular the vocational training team that traveled to India, are helping to implement. The aim of this project is to establish a sustaining humanitarian capability for a future vocational training center for unskilled and unemployed of the rural based community.
This experience was: (1) a vocational exchange opportunity for professionals to travel to India to exchange information and business practices with similar professionals there; (2) to undertake a program designed to develop the team members’ professional and leadership skills and to build the capacity of the team members to address the needs of their communities in an increasingly global economy; and (3) for the experience to have a sustainable and measurable impact on the communities involved.
The trip included: (1) vocational visits to businesses and sites involved in the educational and literacy focus area of the exchange; (2) presentations to Rotary clubs in India; (3) formal university lectures and social events; (4) several hours per day of cultural and site visits and tours; and (5) a few hours of free time with hosting families.
” I feel very proud and fortunate to have been chosen as a member of the Rotary Club of Palm Springs, California, to represent district 5330 to India for a Vocational Training Team project for education and literacy. It was a 22 day trip of high intensity, great pleasure and happiness. We visited Rotary projects, temples, schools and universities. We stayed both in small guest houses and Rotarian’s homes. I gave five speeches on leadership at Indian universities and to a Rotary Youth Leadership Academy (RYLA). India is an incredible country of great passion, many contrasts and customs, and hospitable people. I experienced India’s culture and institutions, observed how their vocations are practiced, developed personal and professional relationships, and exchanged ideas. This experience allowed consideration of each others’ problems, aspirations, and community concerns. I have much gratitude to Rotary District 5330 and India Rotary District 2980 for allowing me to be part of this VTT experience. Thanks or Nanri as is said in Tamil!” — Thomas Smith
During this trip to India, I gained additional perspectives on what all Rotary club members have in common: (1) we take action; (2) as community volunteers, we reach out to neighbors in need; (3) we build, support, and organize; (4) we save lives; (5) we work locally and globally; and (6) we support Rotary’s efforts to help people in need worldwide.
Here are some of my reflections from the experience in India:
India Trip Jan. 28, 2014 through Feb. 18th, 2014 (22 days)
January 28th, departed LAX at 4:00 pm to Dubai. 16 hours. 2 hour layover, 3 hr. flight to Bangaluru (Bangalore)
Thursday, Arrived January 30 at 3:00 am, picked up by Sridhar and Sudharasan, and Babu, our driver for 3 weeks. We drove to Hosour and got dropped at the Hotel Sarovar Portico, slept for about 2 hours. We visited the Titan Watch Factory had a lunch and then went to a school run by the nuns of St. Joseph. We saw a Rotary project there; 50 computers were donated. We returned to the hotel and got ready for an evening meeting, dinner and fellowship. Many of the Rotarians had their wives there; and eight clubs were present. We exchanged flags and it was bedtime around 11:00.
Friday, rise and shine 5:45, went to the outdoor market very early with Sudharasan. Sights and smells were incredible, coconut juice wake-up drink. We ate some food and got packed up and into the van for a drive to Jayam College. We stopped at the Granite Rotary for a short meeting, exchanged flags, ate lunch and proceeded to the Hogenakkal Falls; it was beautiful and a lot of fun. We floated around on the river in round boats. We proceeded on to the college. There was a videographer filming, students clapping and bands playing. What a welcome! I gave a speech on leadership. Many students asked for autographs and it was really a moving experience. Spent one night at the college hosted by the Jayam College Chairman. They don’t use sheets on the beds, just a bedspread and pillows with decorative covers.
Saturday, Feb. 1. We got up and left the college and drove to Dharmapuri to the Deaf and Mute school. The children did a cultural program for us that was amazing. The music was loud, the children were silent. They danced, did a fashion show, and some very funny skits. What a wonderful job Rotary does supporting this school. We also went by another place where the Rotary was sponsoring vision testing. After lunch it on to Salem; we went to a wedding reception of one of the Rotarians. There were over 1,000 people at the reception.
Sunday, Feb 2. I went to a Hindu temple with my host who President Elect of his Club in Salem, back to their home for breakfast and I packed up. We went to the “Farm” of Hitesh for lunch and a RYLA group joined us and I gave a speech to the RYLA group of Teamwork. Around 4:00 we got back into the van and drove up a hairpin turn roadway that went to Yercaud.
Monday, Feb. 3. We spent 2 nights in Rtn. Ajith’s lodge. Rtn. Joy was our guide in Yercaud. We went to breakfast at Ajith’s. He also owns the small school and the Rotary hall. He is a very good cook. First we went to the facility run by Sister Louis. She is an Irish nun who came to India when she was 19 and has been there for 63 years. She ministers to the aged and is very dear. We had the great pleasure of touring a wonderful school that the teacher taught through art, music and dance. We spent the day visiting areas around Yercaud. We went to one very wonderful school and taught the children the Teapot song. They didn’t get it. We had a luncheon at a resort hotel and then drove over to the coffee plantation of Rajes. We were all very impressed by the operation and the workers were weighing the coffee while we were there. We also went to “Heaven’s Ledge”, it is a magnificent granite extrusion with a view that, on a clear evening, would equal any of the world’s great vistas. We made it back in time for another Rotary meeting.
Tuesday, Feb. 4. We left Yercaud and started to Chidambaram. (Rtn. Ramki) We visited the TSM College of Technology and I gave another speech on Leadership. The students were very interested and asked many questions. (Kallakurichi) Almost all students in Indian colleges are studying either engineering, technology or medicine. Their parents are very goal oriented as are the students. We left there and went to a Rice Mill and then moved quickly down the road to Chidambaram. We stopped on the way at the DG’s home for high tea, (Vridhachalam) back in the van, now rushing down the roads. We got to Chidambaram at about 8:30 for another Rotary meeting. We did our group presentation, ate some food and went to our assigned rooms. All night the horns honked.
Wed. Feb. 5. We stayed in Chidambaram. We went to the famous temple called Pichavaram. It is many acres in size with four large temples at each of the cardinal directions. Our Rotarian friends were Rtns. Ramki, Mahaboob Hussain, and Dr. Siva. We went to an agricultural college, had lunch and drove down to the famous Mangrove Forest on the coastal delta. It was 1,000s of acres of natural occurring mangrove that are only native in two areas of Asia. We had a wonderful boat ride. We got back to our rooms and had a late dinner on the deck of the hotel. There were many fireworks going off because there are only certain times when it is an auspicious time to get married. There was a very loud parade, at least individual sets of fireworks and it was certainly a colorful evening.
Thurs. Feb. 6. Packed up the van. We had breakfast at Dr. Siva’s home across from the lodge. We got back in the van and started heading up to Pondicherry. “Pondi” is the French colony that is unique to the Indian nation. Many citizens are still very connected to France and French is spoken. Rtns. Manickam (“Moneycome”) and Neil Foster, my host and friend took me around in the afternoon. We shopped, visited the Ghandi statue, went out on a fishing boat in the Bay of Bengal, went to a forest, and visited friends. GREAT DAY!!! I rode motorcycles all day long! We ate dinner at a nice restaurant. We stayed for two nights with our wonderful hosts. Neil was such a terrific friend.
Friday, Feb. 7. We went to another temple festival at Auraville. It was really packed with people. We went up to the Mahabalipuram stone sculptures which are more granite extrusions (they’re all over India which was so geologically active because of the plate tectonics) These ancient sculptures were conceptualized by their proportions and what shape could be imagined. Before returning to Pondi we went to a sea shell museum.
Sat., Sun. Feb. 8 & 9. It’s time to pack up again. We drove to Nagapattinam and Velankanni. We visited an orphanage full of children and elders whose parents and children were victims of the tsunami in 2003. Rotarians helped to build, furnish and support the structure. We also had the great pleasure of visiting another college where RYLA was happening. We spoke with the young people who were so enthusiastic. They asked many questions and manyrushed to shake our hands. We visited a Basilica and walked on the beach. We attended a Rotary Family meeting, exchanged flags and enjoyed the entertainment of the children dancing. We stayed at hosts homes. We visited the ancient temple at Tirivarur and drove over to Kumbakonam. We enjoyed tea at the home of AG Ravichandran and his family entertained us. He was a wonderful host.
Sun. Feb. 9. Kumbakonam. We got our luggage into Dharmachandri’s lodge for one night. For the second night we stayed in the lodge of Baalaaji. Rtn. Amir Jan was our main host. We visited Amir Jan’s school. We had a Rotary meeting with 18 clubs present. We met Rtn. Vasikaran and his wife Dr. Chitra. We visited the Dharasuram Temple and the Sri Vidhyashram School. Rotarian Lakshmikanthan was very knowledgeable about the temple.
Mon. Feb. 10. We went to our second Rotary wedding and saw both the reception and the wedding the next day. We toured a very nice school that had many Rotary sponsored improvements; solar panels, computers, clean water, etc. We were able to relax just a bit on this evening. Meeting organized by Rotary Club of Kumbakonam and dinner hosted by all clubs of Zones 16 and 17.
Tues. Feb. 11. We spent the night in Korangadudurai at an Ashram guest house and attended the rededication of the temple. Visit to the Abidean Matriculation School, Papanasam, that has Matching Grant Projects.
Wed. Feb. 12. After breakfast we started driving to Thanjavur (Tanjore) We had lunch at a wonderful English Colonial style hotel with a view of the River. Tanjore means the place with five rivers. It is also the music center of Tamil Nadu. We visited a music college and heard many traditional instruments. Our host Rotarian was Dr. Gunasekaran and our Rotarians were Manimaran, Sengu, Venkat and Anbu. We attended a meeting by the Rotary Club of Taanjavur Midtown.
Thurs. Feb. 13. We visited the Majaraja’s Palace, art gallery and Saraswathy Mahal Library. In the afternoon we went to the Thanjavur Big Temple that has a 90 foot tall pyramid. I did another lecture on leadership at the Gnanam School of Business. WOW was it an impressive school and campus. We decided to take a detour to a Basilica that turned out to be quite the ride along the rural, small, crowded backroads. Babu, our driver, was masterful at getting us across a bridge that was narrow and had trucks and buses ‘logjammed’ on it. There were at least fifty different Indian men trying to direct traffic. We got back to Tanjore and had dinner at the Hotel Lakshmi with Rtn. Manimaran and Rtn. Babu.
Fri., Feb. 14. We visited the Yagappa School, met with students and listened to the Shenoy Music Concert hosted by South Zone Cultual Academy. We discussed the Indian School Education System with Rtn. Edward who is the Correspondent for Yagappa School. We went to an orphanage for lunch served by the nuns of St. Joseph. Later we visited a school for mentally challenged children which is sponsored by the Rotary of Thanjavur Palace City. Later we went to the opening of the book fair fundraiser and the a meeting of the Delta Club. We had dinner at 9:30 and back to our host’s homes.
Sat. Feb. 15. After a light breakfast we were back in the van for a 2 1/2 hour drive over to Salem. We stopped in Namakkam for coffee and a rest break and then went to the Sona College for a fun teenage cultural program and then I had a speech on leadership at the college. We had a very good open discussion with the students and faculty. The interaction was very good for all. We then went to our hosts homes and then a meeting of the Cosmos and Salem Castle clubs.
Sun. Feb. 16. We met at the Rotary Hall in Salem and J.P. and Samraj took us down to Namakkal for the day. We visited a Veterinary College and saw many chickens, cows, goats, bunnies, pigs, etc. They are trying to help India with sustainable food products. In the afternoon we visited the Sports Festival at the Kongunadu College of Engineering and Technology. We were led into every sporting event and honored. We were honored as chief guests and given plaques and framed photos. On the way back to Salem we went to another wedding reception, ate some food at the hotel and drove back to Salem.
Mon., Feb. 17. We packed up to leave India. We met at the Salem Rotary Hall and got loaded into the van Rtns. J.P. and Samraj were there to send us off, along with Hitesh and Suresh. The people whose company you have enjoyed for many days are saying good-bye, but in Tamil they don’t say good bye, only Parkalam, see you later. We drove to Hosour and were met again by Rtn. Sridhar. We had rooms so we could get a bit of rest and get our bags repacked for the trip home. In the evening the Rotarians of Hosour joined together for a Farewell Dinner. They got us a cake and we all spoke. We drove to Bangalore Airport where they dropped us off for our 4 a.m. flight on Emeriates Air for our flight to Dubai and then onto Los Angeles.
We gained the day back that we have lost on the way to India. It was a 48 hour long day and I was ready to get home. I will always appreciate the gift that this trip to India has been for me.