By Rakesh K. Gaur, former Group Study Exchange team member
As a citizen of India, I have been troubled by my country’s population growth, economic crisis, poverty, crimes against women, and child abuse. I had the privilege of taking part in a Group Study Exchange, supported by The Rotary Foundation, 30 years ago, and it totally changed my perspective on life, and kindled my urge to do something to help our society.
I was selected for the exchange team to visit Washington-Maryland, USA, in 1990. I was the only member selected from a government job. The exchange happened at the beginning of my career in the government sector and at the threshold of my career. The program was a unique cultural and vocational exchange opportunity for all of us.
We got to experience United States’ culture and institutions, observe how their vocations were practiced, develop personal and professional relationships, and exchange ideas. The host Rotarians planned our trip very meticulously and made all out efforts to make our tour comfortable and pleasant.
I was immediately impressed with what I saw in Rotary, and how its members were dedicated to making the world a better place. In any area, economy, healthcare, education, safety, and quality of life, you will find Rotary’s presence. I remained connected to Rotary as founding president of an alumni association, and as a member.
In 1997, some professional friends of mine, who were accountants, lawyers, and businessmen, joined me in forming Udisha, an organization that focuses on women and child development. In 2007, we received special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
Through Udisha, we have been running advocacy campaigns in cooperation with the Women’s World Summit Foundation (WWSF) in Geneva for more than 15 years. With WWSF, we have organized programs on preventing child abuse to mark World Day for Prevention of Child Abuse. More than 25,000 children, teachers, parents, and people from all sections of society have been educated about protecting the rights of children, preventing abuse, and pursuing provision of the Right to Education Act.
In recognition of our campaign, the WWSF selected Udisha from among all of its 400 coalition partners to receive a 2011 International Award for Innovative Practices for Prevention of Child Abuse.
I have no hesitation in saying that the Group Study Exchange changed our team’s lives forever. The members of the other group exchange team that visited India have also carved out a niche in their respective professions to benefit society. We shall always remain indebted to The Rotary Foundation for giving us this opportunity.
Editor’s note: From its inception in 1965 until 2013, the Group Study Exchange program provided grants for teams of men and women in the early stages of their business and professional careers to travel abroad and share vocational information with the representatives of their respective professions in another country. Many exchanges between paired Rotary districts occurred each year, advancing the program’s ultimate goal of promoting international understanding and goodwill. More than 70,000 individuals participated in a Group Study Exchange over the program’s history. Today, districts can fund exchanges, including those involving vocational training teams, through district grants.