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A LITERATE INDIA - NEED OF THE HOUR

Today we are all discussing a burning issue and also the need of the hour that is Literacy. Total Literacy in India is a dream that the Rotarians have started following and we have together taken a pledge to reach the much coveted milestone of 100% literacy as early as possible. It is time now for every Rotarian in India to become a part of this Literacy Mission.

Two years back on a cold February afternoon I was at Bolpur Railway Station waiting for my train where I saw this old man, poor & frail standing in front of the ticket counter. He was looking at the railway fare chart but he could not read the name of the station he wanted to go to and also could not find out the cost of the ticket. I went to him, found out the station for him on the chart and told him that the ticket would cost him Rs 30. He searched inside his half-torn sack & found three crumpled ten Rupee notes and went to the ticket counter to buy his ticket. I understood that he did not know how to read and also did not know if he had enough money to buy the ticket to reach his village.

That afternoon I realized if you cannot read you are as good as a blind person. India has the largest population of non-literate adults in the world. Today RILM - Rotary India Literacy Mission - one of the most structured programs of Rotary in India - aims at achieving a Literate India where every child will go to school, where every adult will be functionally literate. TEACH are the five verticals with which we address the need - TEACH.

Government of India, other NGOs and the corporate sector have joined hands with Rotary to implement this great initiative, across the country and today TEACH is the buzzword which is doing the rounds across the length & breadth of this huge nation. Needless to mention, this major Rotary initiative in India has brought good media attention. We have seen numerous news reports of the good work being done by Rotary Clubs and Districts. Other South Asian countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh & Nepal are also following in our footsteps to replicate the India model. We have already tasted huge success in India. We have collected over 20 lakh books to create libraries, registered over 10,000 volunteers, created around 3000 Happy Schools, introduced e-Learning in almost 13,000 schools with the number growing every-day. Almost 35,000 children are back in school and 15000 primary teachers conferred the National Builder Awards. Another huge milestone that we have achieved is in converting over 75,000 non-literate adults into neo-literates.

RILM has forged huge long-term partnerships with some corporate giants and bigger NGOs to translate the dreams into reality. We have seen some of these developments happen during the Presidential Conference in Kolkata and thereafter at the Literacy Summit in Chennai. I had made several trips to village schools across the country and I have seen Happy Schools which now have easy access to clean water. Toilet blocks have been built in schools. The classrooms now are full with boys and girls and the dropout rate has declined. Children have become 'teachers' to parents and grandparents. Micro businesses have grown in the village and it all began with literacy, water & sanitation. WinS and Swachch Vidyalaya are again major initiatives that are creating wonders and the enthusiasm amongst Rotarians in India is palpable. In one of my presentations at an international symposium recently organized by IIT, I had mentioned that in India we understand solar lamps can truly make a difference in small, poor families who live in remote villages without any electricity, where the solar lamp helps the mother to cook the evening meal, where the lamp helps children to study, where the lamp helps the father to walk through muddy, dark paths and through waterlogged paddy fields to reach the nearest market. Yes, we have understood that solar lamps in both smaller units and bigger power stations can solve a lot of our problems in rural, poverty-stricken pockets of this vast nation. I repeat those powerful words of Kofi Anan, former Secretary General of the UN, "Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society."

Friends, we cannot wait for the government to do it all. Someone had said, "If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; ifyou are planning for a lifetime, educate people." I am sure we shall together translate this huge dream into reality & every single member of Team Literacy, in every District, in every Club will play an important role in shaping the destiny of this Mission. Every CLCC will have to assist the Club President to take up achievable, measureable, time-specific & sustainable literacy projects. They will be ably supported by the District Governor, DLCC, AGs & the TEACH District Sub-Committee Chairs.

Every single child in this country will have to go to school, every citizen of this nation will have to read & write this is truly going to be a life-changing crusade. Let me tell you friends this is not going to be like Polio, a huge battle that we won in India; it is not going to be the same vaccine which will be used for every child in every pocket of the country. West Bengal, Gujarat, Assam, Nagaland, Madhya Pradesh, Telengana, Bihar - it will be a different battle in every state which we will have to fight, every region will have a different kind of a challenge. At the end of the British rule in 1947, the Indian Literacy rate was around 12% and by 2007, it had grown to 66% and today, in 2017 it is at almost 75%. It makes me sad indeed to repeat that we still have the largest illiterate population in the world.

RILM has effectively structured a participating initiative to eradicate adult illiteracy. Its mantra of "Each one Reach one, Teach one" encapsulates a simple process that involves a student teaching a non-literate adult during their vacation for only 30 mins a day and in only 40 to 45 days the non-literate adult could become a neo-literate. And today NIOS is in process of collaborating with RILM for the certification of neo-literates. Imagine, soon more than one lakh adults will become literate through this program, across the country, in the next 6 months.

Each one of us can Make a Difference just as the RI theme this year says. Give a gift of literacy. I keep saying this wherever I go - when will that day come when every school will become a home & every home will become a school. All we need is a little magic. I believe in magic and we can make 1.2 million miracles happen across the globe. Yes you and me, we all have a magician within us. We are Rotarians; we are indeed change-makers - yes, we are, friends.

This is our war against illiteracy and I can see the finishing line not very far away. Victory is not far. We can free India from the clutches of illiteracy - we can together shape the destiny of this grate nation.

Act now and join our cause