Before he gives a speech, K.R. “Ravi” Ravindran doesn’t like flowery, adulatory introductions. They make him uncomfortable. The 2015-16 Rotary president would rather keep a low profile and share the credit. If it were up to him, you probably wouldn’t even be reading this article.
Negotiating Days of Tranquility during the Sri Lankan civil war so that health workers could administer drops of polio vaccine? Although it was on his desk that the agreement landed, he says, a lot of people worked to make that happen. Rebuilding 23 tsunami-damaged schools for 14,000 children? He merely led the committee. Taking a label-printing business from a small outfit operating in a space the size of a garage to a global powerhouse in the packaging business that has helped change the value-added tea industry in his country? Well, he simply happened to be in the right place at the right time.
“I’m sometimes introduced as a self-made man,” says Ravindran, a member of the Rotary Club of Colombo. “You’ve got to be utterly egocentric to believe you are self-made. Each one of us is made because so many people helped us become who we are.
One of the reasons I work so much for Rotary is that I have been helped by so many people, and often you never have a chance to reciprocate,” he explains. “The only way you can is by helping others. When the people I help ask me, ‘What can I do?’ I say, ‘Go and help someone else in return.’”
For Ravindran, paying it forward isn’t a fad, it’s a way of life. His theme for this Rotary year, Be a Gift to the World, also summarizes his personal philosophy.
This is heaven. A dizzying drive has led us up 5,000 feet, past rice paddies, gem mines, and the occasional elephant roaming in the fields, over a thundering waterfall, and down a bumpy cobblestone road to the tea estate of Ravindran’s family. Lush tea bushes blanket the rocky cliff sides. We’re at the edge of the world, above the clouds, in a scene from a movie come to life.
The property, called Kelburne, is mere miles from the fields where Thomas Lipton – yes, that Lipton – began growing Ceylon tea. Ravindran frequently takes his visitors to tour Lipton’s first factory, a long white building humming with conveyor belts, dryers, and fans.
Ravindran’s maternal grandfather grew tea at Kelburne in the 1950s; he was one of the first Sri Lankans to buy land from British plantation owners in that region. After Ravindran graduated from Loyola College in Chennai, India, with a degree in commerce, he came back here to learn the business side of the estate.
The long days began at 5:30 a.m., with assigning duties, surveying the fields on foot, and visiting the factory. For Ravindran, they reinforced the value of hard work and of treating others with kindness. “I realized that I related very well to people on the estate, and I started getting involved in their lives – finding ways of supplementing their income, improving housing,” he says.........
RI President K R Ravindran was “astounded” to discover at an international seminar on human trafficking, hosted jointly by The Carter Center and Rotarians Against Child Slavery at Atlanta in May, that “this beautiful, diverse, modern city, which will be home to our Rotary Convention two years from now — is, according to the US Department of Justice, the largest hub of trafficking in the US. More than 100,000 children are forced into sexual exploitation in this country every year; this number does not even include the adults.”
But this kind of news, as that of hundreds of thousands of children dying each year due to diarrhoeal diseases, rarely makes the headlines because such subjects are “difficult, uncomfortable and unpleasant.”
Ravindran admitted that recently when he was asked to address a Rotary workshop in India to educate parents and teachers about how best to protect children from abuse and exploitation, he wondered what he would say as this wasn’t “something that happens in my country … child abuse is a Western problem.” But when he sought some background material and statistics from the organisers on child abuse in India and internationally, he was in for a shock. “I found that such abuse of children is neither a Western problem nor an Eastern problem. It is a human problem. And it is a much larger problem than I had realised.”
The same was true when he was invited to speak at the Atlanta meet. “I thought trafficking is something that happens in the brothels of seedy cities and the streets of red light areas. I never thought of it on the fishing boats of Indonesia, or the construction sites of Dubai. Still less did I think of it in terms of the migrant workers of Mexico, or Malaysia, or my own Sri Lanka.”
After this “eye-opening experience” of the all-pervasive nature of this menace, he was convinced that “it is our human responsibility not to tolerate it — not in our cities, not in our countries, and not in the businesses we deal with or the products we buy and use.” The first step in fighting it was to recognise the global nature of human trafficking, raise awareness in our own communities and, more important, end the notion that “trafficking is too shameful to even discuss.”
Many governments, led by the US, were increasingly recognising their responsibility to end human trafficking, but along with governments and law enforcement agencies, civil society would have to work to stop “something that we all know to be unacceptable. We need to stop the traffickers, we need to hold the criminals accountable, we need to have procedures in place so that victims know they will not be prosecuted for coming forward. We need businesses to know how their products are being produced, at every step of the supply chain, to ensure that slave labour is never involved — not only because ethics and the law demand it, but because their customers demand it.”- Read more in Rotary News Online
In a small village in rural Afghanistan, girls who are graduating from high school have nowhere to go for college. We can change that. We can build a school today where these girls can go to become nurses, teachers and engineers. The Zabuli Technical College will make history as the first girls’ college in rural Afghanistan.
We learned about the need for this college while filming the feature documentary “What Tomorrow Brings” (in post-production). The film tells the story of the very first girls’ K-12 school in Deh’Subz, Afghanistan. Now, it’s time to send them to college!
This is an opportunity to create a living demonstration of the power of knowledge to change everything.
Already, the girls in this community are experiencing enormous success in grades K-12. Since we began filming in 2009, we’ve witnessed the remarkable changes made possible by education. Illiterate fathers who were leery about sending their daughters into the classroom now express pride that their little girls can help them read letters—even in English.
The leading men in the community—the village elders—who once refused to look Razia in the eyes, now praise her efforts and support the school’s growth. Girls who once were silent about forced engagements and early marriages are now speaking up and finding ways to negotiate more time in school. Just imagine what will be possible with a college education, a job and an income.
Building this girls’ college solves a seemingly intractable problem in Afghanistan—the lack of higher education available to girls in rural communities. And it does it in a way that makes sense for Afghanistan. This is not a western answer to an Afghan problem. It is an Afghan answer to an Afghan problem. Students will graduate in two years with marketable, much-needed skills and the ability to work in schools, businesses, government, and health care—careers that are compatible with being a married, observant Afghan woman. The new facility will include a medical clinic where midwifery students will train alongside doctors and midwives. This medical facility will have an enormous impact on a severely medically underserved area with no district hospital.
How do we know it can be done? Because Rotarian Razia Jan has already done it! The K-12 school she opened in 2008 has an attendance rate of 93%, a retention rate of 96%, and has dramatically increased enrollment year after year (today serving more than 480 students). By the Afghan Ministry of Education’s metrics for administration, curricula, and facilities, the school is the top private school in the district. A representative from the Ministry is on record describing the school as “perfect.”
For two years, Razia has eyed an adjacent piece of land that would be ideal for the girls’ college. This campaign will cover the cost of that property and construction of the Zabuli Technical College. Just $115,000 makes that possible! Should we exceed our goal, things get even more exciting. Our stretch goals include everything from opening science and computer labs to buying books and winter coats. More than 75% of the girls in this village live below the poverty line as defined by the United Nations (subsisting on less than $1US per day), and our goal is to support them and make their dream of education a reality.
Even if you can’t contribute financially, you can make a big impact. Spreading the word makes you a light in these girls’ lives. Thank you!
Producer / Director, WHAT TOMORROW BRINGS
Executive Director, Razia’s Ray of Hope
Posted by Sunil K Zachariah on June 8, 2015 at 9:30am
This community operates in accordance with Rotary International policy, but is not an agency of, nor is it controlled by Rotary International