Manix and I enjoying Valdis Ice cream when he visited Iceland in 2018

My friend Manickam Narayanan visited Iceland in 2018 on the way back from Canada where he was competing in Ultimate Championship. It was great to meet him and talk about everything, since I had not seen him for over 25 years. While we were talking about a number of things, he mentioned the NGO that his parents founded almost 20 years back called Pudiyador. I was inspired to hear him talk about how Pudiyador is working at the grassroots in Chennai, empowering and educating women and children in slums that are very close to where my parents used to live. I offered to help in anyway that I can, we promised to keep in touch and said our goodbyes.

On an Elephant to the Jaipur Fort

My family and I went to India in December of 2019. We spent a week in Chennai and a week traveling to Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. It was a memorable trip. When I was in Chennai, I met with Manickam and Jessica, the Outreach Director for Pudiyador. They shared their program details with me and I offered to present their funding requirements as a project to my Rotary Club in Reykjavik to support. I have been a member of the Rotary Reykjavik International Club since 2007. Our club does one project every year where we contribute a small amount of money to help some cause that does not have market support. Rotary organization has been around for a long time and Rotary’s Moto of Service Above Self and the guiding principles with the 4 way test have been a northern light for me personally and professionally. The Rotary way also aligns very well with what I aspire to do with my life. The 4 way test is

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  3. Will it bring GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIP?
  4. Will it be beneficial for ALL concerned?

I have used the above questions when I have been stuck in a dilemma about decisions. I have not written more about this part of my journey but I thought 2020 might be not a bad year to start. Organizations like the Rotary or the Lions Club have done incredible work over the years where market forces have failed. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contributed a $100 million grant in 2007 in partnership with the Rotary International to End Polio. Rotary International committed to raising another $100 million to support the End Polio campaign. I remember this very well because that was my first year as a Rotarian. Rotary has done incredible work to end polio and as of 2019 we have eradicated 99.9% of cases, there are only 2 countries where this virus is still found. I know we will end polio because of the commitment and efforts of Rotary International. Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has continued their support in this partnership and a new $450 million funding effort is underway.

Coming back to my conversation with Jessica, the outreach director of Pudiyador and Manickam. I shared with them the news that I had shared the activities of Pudiyador to my Rotary Club. My club members with the support of our current President Raymond Snider had unanimously approved supporting Pudiyador. I suggested to Jessica and Manickam that they find a local Rotary Club in Chennai and my Rotary Club in Iceland will partner with them to raise funds to support Pudiyador.

Jessica, wrote me a note saying that they had found a Rotary Club in Chennai willing to partner with our Rotary Club in Iceland. Here is the email that Jess wrote to me:

Thank you both so much for your willingness to support Pudiyador. We are very excited to connect with both of you! Before, I dive into the details of everything, I just wanted to give brief introductions so that we are all on the same page. Bala is a good friend of one of the co-founders of Pudiyador (Manickam) and a member of Reykjavik Rotary International Club. Ramkumar is the father of Swapnaa’s friend (PT Arun) whom we reached out to once we understood that we needed a Chennai partner to collaborate with Reykjavik Rotary International Club. Ramkumar is a veteran from Rotary Club of Madras Metro and he was formerly the district governor that included Chennai. Incidentally, he met the governor of Rotary’s Iceland district while he was there on a visit last year. We feel like this connection was bound to happen!

Ramkumar and Bala, as you are well aware, Chennai is on lockdown. Although we had initially reached out to you for an infrastructural project, we think it is best to move it to the backburner until this pandemic settles, and focus on our urgent relief efforts.

Pudiyador has been providing relief grocery packages to roughly 200 of the 1700 families in the communities that we operate in since April 6th. These 200 are families with infants and children who have been attending our programming, but the larger population needs our help too. Over the past week, we have partnered with a few other NGOs in Chennai who are doing similar work in other communities and starting today (April 22nd), we will be providing meals to over 1000 families every day. With the lockdown extended to May 3rd, and the worrisome global trends, it is becoming increasingly clear to us that as an organization, we need to be thinking in the 1-3 month range (at a minimum) in terms of providing immediate relief for our communities.

Currently, it is costing us roughly 700 INR to feed a family of 4 for a week. Therefore, approx 47.6 lakhs INR ($68,000 USD) will feed 1700 families in Pudiyador communities for the month of May. 

During a call with Swapnaa, Ramkumar mentioned that the collaboration between the Reykjavik and Madras clubs would be for a Global Grant. What steps need to be taken to apply for such a grant? 

I look forward to hearing from you both.
Stay safe and healthy.
Warm regards,

Email from Jessica Broder, Outreach Director, Pudiyador

The above note struck another cord with me, I want to believe that we have eradicated hunger from our world but that is not the case. The communities supported by Pudiyador just don’t have the means to even feed themselves if they are unable to go out and work. There is no public safety net in India. I know it is not a popular thing to say but that is the truth. India for all its progress and advancements still struggles with giving equal opportunities for all its citizens. I have a renewed focus now to help and serve. The first project is to help Pudiyador get as much funding as we can raise so we can get those communities back on their feet.

My Rotary Club invited the Rotary District Governor Anna Stefansdottir to participate with us in the project to raise funding for Pudiyador. Anna, not only was willing to support by contributing funds into our project but also encouraged all the Rotary Clubs in Iceland to participate. This was a great boost to the efforts and we are well on the way to raise enough money to support over 1700 families during these times. The funding is going to be used to provide provisions to the families and we are looking to buy tablet computers which can be used to keep the kids from these communities engaged in learning. I am inspired by all the support for help that I have received from my club members and other Rotarians.

COVID-19 has shown how vulnerable our economic system is even in the most advanced countries. The way we have managed to keep our communities fed and functioning can be totally disrupted if we all need to be on a lock down. The easy way is to down play the issue but the truth is we need to find alternative ways to manage. Universal Basic Income has been thrown around as viable alternative, I think it could work. The challenge is always how can you make this equitable?

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