Eighteen-year-old Barkaath gave up on life when he lost his right hand in an accident. But, a chance meeting with Chip Ross, a Rotarian from Canada, assured him that he could begin life anew. Mr. Ross, who is the coordinator of Helping Hands, a Rotarian initiative towards the cause of the physically challenged, lives with an artificial arm. He lost his right hand in an industrial accident when he was 21. Mr. Ross, who was in Chennai for a Rotary event, talked to Rasmi Binoy about his life and work.

Mr. Ross showed by example that disability is not a handicap. He completed his masters degree and got a Ph.D in geography after he lost his arm.

At a function jointly organised on Friday by the Rotary Club of Chennai Kilpauk (RCCK) and Strathcona Sunrise Rotary Club, Canada, Mr. Ross gave away 55 tricycles to the disabled. Mr. Ross was one of the first persons to reach out to the tsunami-affected soon after the gargantuan waves caused devastation in the State's coastal areas in December 2004. He was able to raise Rs.6 lakhs in days, which the Rotary Club used to kick-start relief measures. The aid was instrumental not only in providing basic necessities but also in implementing `Project Smiles'.

"When you are helping people who really need it, you are helping yourself," says Mr. Ross. The Rotary Club of Chennai Kilpauk bestowed the Paul Harris Fellow Award, the highest honour instituted by the Rotary International, on him. The Rotary Club of Chennai Kilpauk performs corrective surgeries with the help of the Andhra Mahila Sabha Hospital, besides providing artificial limbs and wheelchairs for the disabled. Ross's interaction helps the club get enough artificial limbs. He has told the club not to turn down requests owing to the non-availability of funds or artificial limbs.

"Being disabled is not a handicap. If you can work hard, you will succeed. Now, I am able to help the less fortunate, but I am well aware that I may also need a helping hand at another point of time," said Mr. Ross. Chip Ross' aim is clear: touching hearts by lending a hand to the physically challenged.

In the words of E.R. Sreevatsa, president of the Rotary Club of Chennai Kilpauk, "Ross creates a sense of dignity for the people who are physically challenged."