Rotarians get full dose of Indian society

Burnsville Rotarian and longtime resident Sam Dalal administered polio-immunization drops to an infant during a February trip to India. Dalal is one of three Burnsville Breakfast Rotary Club members who made the trip. He grew up in Mumbai when it was Bombay. (Submitted photo)

Sam Dalal of Burnsville knows the territory, but he wanted his Rotary friends to experience the different faces of India in manageable doses.

Dalal worked with an Indian travel agent who arranged all manner of transport for the 17-member crew of Rotarians and family members from Rotary District 5950.

“If you haven’t traveled to the Third World and seen the poverty, it just kind of hits you in the face,” said Dalal, 68, who grew up in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and came to the United States at age 22. “We kind of mixed in stays at five-star hotels and stays in the back country of India. They experienced both, and they were able to stomach that well.”

As a leader of District 5950’s Friendship Exchange, Dalal suggested the India trip as a cultural exchange that would also give Rotarians a firsthand glimpse of some of their philanthropy. Three Burnsville Breakfast Rotary Club members were on the trip, along with Rotarians from Bloomington, Eden Prairie and Edina.

The group traveled within the northern tier of the Indian subcontinent on its 14-day February trip, visiting sites of programs that District 5950 has supported with its donations.

One is the International Village Clinic just north of the city of Varanasi. The main clinic also supports smaller medical practices and children’s nutrition efforts in surrounding villages.

It was founded by Dr. Abul Sharah, a Bloomington Rotarian who rose from poverty in his native country to senior engineering and marketing positions at Honeywell and MTS Systems. He returned to northern India to look after the International Village Clinic.

“I believe that people start lining up at 4 in the morning at that clinic when the doctor is in that day,” said Burnsville Rotarian Carol McDonald, who was joined on the trip by Dalal and Burnsville Rotarian Bob Stowell, governor of District 5950. “They see about 200 patients a day.”

Another Bloomington Rotarian, Sandhya Gupta, is a former engineer at Polar Semiconductor in Bloomington who now spends most of the year in her homeland. She sponsors, with the help of Rotary, children’s programs in the cities of Patna and Palampur, including an orphanage and girls schools for children from the “Dalit” (outcast) segment of society. She’s a strong supporter of Nari Gunjan, an Indian women’s organization.

“These kids are all girls coming from what in India is called the untouchable class,” Dalal said of the girls schools. “It’s sort of the lowest rung of the social structure there. When they come from these families, they generally have no future at all. They’re brought to this school. They’re boarded there and fed there and educated. And they have become just remarkable young ladies.”

During their journeys,
Rotarians cut the ribbon on bathrooms at a girls school that were built with matching grant funds from District 5950 clubs.

Many rural Indian schools have primitive toilets that some students — especially girls — are embarrassed to use, which leads some of them to drop out.

Rotarians also administered polio-immunization drops to children. Eliminating polio is one of Rotary’s chief goals.

“It was wonderful to see the work that
Rotary does in other parts of the world,” McDonald said. “We sponsored them for many years, but to actually visit the country and witness and participate in the work, it was so compelling.”

Rotary clubs in India treated the Minnesota visitors “like dignitaries,” McDonald said.

Overnight train trips and long van and bus rides were hardly luxurious travel for the Minnesotans.

“They got exposed to everything,” said Dalal, a Burnsville resident since 1979 who has a State Farm Insurance agency in Prior Lake.

But the trip included a visit to the Taj Mahal and a stay in Mumbai for shopping and conventional tourism.

“All my relatives were mad as heck at me because I could only spend two nights in Mumbai and I spent all my time with the Rotary club, so they didn’t get to see me,” Dalal said. “But I’m going to have to go back soon.”

Some of the travelers will give a presentation on their trip at the Thursday, May 9, meeting of Burnsville Breakfast Rotary, to be held at 7 a.m. at the Chiante Grill, 14296 Plymouth Ave., Burnsville.

Bob Stowell’s trip blog is at