Adriana and I attended the 2016 International Assembly; sort of a mini Rotary Convention just for incoming District Governors and partners. Amid many speeches and presentations, one woman stood out for her simple but extremely moving eloquence.
A small woman, Usha Saboo, walked up the podium. There were no big degrees or professional qualifications to her name. Yet, there she stood, before a sea of past, present, and future Rotary leaders. She was humble.
Usha, wife to past Rotary International President Rajendra Saboo, shared her Rotary story. "Rotary found me unprepared. I had two small children. I argued when Raja became Club President. I complained. I nagged." But a visit to her spiritual guide changed her perspective. "See the world's pain and strife. Make this obstacle an opportunity."
Her vision changed from "mine" to "ours". From "I" to "we". The turning point was in the market. She stepped on a bundle of rags. Beneath it, Basappa. A man scarred by leprosy, in agony, with mutilated limbs. Instead of fleeing, she apologized, stayed. She learned of hundreds more in Chandigarh, homeless, hopeless.
Shaken, she told her husband. Raja called a club meeting. They planned help for these leprosy patients. For years, this project was Usha's focus. Today, the patient's children go to school. They live in a colony that's a town's pride.
Years later, a request from Mother Teresa's organization came. Funds for heart surgery for a child, Suresh. They raised money, but it was too late. Suresh died. It was a jolt. Usha and Raja started the "Rotary Heartline." Since 1998, more than 500 free heart surgeries have been performed for poor children from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uganda, Nepal, Rwanda.
Once, in Rwanda, some of these children and parents greeted her at the airport. "On their happy faces, I saw Rotary's mark. They'll forget our names, but not Rotary's," she said.
After Raja's RI duties as Rotary International President, they decided to dedicate time for hands-on service. Their journey started in 1998 with a medical mission to Uganda. These missions included 30-35 doctors, plus non-medical volunteers like Usha and Raja. Despite long trips, heavy equipment, minimal amenities, they pressed on. "We are bridges from pain to joy, ambassadors of peace, messengers of light and love," Usha said.
She had many roles on these missions. Mother, nurse, waiter. But, the smiles, they were what she treasured most. "Each visit, I leave a part of me, and bring back beautiful memories."
Usha learned from these visits and projects. Patience. Tolerance. Gratitude. The power of love. The power of a smile. No classroom or book could teach these.
"After seeing the scars of genocide victims in Rwanda, I'm no longer conscious of the leukoderma patches on my face. I am fortunate," she said. But these activities depend on Rotarians' contributions to The Rotary Foundation.
India is polio-free thanks to the generosity of Rotarians worldwide. A polio-free world is possible with our continuous giving. "A strong TRF is needed to add more muscle to our caring hands and loving hearts," she said.
She closed by saying:
Sharing in abundance is ordinary. Sharing when you have nothing is generosity. Immunizing our own kids is ordinary. Immunizing all the children of the world is Rotary. Traveling for pleasure is ordinary. Traveling on medical missions and giving vision, mobility, and life to others is Rotary. Making homes, toilets and providing fresh water for ourselves is ordinary. Making homes, toilets and digging water wells for deprived people is Rotary. Giving education to our own kids is ordinary. Building thousands of schools for poor children is Rotary. Donating blood for a loved one is very ordinary. Starting blood banks for the communities is Rotary. This rise from "Self" to "Service Above Self" is the power and soul of Rotary.