Nov 29, 2018 will go down in the history of RCME as one of those special days when we excelled in what we did and outshone ourselves and moved the club another notch higher. The year’s theme‘Empower the Girl, Energize the World’ received an impetus when the first full time Lady Defence Minister of India, Smt.Nirmala Sitharaman, came to inaugurate the largest Global Grant project that RCME has embarked upon till date at Rs95Lakhs.President RMN just did that and gave us the opportunity to meet the epitome of woman empowerment at a befitting event.

The school donned a beautiful and celebratory look and the presence of 2500 girl students was truly energizing. The welcome they gave the Defence Minister when she entered the school with a shout out equal to what we normally hear in a cricket stadium when Sachin hits a century, just kick started the event in the right aura and sent our adrenalin soaring. The media went berserk  And there was no stopping after that.

President RMN gave a warm welcome address with a quote of the British Philosopher Jonathan Sacks that ‘to defend a country you need an army, but to defend a civilization you need education’.It is as if to reiterate the above words, that the Hon’ble Defence Minister, SmtNirmala Sitharaman, a person entrusted with the responsibility to defend the country, flew in specially to Chennai for this event that celebrated the education of the girl child. Over the next one hour the event unfolded in clockwork precision, testimony to the hard behind-the-scene work put in by a team comprising of Rtns Divya Siddharth, Papa Rao and Ann Haritha. I was fortunate to be in that too.

The Secretary to the Sarada Vidyalaya group of Schools, Ms Harini Verma, spoke about the school and its work. Several monks from Sri Ramakrishna Mission were present to mark the occasion.

Rtn Divya Sidharth, Community Service Development Director and the Global Grant Chair, gave a report on the project, elaborating on the infrastructure provided to the school along with the training and teaching initiatives that formed part of the project. She thanked the sponsors who made it possible for the project to happen. It was heart-warming to see all the sponsors being present on the occasion. Divya then gave a befitting end to her report, which is reproduced at the end of this article too.

DG Rtn Babu Peram summarized the District’s efforts in various spheres and applauded the efforts of RCME.Swamiji Sukhadevananda, representing Sri Ramakrishna Mission alluding to the pinnacle of power attained by the special lady on the Dias, our chief guest who was responsible for the third largest defence force in the world, exhorted the girls present to aim for such heights. Swamiji blessed the Defence Minister in her endeavour to do more good work.

The unveiling of the commemorative plaque by the chief guest marked the inauguration of the project. Our partners in the project, Madras Dyslexia Association and India Literacy Project, were also called upon to unveil their segment of the project in the presence of the chief guest.

The MC, Ann Gayathri Ananth, introduced the chief guest in Tamil for the benefit of the thousands of children assembled. The Defence Minister is known for several path-breaking initiatives in the Defence Ministry. She is one who has held her own in a ministerial portfolio, hitherto a male bastion.The fluency of the introduction caused the chief guest to inquire if Gayathri was actually a Tamil teacher in the school and we will never know if she was actually responsible for the Minister to have delivered her speech in Tamil, a speech that will remain in the memories of the children life-long.

Mrs Nirmala Sitharaman inspired the audience with points that stem from simple thinking, buthas the power to bring about the metamorphosis of a society from good to great.Few pointers from her speech:Lift the people around you and take them along in your journey;Be inclusive in all your thoughts and actions;Do your bit and move on;Never think you are the carrier of any great loador the doer of all good on this earth;Believe in God and do your best;And Give – Don’t wait until you have enoughto give. That may never happen. Learn to give whatever be your position.

The Defence Minister reminisced about the time she spent reading several books from RKM book store in Mylapore, Chennai, pointing out she was not new to this institution and had revered its work since her younger days. These books have guided her and she values them even today. She mentioned that even Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was highly respectful of Sarada Devi as a scholar and the place of women in scholarly works was not new in Indian history. Mentioning that Vedas too have had women scholars who contributed, it was unfortunate that we lost that environment of women in educationover time and have reached a stage where we need to again work on empowering them through education. In this context, she applauded the efforts of institutions like RKM which brought education within reach of the underprivileged in the society.

The Minister appreciated Rotary Club of Madras East for providing to a deserving institution, so they can continue doing the wonderful work in empowering more girl children through education. She was highly appreciative of the inclusiveness the project brought about through the work done by Madras Dyslexia Association, especially considering the increase in number of dyslexic children.

She concluded the speech by pointing out that the World’s largest armed force, has very few women in its fold. She urged the girls present to join the armed forces and to her emphatic question”Will you?”, the girls responded with a resounding “Yes Ma’am”.She left the podium with a smile, possibly out of contentment in having reached out to school children (which she earlier confessed her love for) and in having done her bit for a better India.

Souvenirs were given away to all the sponsors, and mementoes handed over to the Chief guest by RCME as well as the school.

The overwhelming presence of the press was a bit intimidating initially, but ofcourse, we were with the Head of a 1.4 Million personnel Armed Force. That her presence made you feel strong, safe and mighty,despite her own towering personality,goes to show the simplicity with which she conducts herself.

The article is best concluded by reproducing Rtn. Divya’s words from her speech:

 Swami Vivekananda said‘We want the education by which character is formed, strength of mind is increased, the intellect is expanded and by which one can stand on one’s own feet’. 

We at Rotary Club of Madras East earnestly hope thru our endeavour that each BETI, each girl child at this school is inspired and empowered to stand on her own feet and embrace the world. 

Well done Divya and team! Hats off to all the effort on the project and the event. I know the pleasure in completing a Global Grant project.Its very hard work, but also very strong in delight and contentment quotient.

May this tribe increase.

Jai Hind!

For more photos of the event please click the below link