Creating leaders through Rotary Family Health Days

By Alicia Michael, President of Rotarians for Family Health & AIDS Prevention (RFHA)

As three young ladies entered the Rotary Family Health Days camp site, I noticed their bright green school uniforms and their even brighter smiles.  I was at one of 380 sites operating for three days across Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda this past October.  These young ladies had every appearance of typical teenage girls on their way home from school on a Friday afternoon.

However, most would find that there was nothing typical about this scene.  I’m not certain what I expected as I approached the girls, but I am certain it was not a conversation I had ever encountered before.  I introduced myself as they politely shook my hand and giggled a bit.  They told me their names and informed me they were 17 years old and were best friends.

They had already been greeted by some of the Rotarian volunteers and were making their way to one of the tables offering free health services.

I quickly learned that one of the girls had visited the camp two days earlier.  She had come alone that day for one specific purpose – to be tested for HIV.  I then discovered the reason for her return; to bring her best friends for HIV testing as well.  She had been counseled during her first visit on the importance of knowing her status and had returned to school to share what she learned with her friends.

Today, 1 December, is World AIDS Day.  Every year, this day gives each of us an opportunity to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  It is estimated that over 34 million people have the virus, proving there is still so much work to be done.  People around the world   continue to lack education on how to protect themselves  suffer from stigma and discrimination in the workplace and their communities, and  have inadequate access to much improved medical resources that can produce a healthier and more productive life.

Oftentimes we hear stories such as the one about these three school girls and the message simply moves through us.  Our fast-paced society has made it easy for us to overlook the significance of these individual moments.

While Rotary Family Health Days was able to offer hundreds of free health resources and educational services to nearly 300,000 citizens across Africa in only three days, we were also able to impact the lives of these three young ladies on a much deeper level.   One of them became a powerful leader amongst her peers, convincing others of the need for better education leading to a more protected future. Those who were impacted by her leadership were able to receive peace of mind and hopefully the desire to become leaders in their own right.

Rotarians for Family Health and Aids Prevention (RFHA) is an international group of Rotarians, their family members, program participants and alumni committed to saving and improving lives of children and families who lack access to preventive health care and education. Interested in joining the RFHA team or participating in a Global Grant supporting Rotary Family Health Days?  Visit to contact or learn more.



2017 Presidential Conference: Celebrating our Commitment to Peace

By John Germ, Rotary International President, 2016-17

Dear Friends,

It is my pleasure to invite you to attend the 2017 Presidential Peace Conference on 9-10 June 2017, taking place in Atlanta immediately before the RI Convention. This special event will celebrate our work to address the underlying causes of conflict and our success in making peace a priority. We’ll hear from inspirational speakers and look ahead to opportunities to continue our steadfast commitment to peace.

johngermThe program will include internationally recognized keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and networking events that explore Rotary’s commitment to peace. The event is open to the entire Rotary family and guests. Registration for the Presidential Peace Conference is US $126.50 and space is limited.  Learn more about the Conference and register online.

I hope you’ll join me in Atlanta to celebrate our accomplishments and recommit our dedicated efforts to Rotary Serving Humanity.



Early-registration rates for the RI Convention end after 15 December. Take advantage of the early-bird prices and register today for the Peace Conference and Convention.

A new approach to Rotary Club meetings

By Helen Reisler and Andreas Runggatscher, members of the Rotary Club of New York

Our club, the Rotary Club of New York has always been notable for its international flavor and association with the United Nations. The club played an essential role in building support during the UN’s formidable years, and in soliciting New York City for its permanent headquarters.

Thousands of Rotarians from around the world have visited the Rotary Club of New York’s luncheon meetings over the past 107 years. In fact, one of the very first flag exchanges between clubs from different countries took place at the club’s meeting. The club also boasts a substantial list of UN Ambassadors that are honorary members of Rotary. Paul Harris even dubbed our club the “Host Club of America!”

Because of this history, the Rotary Club of New York and its foundation hosts a monthly international breakfast meeting at the United Nations, in collaboration with the Rotarian Action Group for Peace and the Rotaract Club of New York at the UN. All Rotarians and guests are invited to attend these meetings.

The meetings are informative and business casual, beginning with a delicious breakfast buffet mixed with fellowship and networking. The horseshoe arrangement of the tables gives the 40 to 60 attendees full view of each other, as well as of the speakers, and encourages more participation in the questions and answers segment. This past August, we started live broadcasting these monthly gatherings. You can view recordings of previous meetings online. Our goal is to connect more Rotarians from around the world and create a stronger Rotary family.

These meetings provide an opportunity for Rotarians to stay informed about the United Nation’s programs, and to discuss related topics with UN officials and representatives of its member states. The topics are most often related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the ultimate goal of fostering international peace and understanding.

The monthly meetings are currently moderated by Past District Governor and Rotary International Representative to the United Nations, Helen Reisler, along with the Ambassador of South Korea, Hahn Choong-Hee.

Some recent panel speakers include:

  • Reza Hossaini, Director of Polio Eradication at UNICEF
  • Madame Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary of the UN and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women
  • Prabha Sankaranarayan, CEO of Mediators Beyond Borders International
  • E. Mr. Gholam Ali Khoshroo, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the UN
  • Juan José Gómez Camacho, Permanent Representative of Mexico to the UN

As a result of these meetings, the Rotary Club of New York has attracted new members, developed partnerships with other NGOs, involved more Rotaractors into our activities, created an international awareness of Rotary’s relationship with the UN and the SDGs, and seen renewed enthusiasm for Rotary and service amongst our members.

Visit our website for information on our next meeting, and join in on the live broadcast!

Promote the importance of global sanitation and hygiene on World Toilet Day

By the Water and Sanitation Rotarian Action Group (Wasrag)

Sanitation has been a focus for Rotary since it’s early years. In fact, the very first Rotary service project, implemented in 1907 in Chicago, was the construction of public toilets (often referred to as comfort stations during that time)! In the early years of the Water and Sanitation Rotarian Action Group, our focus was on just water. Today, we know sanitation and hygiene education is just as important, maybe even more so.

Everyone visits the toilet several times a day. It’s a basic human need, but 2.4 billion people don’t have access to a toilet. The impact of inadequate or no sanitation is devastating, especially on women. One in three women worldwide risk shame, disease, harassment and even attack because they have nowhere safe to go to the toilet. Nearly 526 million women have no choice but to go to the toilet in the open. Women and girls living without toilets spend approximately 97 billion hours each year finding a place to go.

Today, World Toilet Day, take action and help us spread the word. Encourage your club and district to get involved by supporting a sanitation project:

  • Find a project on Wasrag’s website or Rotary Ideas
  • Share about projects you have already implemented on Rotary Showcase
  • Read the Guide to WASH in Schools to learn about creating healthier communities while improving school enrollment and attendance by bringing sanitation and hygiene services to schools
  • Organize a water, sanitation, or hygiene (WASH) education project in your community. Contact us for help conducting a community assessment to determine local WASH priorities, or for help developing and implementing a club or district WASH project

Wasrag is an international group of Rotarians, their family members, program participants and alumni with expertise and passion in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). Wasrag advises on club and district WASH projects while offering a wealth of resources for enhancing initiatives. Visit to access resources, become a member, or request assistance.




Take action this World Diabetes Day

By Larry C. Deeb, M.D., Treasurer of the Rotarian Action Group for Diabetes

As most of you know, diabetes is a worldwide epidemic. But just how big? Diabetes affected 415 million people worldwide in 2015 and by the year 2040, that number will increase to 642 million. Developing countries are at a greater risk due to lack of resources. In developed countries, children with diabetes have full access to care, and can lead healthy and productive lives. But in the developing world, this care may be unaffordable or unavailable. Some children die quickly, while many others are chronically unwell, have trouble completing school and finding marriage partners, or develop early and devastating complications.

The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimate diabetes-related deaths will increase by more than 50 percent in the next 10 years if we don’t start taking action. The Rotarian Action Group for Diabetes (RAG Diabetes) charter president Wayne Edwards formed the group to provide an opportunity for the Rotary family to take action, and attack the problems caused by diabetes. Our purpose is to assist clubs and districts on projects that provide a strong commitment to education, identification, and treatment of diabetes, especially among children in developing countries, while raising awareness of this devastating disease throughout the Rotary world.

We also encourage Rotary members to work with the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), a worldwide alliance of over 200 diabetes associations in more than 160 countries who come together to enhance the lives of people with diabetes everywhere. Learn more about diabetes in your country. With knowledge we can begin to take action.

This World Diabetes Day, we urge you to promote the importance of screening in your clubs or districts. Screenings can ensure early diagnosis of type 2 diabetes and treatment, and reduce the risk of serious complications. Visit Rotary Showcase to see diabetes related projects and share your initiatives! For more information on RAG Diabetes, visit our website or email me if you have any questions.

Working to empower Syrian refugees

By Will Todman, Rotary Global Grant Scholar from the United Kingdom

Having studied Arabic and modern Hebrew for my undergraduate degree, I had gained a background in the history, languages, and literatures of the Middle East. I was most interested in the region’s contemporary politics and decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Arab Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, USA, for the unique chance to study in Arabic while enjoying the flexibility to develop expertise in my real area of interest. Based in Washington, DC, the program also offered amazing opportunities to gain insights into the world of foreign policy.

As my interests related to conflict resolution and local development, areas Rotary focuses on, a friend suggested I apply for a Rotary scholarship through my local district to study at Georgetown. Without the grant, I would never have been able to afford the expenses of studying abroad, and am immensely grateful for the opportunities it has provided.

My graduate studies focused on contemporary politics of the Middle East with emphasis on displacement and the Syrian conflict. I complemented my academic work with internships and research for the humanitarian organization Mercy Corps, for the Office of the United Nations’ Special Envoy to Syria, and an academic field trip to Jordan.

My experience with Syrian refugees in Lebanon  

Last June, I traveled to the Masnaa border crossing between Lebanon and Syria as a translator for an adviser to the Envoy to Syria. Upon arriving in the vast Beqaa Valley of Lebanon, we were greeted by wineries, fruit trees, farms and small villages framed with snow-capped mountains. At first glance, it seemed impossible that something so beautiful could have been considered one of the most dangerous valleys on earth.

As we descended further into the valley, another sight became clear. Huddles of tarpaulin structures revealed many of the estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. Since the Lebanese government refused to set up official refugee camps, considering such a move to mean taking a political stance on the Syrian conflict, haphazard tents had been erected on private land across the country, often without access to electricity, water or sewage.

We arrived to our destination, the border crossing itself, where we sought to talk with recent refugees from Syria. While some cars were entering Lebanon, significantly more headed in the other direction towards Syria. We introduced ourselves to a group of men sitting along the side of the road; most were happy to talk once we explained our assignment to gather the views of ‘normal’ Syrians rather than political or military leaders for the UN.

We spoke to a driver who frequently made the journey between Damascus and the border. “There are no problems in Damascus” he assured us, “We have water, electricity, food, security. Maybe the prices are a little high, but there are no problems at all. It is normal, like it has always been.” When we asked if there was fear about the recent gains by ISIS, he said he had never met anyone from ISIS and couldn’t be afraid of something he didn’t know.

Others revealed a very different image of the country. “Don’t people realize what is happening in Syria? We are starving, we are dying, we are being massacred. And then we come to Lebanon and, really, we live worse than dogs. No animal should ever be treated how we are treated.” relayed a 40-year-old man from rural Damascus as he waited for his son to cross the border. “I can’t leave to get [my son] because I wouldn’t be allowed back in, and he can’t leave Syria because he is underage and can’t cross the border without an adult,” he explained.

For my master’s thesis, I spent a considerable amount of time researching sieges both in Lebanon and back at Georgetown. I have presented my research to local Rotary clubs, the British Embassy in Beirut and on a panel in Washington. Safe to say, the stories are incredibly depressing and the testimonies tragic. However, there are some grounds for optimism. The local Syrian groups working to prevent Syrians’ suffering are truly inspirational and make unthinkable sacrifices to help others. I have published a number of pieces based on my research including a policy piece for the Middle East Institute, an article on the Lawfare blog, and an interview with Syria Deeply. I was also interviewed on live Egyptian TV!
Now that I have graduated, I am working at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC. I am a research associate in the Middle East program, which focuses on the catalysts for change in the region, aiming to be opportunity-driven rather than threat-driven like much of the analysis

I am working with others to found a group called KAMA DC to work with migrants in Washington. Using an Austrian model, we seek to provide a platform for migrants to teach classes according to their skillset – it may be a Spanish class, a Syrian cooking class, or a West African dance workshop. The aim is to empower immigrants, and to facilitate their integration into U.S. society by facilitating contact with different groups of people. We’re very much hoping to collaborate with local Rotary clubs on this endeavor.



48 hours as a diplomat

By Kristin Brown, Rotary Service Connections Manager

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of participating in a workshop and conference sponsored by the France-USA Inter-Country Committee (ICC). The event represented what ICCs do best: mentoring young people, developing leaders, fostering intercultural dialog, and promoting peace.

The France-USA ICC solicited applications from graduate students in international affairs or diplomacy, and each national section selected eight students to participate in a two-day intensive workshop with diplomats, representatives from UNESCO, and other professionals in global affairs. Before arriving in Paris, each of the eight American and seven French students prepared a paper on a different aspect of the question, “Can the preservation of cultural heritage contribute to world peace?”

group-cip-sign-stepsAt a reception on the eve of the conference, the students met their counterparts for the first time. Over the next two days, they presented their work in pairs, one French and one American. They spoke about illegal trafficking of artifacts in regions of conflict, the role states play in preserving cultural heritage, international law and how sites are selected and protected, and they even spoke about preserving intangible heritage, such as language. Several speakers referenced United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s statement: “An attack on cultural heritage in one part of the world is an attack on us all, on all humanity.”  I was particularly interested in learning about the use of technology and digital imaging, either to assist with repairs to damaged cultural artifacts or, when repair is impossible or impractical, projecting 3-D images in absence of the original.

The workshop culminated in a conference co-sponsored by the France-USA ICC and the Next Generation Foreign Policy Network (ANAJ-IHEDN) at the École Militaire in Paris, where a white paper summarizing the students’ work was presented. Leila Amar, a French Rotaractor and international journalist with France 24, moderated a panel of experts representing UNESCO, ICOMOS, INTERPOL, and the Quai d’Orsay on the challenges of preserving cultural heritage, particularly in conflict zones.

The challenges are real, but I left Paris inspired by the work that these young scholars are doing and thankful for the opportunity provided by the France-USA ICC to bring them together to share their work and forge new relationships.



Celebrating Rotary’s youngest leaders!

By Molly Friend, Rotary Programs for Young Leaders Staff

Youth Service recognizes the importance of empowering youth and young professionals through leadership development programs like Interact. Every year, Interact clubs take action to make a positive difference in their communities through service projects.

Join us as we celebrate 54 years of service and leadership through Interact! Now through 2 December, Rotary is accepting videos for the 8th annual Interact Video Awards. Below are five reasons you should encourage Interactors in your community to create a video showing how they have fun while making a difference:

1) Raise awareness

1Communities around the world face issues like homelessness, inequality, or climate change. By encouraging young people to use their voice through video, together you can help bring awareness to some of the world’s biggest challenges. Highlight how Interact clubs take action to support the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals to create a better future by 2030.

2) Help youth tap into their passions

2Motivate young leaders to discover a new way to use their skills and passion to make a positive impact in their school, community, and the world. Interactors may be actors, videographers, screenwriters, or set designers in the making. Help them use their talents for good!

3) Encourage collaboration

3Whether its gathering support from Rotary sponsors, club advisors, or fellow Interactors, opportunities for collaboration are everywhere. Encourage Interactors to connect with their community and see first-hand how working together can create a big impact.

4) Be heard

4Interact is a global community of nearly half a million young leaders—and they have power to change the world.  Empower them to share their story on a global scale.

5) Have fun

5Inspire the next generation to dream big, use their imagination, and consider what could happen if Interactors ruled the world!

All submissions are due by 2 December, 2016. Watch videos from the 2015 Interact Video Awards finalists and learn more about how Rotary supports young leaders through Interact.

 It’s World Interact Week now through 6 November! Here are a few ways to get involved:

  • Empower young people in your community to take action, become leaders, and gain a global perspective by sponsoring an Interact club.
  • Share how your club celebrates World Interact Week in partnership with your sponsored Interact clubs on our Interact Facebook page or in the comment section below.
  • Plan a joint service project with a sponsored Interact club and post it on Rotary Showcase so the world can see how you jointly create positive change.
  • Recognize your sponsored Interact club’s hard work. Complete a certificate of recognition to highlight the positive impact your Interact clubs have made.
  • Encourage your sponsored Interact clubs to achieve this year’s Presidential Citation!

Growing local solutions to fight hunger and malnutrition

By Past District Governor Una Hobday, Chair of the Food Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group

In 2015, 2.6 million children under the age of five died from malnutrition linked causes. The first 1000 days from conception are critical in a child’s development.  If children do not receive adequate quantities of key micronutrients, they can be irreparably impaired for life. These statistics always leave me shocked, which is why I’m serving as chair of the Food Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group. Together with our RAG members and partnering clubs and organizations, we are working to change this fact.

One solution to malnutrition is as simple as growing the right food plants in the right places. In 2011, the Food Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group was recognized to support clubs with their efforts to help grow the most nutritious and viable food plants in their local environments.

The action group focuses on addressing malnutrition, hunger and food security through the use of readily available local food plants. This self-sustaining solution empowers people to understand local food plant resources and allows them to feed themselves and their families.

The main obstacle people face in taking advantage of local food plants is a lack of knowledge about their importance and true nutritional value. The Food Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group helps clubs and districts identify the most appropriate local food plant options with the most nutritional value by creating resources and advising on related projects.  These resources help people, particularly women, understand the connection between plant selection and nutrition, and empowers them to grow a range of plants with differing seasonal requirements and maturities.

All projects (whether they be housing, water, schools, maternal health, etc.), could be further enhanced by adding a food plant solution component to them. Most people in dire situations require a sustainable way to grow and access nutritious food. The results are impressive: our partner in Vietnam has seen malnutrition reduced by as much as 95% through the implementation of a school garden

In 2015, approximately 2,600,000 children under the age of five died from malnutrition-related causes. Hunger and malnutrition is preventable. Through extensive partnerships, the Food Plant Solutions RAG can make a difference.

You and I can make a difference. Learn how you can start a program in your region and visit our website for more information. Let’s take action against hunger today, and commit to eradicating malnutrition within our lifetime.

Browse Rotary Showcase for inspirational Rotary projects addressing hunger and malnutrition. Join the discussion group on hunger in Rotary’s online community.


Making an impact in Honduras through economic and community development

By Charlene Bearden,  District 5360 District Executive Secretary

494_654781924_4I had the opportunity to go to Honduras with Steve Rickard from the Rotary Club of Calgary West, Wally Gardiner from the Rotary Club of High River, and Jim Louttit from the Rotary Club of Toronto-Sunrise, all of whom are instrumental in the Honduras Economic Community Development (HECD), a microfinance project implemented by the Rotary Action Group for Microfinance and Community Development (RAGM) in collaboration with the District 5360 Microcredit Task Force.

The groups worked with the Rotary Club of Real de Minas Tegucigalpa, Opportunity International Canada (OIC) and their operating partner in Honduras, Instituto para el Desarrollo Hondureño (IDH), to provide microfinance services in the region.

During my visit to Honduras, I got to see the great impact the project has had on the community and the people. A small loan makes such a big difference, both for the original loan recipient and by sparking ideas and initiatives amongst family and friends. As a result, spin off economies develop and often the people close to the loan recipient sign up for loans themselves.

There are more than 8,000 beneficiaries from the HECD program! One of the projects we visited was a shoemaking business where I met Milton, who was able to acquire raw materials and shoe molds through the loan program.  Another beneficiary, German, was able to repair his moto-taxi. Martha, who makes the best tortillas, was able to increase raw material supplies so she could expand into wholesale selling.

I also met Marvin, who spends hours in the open sun baking bricks with his brother. A loan allowed them to erect a lean-to so they could continue working during the rainy season. The loan was used to stockpile raw materials and increase production. Marvin has contracts to supply his bricks wholesale and is now making environmental clay ovens for export; the clay ovens produce better heat, burn less wood and burn cleaner than similar stoves.

To actually witness the impact my district is making is something I will always carry with me. I’m inspired by all Rotarians who do humanitarian work at home and throughout the world, by every project you take on and by every person you touch.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Rotarian Action Group for Microfinance and Community Development (RAGM) is a group of Rotarians whose purpose is to provide global leadership to assist clubs and districts in effective Microfinance and Community Development programs. Contact the group for assistance with your economic and community development projects.