Vital Connections Made at Visakhapatnam Zone Institute

ESRAG members dove into Rotary’s multi-Zone Institute Dec. 9-11 at Visakhapatnam, with zest and great success in raising the profile of environmental work.  We connected with top leaders, from RI President Nominee Stephanie Urchick to current and upcoming District Governors from Zones 4,5,6, and 7. Networking throughout the weekend, we energized Rotarians about opportunities including watershed restoration, solid waste, cleaner cookstoves, and mangrove projects. We fielded a multitude of inquiries, and will follow up to support Clubs in their work, including global grant applications.

This region has seven women DGEs, all of them ESRAG members! The role of women was a major theme of this Institute, including RI President Jennifer Jones’ leading the first-ever Women in Rotary Conference, which emphasized girls’ empowerment. We can build on this by promoting low-cost, reusable menstrual hygiene resources to help girls stay in school.

I was ably assisted by fellow ESRAG members Dr. S. Rajalakshmi, Booma Mahendravarman, and ESRAG South Asia Chapter Co-Chair MK Sivabal, all of us from D3203 Environmental Team. By attending this Zone Institute, we gained access to and visibility with the DGEs from 42 districts.  By attending Zone Institutes yearly, ESRAG members will gain more traction in expanding Rotarians’ environmental action and impact.  I informed RIPN Stephanice Urchick about ESRAG’s Climate Action Plan, which ESRAG Chair Pat Armstrong then emailed to her.

This Zone Institute had only one environmental session, but we were able to leverage it by connecting conferees to river strategies championed by ESRAG.

Photo: ESRAG South Asia Mangroves Team.  From left, ESRAG Projects Director Dr. Mina Venkataraman, PDG Ajay Gupta (D3141), and Biswajit Ghosh.  Rtn. Ajay, a trustee of the Rotary India Water C0nservation Unit, conducted the mangroves breakout session at the 2022 RI Convention in Houston. Rtn. Biswajit serves on the board of the Rotary Action Group for Community Economic Development and as COO/CEO of Rotary India Humanitarian Foundation and Rotary India Literacy Mission. He helps build connections with organizations for community development  and plays a key role in vetting the Sunderbans Mangroves project.

The environmental talk at the Zone Institute covered groundwater recharging and watershed restoration by internationally-renowned conservationist Rajendra Singh, whose NGO Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS) has helped over 1,000 villages in semi-arid areas build infrastructure to conserve and protect their water supply, while also restoring watersheds.

The Government of India has a Memorandum of Understanding with Singh and the Rotary India Humanitarian Foundation, which has committed to cover 10% of the Government’s goal of groundwater aquifer restoration in the next six years. Past RI President Shekhar Mehta will be leading this work for Rotary. I had the opportunity to tell Rajendra Singh about the Adopt-a-River initiative which ESRAG is promoting worldwide with the UN Environment Programme and Rotary’s Action Groups for water and sanitation (WASH-RAG) and peace.

I’m delighted to report that the Adopt-a-River project in my District (3203) won our District Gvernor B. Elangkumaran the Public Image Award at this Institute, attracting the interest of the DGEs across these four Zones. Chaired by ESRAG South Asia Co-Chair Sivabel, this is a ridge-to-watershed project along 190 km of river flowing through our district.  37 of our 94 Rotary Clubs are along this waterway and the DGE and DGN are committed to continuing the project.