New Novus Rotary President Maya Vansia has started her presidential year with a bang.
The first three weeks were hectic as Maya and her husband Pradip prepared for, and celebrated, the wedding of their daughter Priya to Mathew.
Then, with most of their house guests driven to Heathrow after the wedding, Maya arrived in time to receive her chain of office from Immediate Past President Jason Chauhan, himself just back from Surat, India.
Maya’s first task was the most important any President can undertake; to induct a new member.
Up stepped Kartar Singh Bring, who received his membership badge from Maya and the warm congratulations from his fellow Rotarians.
It has become a tradition within Novus Rotary that — rather than give an introductory talk about themselves — new members are interviewed a la Michael Parkinson but by founder member and assistant secretary Frazer Robson.
Kartar said he was a born-and-bred ‘Leicesterfarian’ who still lives in the same house in Evington in which his family was living when he was born 32 years ago. It is a large family; he is the youngest of seven. At Beauchamp College, Oadby, Kartar was the first male student governor.
He recounted that on one occasion he saw a boy — not a student at Beauchamp — in the office of the Principal, Richard Parker. Suspicious, Kartar challenged the boy and discovered only later that the visitor was the innocent son of Mr Parker, who praised Kartar for having done the right thing.
Doing the right thing became a theme that Frazer teased out of Kartar who studied law at Leicester University, loving the logic and the ethics behind the system. However, having worked for several law firms while doing a masters in legal practice, Kartar questioned what he wanted from the rest of his life. By that time, Kartar had already been volunteering as a mentor/advisor for undergraduates, for the Black Environment Network and at Leicester and Leicestershire environmental charity Groundworks.
Additionally, he was working at the St Philips interfaith centre in Evington.
Four people — only one a fellow Sikh — suggested he apply for a job as a chaplain. He told Frazer and his new club colleagues of the time he was driving on the M69 when his car got a flat tyre. While waiting in the rain at the roadside for the AA, Kartar’s phone rang. It was an urgent plea for help from a man in prison who Kartar had counselled previously.
That satisfied Kartar that becoming a chaplain was the right choice. As well as being an expert on Sikh practices, ethics and beliefs, he has undertaken a Masters in inter-religious relations and has turned up at hospital with a Christian Bible and rosary, since he does not consider himself to be a chaplain to Sikhs, but rather a chaplain who happens to be a Sikh.
“I am there to speak truth, without far or favour,” Kartar told his audience. “I am not there [in a hospital] as part of the institution, so I can be a friend to the patient and can be critical of the hospital.”
He considers himself to be in his ideal job: “i’m being paid to be me,” he said.
Kartar is the only lead Sikh hospital chaplain in the country. One of the three hospitals he and works for, in Leicester, Northampton and Birmingham, is a mental-health hospital.
Parkinson-like, Frazer asked about his life away from the hospitals. Kartar is already busy at St Philips Centre, Leicestershire Sikh Alliance, listening to audiobooks and playing chess to what appears to be a fairly high standard.
It was as vice-chair of governors of Falcons Primary School that Kartar came to the attention of Novus Rotary, which has created a Peace Garden there. On March 1 2019 Novus invited Debbie Hodge the then President of Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland to visit the school to see the garden.
Debbie, the highest Rotarian in the land, strode into the staff room there, saw the Novus members but immediately warmly greeted Kartar, with whom she has worked alongside for several years as a fellow-chaplain. “With such a recommendation,” joked Kartar’s proposer Jim Matthews, “how could I not recommend that we invite Kartar to join us?”
Kartar’s first knowledge of Rotary was at Beauchamp College when he competed, unsuccessfully, as part of team in the Youth Speaks competition organised by the Rotary Clubs of Oadby and Oadby Launde.
Among those in the audience keen to welcome Kartar into Rotary International, the organisation of 1.2 million members around the world united by the phrase Service Above Self, was Rtn Nazir Nathvani, a member of the Rotary Club of Lilongwe, Malawi, in east Africa.
Nazir, the CEO of a money exchange bureau, told members a little about himself and how Rotary changes the lives of people in Malawi, often with the help of the Rotary Club of Northampton Becket.
Another visitor originating from Africa was Dr Latifa Abuazoum who came to the UK from Libya as an asylum seeker and who now has been granted leave to remain here.
Latifa, an aeronautical engineer, is now trying to help other refugees from her native country and was visiting to ask Novus Rotary to help them cope with the trauma of what is happening in Tripoli and other Libyan cities.
Also present was Professor Atsuko Miyake, who has been studying at Leicester University since April. Atsuko first came to England 25 years ago to study at Nottingham University. She was sponsored by Rotary and she was cared for by members of the Rotary Club of Newark, Notts., which she had visited for the first time in 25 years earlier in the day.
“Rotary Connects The World” clearly is no empty slogan for Novus Rotary!
Last edited: 23.50 on Friday, 26th July 2019