Rotary in action

Murli Pendharkar at an all girls school near Ichalkaranji.

Murli Pendharkar has been involved with the Rotary Club of Kelowna over 30 years and during that time has completed over 40 international projects in India, the land of his birth.

These projects have been in many towns and villages in various central Indian states, from Gujarat to Maharashtra. After studies in mathematics and physics and teacher training at the Visva Bharati University established by Rabindranath Tagore near Calcutta, he moved to Tanganyika (now Tanzania) to teach in rural schools.

He came to Canada in 1961 and taught in schools in Saskatchewan, and was later superintendent of schools in various cities in B.C.. After his retirement in 1986, he began his long-volunteer engagement and in 1987 joined the Rotary Club of Kelowna.

The Indian projects Pendharkar completed were at first small ones using the Rotary matching-grant formula and all were designed to improve the schools in rural India. This includes toilet blocks and desks for classrooms and upgrades to schools. For all of these projects, Pendharkar worked with local clubs in India to identify needs in their communities, and so over the years he has developed important contacts in various cities and he is well-known and respected for his work there.

It is the Indian Rotary clubs in large cities that want to work with nearby villages to improve conditions. Once needs have been identified, Pendharkar would get approval from the Rotary Club of Kelowna and then prepare grant applications. This involves input from the receiving club to get quotes and find people to carry out the work.

Funds for his projects has come first from the Rotary Club of Kelowna, then the Rotary District to which the club belongs, namely 5060, and then the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International. Funds are also contributed by the Indian club and their relevant district.

Most projects have ranged from $50,000 to $99,000, though there has been one for much more. Once funds are received, they are transferred to India so that the project can begin. Strict records of spending is maintained and tracked throughout the project. All of the funds procured go to the project, none are for Rotarians who do this work or their travel.

And, over the many years, Pendharkar has done projects in India, he has spent a lot of his own money to travel to India and contributed a lot of unpaid time to develop the projects.

In the mid-1990s, along with Jeff Hartt, Pendharkar formed a committee of all the eight Okanagan Rotary clubs for an initiative in Amreli, Gujarat state in west central India. In this dry farming area, reliable rainfall is a serious problem. Pendharkar went to India seven times to meet with Rotarians led by Dr. Panchal in Amreli and later to see the progress of the project, and together they identified the need for a dam. Dr. Panchel was a founding member of the Amreli Rotary club in 1980 which now has about 25 members. At that time, the nearest dam was 25 miles away and Amreli only had water for four hours per week for eight months of the year.

A water engineer from Saskachewan went to Amreli and confirmed that a dam was viable. In addition to the Kamnath Dam, a sewer-treatment plant was proposed. This became an intense Rotary project from 1998 to 2001, involving fundraising by eight Okanagan Rotary clubs, the Amreli club and Rotary districts 5060 and 3060 resulting in more than $800,000 being dedicated to the project. Known as a 3H project — health, hunger and humanity — it received significant matching grants from the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International.

This has been a significant project for the community which now has year-round water. The area was excavated to allow for the depth of the dam, and the year after it was built there was a huge monsoon and the dam was filled. Over time, due to the dam, the water table in the area has been raised from 125 feet to 25 feet, enabling more successful farming in this dry area.The earth that was removed was used to build gardens adjacent to the dam where families gather to celebrate special occasions. A more recent project Murli led with Dr Panchal is at the Chital High School in a village near Amreli. This includes renovations to the school, a new computer laboratory, new desks, and a new water purification system located on the roof of the school for drinking water for all the students.

Additionally, there are two new toilet blocks, one each for girls and boys. It is particularly important for the girls who do not attend school at times of the month without private toilets. In a village 90 minutes from Chalisgon, east of Mumbai, Pendharkar spearheaded a project for the village of Bahadarpur. Here the Chalisgon Rotary Club, led by Shashikant Dharme, had partnered with an NGO Bhagini Nivedita Gramin Vigyan Niketan founded by social worker Nilima Mishra who is president and who has won awards for her work in the community.

Villagers had previously walked many miles to collect water which took up many hours of their day. So, the plan was to locate water and dig a borehole, which was done. Water pumped from this well was put through a reverse osmosis process in a new building with an excellent water purification system. Before the project was started, four men from the village were trained in another town on the process and maintenance of the system.Villagers have a card which they load with rupees and use on the card reader.

They pay five rupees for 20 litres of pure drinking water. Schools in the village receive water free and outlying villages can have access to the water. There are numerous signs around the village recognizing Rotary, some 8 x 8 feet and many with slogans encouraging sustainable use of water: “Let us all take the oath together — That we will together help make our India Clean;” “Let our village be forever the cleanest —With our pledge to volunteer together to guarantee it;” “Making thorough washing a habit will ensure remaining clean and disease-free forever.”

In addition, 300 toilets were built attached to homes, small toilet buildings, all of which are painted white with a large Rotary wheel and the number of the toilet. And a sink for washing hands was added to the outside. An important part of this project was health education and training on how to use the facilities and keep them clean. Each home has liquid soap with Rotary logo on the label.

Within one year, infections and illnesses have been reduced.In the city of Ichalkaranji east of Mumbai, Pendharkar has worked with SN Agrawal over many years on various projects. The Ichalkaranji club was formed in 2010, some of the founding members were women. The club now has 44 members, including 12 women who are all very active. The club focuses on womens’ health, does medical checkups, and provides some medical clinics.

Pendharkar has joined with them to build toilet blocks and provide desks in many outlying village schools. This work has provided employment in the local communities and a workshop has been set up to build the desks.

Prior to starting the buildings the site is marked in white and aprayer ceremony, a puja, is performed with fire, water and offerings. When Pendharkar has been present at theses time, he has participated in these ceremonies.

In nearby Kolhapur, there is the Helpers of the Handicapped school. Pendharkar has done three projects with this school and is recognized on a plaque in the school. Most important was a project to make the school accessible, and also to provide toilets and supplies.With all of the projects he has completed, Pendharkar has made a very significant contribution to many communities in India over many years.

Though he came from a very poor family, he managed to get a good education and always understood that this was key to development of communities. His commitment to schools reflects this belief in the value of education.

We salute him for his dedication, his commitment, his hard work and his great success in this volunteer work.