Cliches apart, such as “from the mouth of babes” or “the child is the father of the man”, which nevertheless are true, by its decision to give a much greater thrust and expand the Rotaract family within Rotary, RI top leadership has indeed scored a winner. That this is bound to be a gamechanger for Rotary’s foremost priority — a much younger, more vibrant, more diverse and gender-balanced Rotary membership — can be glimpsed in the cover story of this Rotaract issue. The Rotaract Club of Panvel Elite, Maharashtra, which has barely completed its fourth month after being chartered, has already completed 17 community service projects and fun events. Caring for animals, conducting a dental screening and treatment for rural, tribal children in a village near Panvel, celebrating Children’s Day by encouraging not only the 25 members from their own community-based club of young professionals, but also Rotarians from their parent club — RC Panvel Elite — to dress up as children in an event titled Bacche baney hum are some of their projects.
But what impressed me the most was their young and dynamic president, Ria Munot, talking at length about a session on child sexual abuse for about 150 inmates of an ashram in a rural area near Panvel, which has a residential facility for destitute children. The session didn’t stop at that; the children were told not only about good touch, bad touch and safe touch of course, but also briefed on LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights. The social worker accompanying them, as well Ria and other Rotaractors, explained to the children that it was not “abnormal” to enjoy a physical touch from a person of the same sex. Now this is how progressive and forward-thinking our youngsters are.
Our laws may slowly open up and decriminalise gay relationships, but even in educated, upper class and urban families, this is something that is frowned upon, and the very subject is taboo. So when our Rotaractors take up this “taboo” subject in a rural area and explain it, along with child sexual abuse, to children who live in close proximity — there are a total of 450 children in this ashram — it is a progressive step indeed. Also, in an era when sexual violence against our girls and women is increasing, it is service of a high order to alert vulnerable young girls from the lowest strata of society about sexual abuse which takes different forms and can be done in a variety of subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Just like the positives in preventive healthcare, awareness at an early age on what constitutes sexual abuse can save the child from serious assault in the future.
This is only one example of why Rotary needs Rotaract, and how these young agents of change can benefit Rotary in myriad ways.