I’m going to take a brief sabbatical from these federings: I just took office as the first president of a newly chartered Rotary club.
It’s a “new-model club” designed to meet the needs of today’s younger, busier Rotarians: we meet during commute hour, for 45 minutes only; hors d’oeuvre, no sit-down meal; youngish (you wouldn’t know it by looking at the club president…); about a third of members are married couples; ~50% women; high energy – and as a new club, we are setting our own precedents as we go along. Needless to say, a lot of planning needs go into our first few weekly meetings. On top of that, we will have a big blow-out Chartering Celebration at the end of the month, and there’s much planning for that!
I think I’ve written a bit about Rotary International before. Despite its image as a social club for old white guys, “RI”, as it’s known, is much more than that. There are about 1.2 million Rotarians in something like 34,000 clubs in most countries of the world. The Rotary motto is “Service Above Self”, and this mantra manifests itself in innumerable local community projects (Rotarians seem to favor things like literacy, child and maternal health, community sports and recreational facilities) and international work.
It’s in International Projects that Rotary multiplies its impact, by working with Rotarians “on the ground” in regions of need. With sustainability as a central criterion, Rotary clubs in more wealthy nations work with local clubs in Africa, Central and South America, India and even China (though Communist nations are wary of involvement with such a “Capitalist” icon as Rotary) to create safe water supplies, open and maintain health clinics, start and sustain elementary and secondary schools, and much, much more.
On top of individual club-to-club efforts, Rotary as an institution funds a huge youth exchange program. Each year, RI and individual Rotary clubs sponsor about 8,000 international student exchanges. High school students, usually in their junior or senior years, travel to a host nation for a year of school and cultural experience. Local Rotary clubs host these students, and local Rotary families house them. Rotary also sponsors an international Peace and Conflict Resolution program in partnership with universities in Thailand, Japan, England, Austrialia, Sweden and the US. More than 500 Peace Fellows have graduated from these programs; many have gone on to establish peace and conflict resolution programs in their own locales.
Since 1947, Rotary International has sponsored more than 41,000 Ambassadorial Scholarships for undergraduate, graduate and vocational education all around the world. While studying in their host countries, Rotary Ambassadorial Scholars act as goodwill ambassadors for their home countries; when they return to their homes, they become ambassadors of their host countries while applying the knowledge they gained from their Ambassadorial studies.
Finally, there’s Polio Plus. This Rotary program to eliminate the scourge of Poliomyelitis from the entire world started with a successful project initiated by two Filipino Rotarians. Then, 25 years ago, Rotary International adopted the idea and took it “international”. Along the way, RI teamed up with the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, while Rotarians and their friends “on the ground” strove to immunize billions of children and adults. In India, for instance, immunized kids receive an indelible black ink mark on a finger. Then, Rotary workers flood train stations and other gathering places calling out “show me your finger!” Kids who don’t have the marked finger receive the oral vaccine on the spot. Last year, India was taken off the list of nations with endemic polio. Now only Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan remain. The Taliban institutes cease-fires when Rotary teams arrive in villages to immunize the residents. This past year, Rotarians contributed more than $215 million in response to a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation challenge. The Challenge having been met, the Foundation kicked in $355 million – its largest grant to date. That means Rotary and its partners now have more than $570 million to finance the final push to eradicate polio.
Interested in becoming a Rotarian? We are a by-invitation-only organization. Contact a Rotarian you know to talk about joining a local Club. I believe you will not regret becoming a part of such an important Force for Good in the world. Don’t know a Rotarian? Just look for the Rotary pin (identical to the logo, above) that most Rotarians wear with pride on their lapels or collars.
©2012 Thomas L Snyder