Creating stronger Basic Education and Literacy projects

By Mary Jo Jean-Francois, Area of Focus Manager for Basic Education and Literacy

Each and every day, I am amazed at the work Rotary clubs and districts do in education. From simple book drives to complex reading assessments in classrooms, hundreds—possibly thousands—of Rotary projects are being done each year to help better education for children and adults throughout the world.

As 1.2 million Rotarians, we know we have the ability to significantly impact the lives of children and adults by bringing opportunities to access education. But this alone may not be enough. The education learners receive must also be of high quality. This is done by ensuring teachers are properly trained and have access to additional training opportunities. It is accomplished through working with school directors, teachers, students and parents to understand the challenges their schools face and how we can help them achieve their goals beyond providing equipment. And finally, when possible, it is achieved through working with local government officials to garner their support for our projects and receive their commitment to continuing to work with schools once our projects are completed.

We are proud of the work that Rotarians do and it is my goal, as the Basic Education and Literacy Manager, to assist in project development and implementation. We are continually trying to produce opportunities to help Rotarians start a new project or to scale up existing ones. We have created the Basic Education & Literacy Project Strategies Guide, a document filled with education statistics, considerations before planning a project, project strategies, and tips to ensure extra sustainability. It also includes information about Rotarian-led projects from around the world- great examples to help get creative juices flowing!

We hope you find this guide helpful and we are always excited to hear about your projects.  Highlight your projects on Rotary Showcase. Any Rotarian and Rotaractor can upload their project to Showcase to inspire other clubs and districts and to connect with fellow Rotarians and Rotaractors undertaking similar work.

As we wrap up Basic Education & Literacy month, I would like to extend a big thank you for your tireless work to bring higher quality education and education opportunities to those who otherwise may not have them. I look forward to learning about your impact over the coming year!

Young Rotary leaders take action to empower their community through education

By Med Yassine Boukhari, Officer of the Interact Club of Tunis Inner City, District 9010, Tunisia

During September, Rotary Basic Education and Literacy Month, the Interact Club of Tunis Inner City visited the Elderly House of Mannouba. Volunteer teachers accompanied us, and during our visit, we talked with the seniors and reminded them that they have no limits, that it isn’t too late, and that learning has no age. We taught them letters and step by step, they started to understand until some were able to write their own names. At the end of the day, our joy was great when we saw that the majority of them were enthusiastic and determined to study and learn more.

How are you celebrating Rotary Basic Education and Literacy Month? Leave a comment below sharing what your club is doing or add your project to Rotary Showcase! Read more posts on Basic Education and Literacy.  


Experience culture, friendship and service in El Salvador at the 2017 Uniendo America Project Fair

By Hector D. Castro, District 4240; Advisor to the Uniendo America Organizing Committee

In its 24th edition, the Uniendo America project fair returns to beautiful El Salvador on 26-28 January of 2017. Since 1994, Districts 4240 & 4250 (Central America, Belize & Panamá) have hosted the fair in different countries. This regional event is an excellent opportunity for Central American Rotarians to present projects to fellow Rotarians from the United States, Canada & other countries who are looking for international service projects and partners on behalf of their clubs and districts.

Thanks to Uniendo America, international visitors have learned about more than 2,000 local projects from the region. Meeting face to face at the fair has created lasting relationships and facilitated the implementation of hundreds of proposed projects. This is what Rotary is all about: creating good will and understanding through international partnerships.

Uniendo America 2017 will kick off on the afternoon of 26 January with presentations from District International Service Committees and a special message from an envoy of the Rotary Foundation. The fair itself will be inaugurated that evening with a brief ceremony and cocktail party where attendees will start making new friends and reconnecting with old ones.

Serious work will begin the following day, 27 January at 9:00 AM with the opening of the exhibitor booths, showcasing excellent opportunities to form partnerships for global and district grants and club projects. That evening, participants will make dinner reservations at any of the fine dining restaurants within the hotel and continue discussions with potential partners met during the fair. Meanwhile, spouses and guests will be offered a tourism tour where they will have an opportunity to explore the rich culture and wonderful sites of El Salvador. We will end that evening with fun disco dancing at the hotel´s night club.

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The last day of the fair, 28 January, will begin at 9:00 AM with round table discussions to learn about successful community development strategies within the six areas of focus, talk about the future of Uniendo America and much more. Optional project tours, sponsored by local clubs, will be available throughout the day. Uniendo America 2017 will end with a spectacular Centennial Carnival on the evening of the 28th where we will celebrate our 100 years of service through the Rotary Foundation.

The Organizing Committee will offer free shuttle transportation from/to the airport on main arrival and departure dates and we can assist attendees with any special arrangements.

Come and enjoy Rotary at its best amidst spectacular sunsets, warm weather, great friends and plenty of international service opportunities. Event information and registration is available online.

Providing a brighter future through service

By Carolyn Johnson, Vice-Chair of the Literacy Rotarian Action Group, TRF Cadre of Technical Adviser, and member of the Rotary Club of Yarmouth, District 7780

“What is Rotary – and what do Rotarians do?” I asked as I was talking with children who attend a small government school outside Kampala, Uganda.  The school is located on the edge of a growing community, but most of these students live in a small nearby fishing village.  Many of the children were barefoot and dressed in what they could assemble of the school uniform. The school is basic: a concrete floor, block walls and a tin roof- but clean and neat, with all the children wearing broad smiles and clearly happy to be in school with caring and supportive teachers.

The first time I visited this school, it was a very different sight.  Just three years ago, the school was a tiny building of three cramped classrooms – no doors and no windows.  Each teacher taught two grades without books and education materials.  That day, children weren’t attending classes, but a cow had made itself at home in the school: tipping over benches, knocking down the old blackboard with its horns, and doing what cows do.  It was not surprising that parents didn’t enroll their children in school.  It just didn’t seem worthwhile.

Enter the Kajjansi Rotary Club – Rotarians living or working nearby who clearly saw an opportunity.  After talking with the teachers and education officials in the area, they made plans to build three new classrooms – basic rooms to provide a classroom for each grade level.    The Rotarians also understood that these children would benefit from role models to encourage regular attendance and commitment to studying.  Each Rotarian mentors a student, as do local Rotaractors. The club gave each child a backpack and some basic school supplies to help them with their studies. It wasn’t a huge monetary investment and all funds were raised locally.  But this investment is clearly yielding great dividends.

In return for the Rotarians’ investment, the ministry fulfilled its commitment to provide a teacher for each grade level.  The school now has some text books and a few teaching supplies.  And the results?  Enrollment increased from 16 children three years ago to 96 children attending classes today!

My Rotarian colleagues recently took me to visit the school, see the progress, and meet the students.  The Rotarians, all successful business people dressed in business attire, commented that this school reminded them of their own childhood: barefoot, walking to school, few resources, but committed teachers.  One by one, and totally unplanned, each Rotarian shared their own story with the children.  Their message: despite humble beginnings, the opportunity to attend school and receive an education was the key to their success.

It was then my turn to talk to the students.  Though education has been so important in my life, my experiences were so unlike the challenges these children face.  Instead, I asked, What is Rotary – and what do Rotarians do?”   A young girl, perhaps ten years old, raised her hand and stood.  “Rotarians,” she said, “are people who give us opportunities for a better future.”

What more is there to say?  Through connections with our communities, Rotary service offers opportunities for so many.  What better investment of resources or better impact of Rotary service could there be than supporting education to give opportunity for a better future?

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Assist victims of the 2016 Ecuador earthquake

By District Governor Fressia Abad, District 4400 Ecuador 

Dear friends,

It is our pleasure to invite you and your club to attend District 4400’s XII Rotary Project Fair, to be held in Cuenca, Ecuador, on 11-13 November, 2016.

During this three-day event, clubs in Ecuador will exhibit their projects to visiting Rotarians. Visitors will have the opportunity to learn firsthand about the community and the projects looking for assistance. Rotarians will personally meet project contacts and other local Rotarians establishing important partnerships as well as long lasting friendships.

Due to the severe 7.8 earthquake that struck Ecuador’s Provinces of Manabí and Esmeraldas in April 2016, many of this year’s projects will focus on long-term disaster recovery and providing assistance to communities devastated by the disaster.

The beautiful city of Cuenca has become a favorite and appealing retirement spot. Visiting Rotarians will have an opportunity to experience local cultural and artistic treasures including a tour to its historic town center. Exciting and high-end excursions to the Galapagos Islands, Amazonian Jungle, Quito, the Andean Sierra, and Vilcabamba (well known for the long life expectancy of its population) can also be added to attendance at the Fair.

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Please contact the Chair of the XII Project Fair Committee, Past District Governor Manuel Nieto or Assistant Governor Amparo Albuja Izurieta for additional information.  You can also visit our district webpage or register online.

We hope to greet you soon in our country well known for its hospitality.



Supporting communities, from homes to homework

By ShelterBox staff

ShelterBox specialises in delivering the essentials people need in rebuilding their lives in the aftermath of a disaster. This usually means providing emergency shelter, such as sturdy tents, or the tools to repair damaged homes, but sometimes devastation spreads much further than homes, disrupting vital services like schools and education.

ShelterBox’s range of aid also includes SchoolBoxes with essential supplies for teachers as well as school equipment for 50 children. Simple but very effective, a tin of blackboard paint and boxes of chalk can be used to transform any flat surface into a focus for learning. And the solar and wind-up powered radios included in every box mean that teachers can broadcast educational lessons wherever there is reception.

schoolboxThe SchoolBoxes also include activity packs containing materials such as notebooks, coloured pencils and other stationery that not only enable children to continue their studies, but give them the opportunity to play and express themselves too. These activity packs come in distinctive yellow school bags which children can take home with them, meaning that although they may have lost many of their belongings due to disaster, they have something of their own to keep and look after. Their pride in these possessions, so ordinary to our own children, brings a sense of joy amid the hardship.

Following the earthquakes that shook Nepal last year, ShelterBox teamed up with the Rotary Club of Bhadgaon, based in the Kathmandu Valley, to distribute SchoolBoxes to several local orphanages damaged by the tremors. The club, which was started just last year, now helps support more than 200 orphanages in the area, a task that has become even more urgent since the earthquakes.

In a different region of Kathmandu, a ShelterBox response team helped source and deliver SchoolBoxes containing enough school materials for 450 children while the partnering Rotary club brought in psychiatrists to help children who had been traumatised by the earthquake and ongoing aftershocks.

ShelterBox response team member Jimmy Griffiths said: “It was great to see our SchoolBoxes in action and to peek in on how the children are enjoying a little bit of a distraction from their very difficult experiences.”

At the height of West Africa’s Ebola crisis, SchoolBoxes were flown by Royal Navy helicopter to an orphanage near Sierra Leone.

SchoolBoxes have also been deployed to Zimbabwe for children displaced by the country’s worst flooding in forty years. Canadian response volunteer Richard Loat said, “Their children have been uprooted to a location that was barren of homes, schools, or anything resembling a community. They are building new relationships, villages, and a new society from scratch. At the core of this has been the opening of three primary schools and one secondary school, to ensure that Zimbabwe’s generations of tomorrow are not short-changed of an education and a future.”

The head teacher of Nyuni Secondary School best captured the impact, saying “ShelterBox’s tents provide comfort for the children at home, which allows them to come to school in the right mood to learn. ShelterBox’s school supplies give them something to call their own, which motivates them to learn as we all get through this difficult time.”

ShelterBox has also been distributing SchoolBoxes at the heart of the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis in Syria. Save the Children reported that Syria once had 100% school enrolment, but now has nearly 3 million children out of school, almost the worst attendance rate in the world. Half of refugee families rely partly or entirely on income from sending their school-age children to work; the youth “a generation lost to education”. In partnership with Hand in Hand for Syria, many children living in Syrian refugee and displacement camps near the Turkish border now have educational supplies. Schoolbag sets were even delivered right into war-torn Aleppo city. By including SchoolBoxes, along with essential items such as hardwearing tents, winter clothing and blankets, ShelterBox is helping a generation of children continue their education and create a sense of normality.

The ShelterBox-RI Fact Sheet provides more information about local or international service opportunities with ShelterBox. Contact ShelterBox to start working together.


Celebrating decades of commitment to education and literacy

By Azka Asif, Rotary Service and Engagement Staff in collaboration with Susan Hanf, Rotary Heritage Communications Staff

Students in class at Fundaninas school in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Fundaninas, which was founded by Rotarian Isabel de Bosch. Every year, International Literacy Day is celebrated worldwide by bringing together governments, multi-and bi-lateral organizations, NGOs, the private sector, communities, teachers, learners and experts in the field. Today, 8 September, on the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day, we join the global community in celebrating decades of progress made towards increasing literacy rates around the world.

We are honoring this year’s theme of Reading the Past, Writing the Future by taking a look back at education and literacy in Rotary throughout the years, and looking ahead to find innovative solutions to current challenges standing in the way of quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Education and literacy throughout Rotary’s history

In March 1930, Ray Lyman Wilbur, the United States Secretary of the Interior, asked Rotary and other service organizations to take an active leadership role in the reduction of illiteracy in the United States.[1] Rotary Clubs across the US took Wilbur’s requested seriously:

  • The Rotary Club of Martinsville, Virginia, sponsored a talent show with proceeds supporting adult literacy classes.[2]
  • Members of the Rotary Club of Blairsville, Pennsylvania offered a class on reading and writing for local adults.[3]
  • The Rotary Club of Ada, Ohio, surveyed the educational needs of children and adults in a nearby farming community and with the help of other local service organizations, began offering classes in reading and writing. [4]

During the 1930-31 Rotary year, Rotary clubs began to recognize the importance of supporting general education. The Rotary Club of New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, established a loan fund to help boys finish high school, and by August 1930 had helped to fund the high school educations of nearly 100 boys.[5]

In 1962, Rotary brought literacy and education to the forefront of club service activities once again, and clubs submitted information on initiatives they had undertaken in support of literacy and education.[6] . In El Salvador, the Rotary Club of Santa Ana established a school to improve literacy in the region; in the United States, four area schools received books, paper, chalkboards, pencils and other teaching materials from the Rotary Club of Indianapolis, Indiana. The Rotary Club of Anand, India, reported an ongoing program of supplying teaching materials to schools.[7]

Starting in 1965, matching grants provided financial support for clubs and districts, making it possible for them to undertake larger-scale projects. One early grant awarded under this program had a unique educational focus. Sponsored by the Rotary Club of Jerusalem, Jordan, this project provided materials in Braille for blind persons using the Arabic language.[8]

Throughout the 1970s, education and literacy continued to be a popular area of focus for Rotary clubs. Taking note of the rising number of literacy and education based service projects conducted by Rotary clubs worldwide, The Rotarian dedicated much of its April 1979 issue to these efforts. One of the projects profiled was in Venezuela, where the Rotary Club of Chachao funded and built the Paul Harris Library, which provided local citizens with books as well as classes in art and literature.

Looking towards our future

Rotary’s strong support for literacy and education based initiatives has extended into the 21st century. When we launched our new grants program in 2013, education and literacy was identified as one of the areas where we would focus our support. Today, foundation funded projects meet new criteria, engaging and involving the local community  and focusing on creating a sustainable impact. In 2014-15, The Rotary Foundation awarded 133 grants in the area of education and literacy, totaling $8 million![9] 

Children attend class in Santa Matilde, a village near Chinandega, Nicaragua. This year the foundation is celebrating the centennial, 100 years of Rotary members changing lives and improving communities all over the world. Members have supported thousands of projects to improve basic education and literacy. As we celebrate decades of commitment to support this basic human right, we look towards the future and focus on how we can address current challenges and look for innovative solutions to further boost literacy.

Add your club basic education and literacy projects to Rotary Showcase and share them on social media using the hashtag #LiteracyDay. Celebrate the Rotary Foundation centennial by doing 100 acts of good throughout the year. Let others know by sharing photo, along with a brief description of the act, on social media using #100actsofgood hashtag.


[1] AC0015, Box 17, Folder 23. “National Campaign Against Adult Illiteracy in the United States,” 1930
[2] The Rotarian, March 1934, p. 42
[3] The Rotarian, March 1934, p. 42
[4] The Rotarian, November 1937, p. 47
[5] The Rotarian, August 1930, p. 39
[6] AC0043. Board Minutes, January 1962, Decision 124
[7] AC0092, Series 5, Box 11, Folder 7, RI News, October 1962, p. 1.
[8] AC0037, Series 2, Box 1, Folder 3, “The Rotary Foundation Bulletin,” January 1966
[9] RI and TRF Annual Report, 2014-15, p. iii

Take action to support education during Rotary Literacy Month

By Azka Asif, Rotary Service and Engagement Staff

Today, 103 million youth around the world still lack basic literacy skills, and more than 60% of them are women. An estimated 50% out-of-school children of primary school age live in conflict-affected areas. Enrollment in primary education in developing countries has reached 91%, but 57 million children still remain out of school. *

Why are these statistics so important? By supporting education and literacy in communities around the world, we can change these figures and help improve lives. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 calls on ensuring inclusive and quality education for all and promoting lifelong learning.

Rotarians worldwide are committed to supporting this goal through education-oriented projects that provide technology, teacher training, vocational training teams, student meal programs, and low-cost textbooks to communities. Rotary’s goal is to empower communities to support basic education and literacy, reduce gender disparity in education, and increase adult literacy. Here are a few examples of Rotarians taking action:

  • The Rotary Club of Flemington (USA) adopted a school in Bogor, Indonesia, in support of education for children with autism. The club provided financial support for educational materials, organized teacher trainings from the Western Autistic School, Olga Tennyson Institute at LaTrobe University, and coordinated teacher visits to local government schools where children with autism are integrated into classrooms. Bogor also received technical support in reviewing current practices and planning for future development.
  • Learning to read is a critical foundational skill strongly correlated with academic and vocational success. The Rotary Club of Waterville’s Rhoda Reads™ program trains Rotarians on early childhood development for children ages 0-5 in Maine, USA . The program equips each Rotarian participant with a tool kit including a variety of books along with a stuffed owl named Rhoda (the program mascot). Rotarians are matched with a local early childcare provider which they regularly visit and spend time reading to children.
  • In order for children to succeed after high school, they must be computer literate. With the support of the Auckland University of Technology, the Rotary Club of Taveuni provided a digital learning room for high school students on the Island of Taveuni, Fiji. Watch the video below to learn more.

During SeptemberRotary Basic Education and Literacy Month, we’ll be sharing tips and resources to help with club and district literacy projects. Read previous posts below focused on education and check back here for more inspirational stories!



Related resources:

Work with district international service chairs

By Kiki Melonides, Rotary Service and Engagement Staff

To help clubs plan impactful service projects and sustainable global grants, district international service chairs now have exciting new responsibilities. Appointed by district governors for a suggested three-year term, district international service chairs will work collaboratively with club and district leaders to identify and promote resources and strategies for enhancing projects and grants.

International service chairs will build a district resource network of Rotarians, program participants, and alumni with expertise in Rotary’s areas of focus and community project planning. In collaboration with fellow district leaders and members, Rotarian Action Groups, The Rotary Foundation Cadre of Technical Advisers, and others, international service chairs will connect projects in need of guidance with local technical experts from the Rotary family and promote other resources for improving service projects and grants.

Service chairs will be looking for experts with experience in the areas of focus and the lifecycle of a project including familiarity with global grants, project planning and implementation, community assessment, and measurement and evaluation. Are you an expert in any of these areas? Be sure to identify yourself to your district international service chair so that they can include you in your district’s resource network.

By including local Rotarian expertise early in project planning and design, this effort aims to increase the impact and sustainability of projects and global grants. This initiative will provide further vocational service opportunities in sectors that correspond with Rotary’s areas of focus. The effort also aims to increase friendship and cooperation among Rotarians and strengthen connections between Rotarians and Rotary alumni, such as peace fellows.

Write to the Rotary Service team with any questions.

Collaborating with partners on sustainable service projects

By Rotary Service Connections Staff

Working with partners can strengthen club and district service projects by ensuring sustainability, providing access to subject-matter experts, and strengthening local networks. Partnering with local, national, and international organizations can help meet the many needs of communities around the world.

Rotary’s service and project partners support Rotarian-led initiatives within the avenues of service and areas of focus. All activities take place at the local level at the discretion of individual clubs and districts. Consider partnering with one of Rotary’s service partners to create a greater impact in your community:

The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) for alleviating hunger and malnutrition

Food banking is a proven solution to two critical global problems: world hunger and food waste. There is enough food to feed the world, but one-third of it is wasted. Food banks rescue perfectly edible and nutritious food before it is wasted and redistribute it to feed hungry people. In most countries, food banks distribute food through a network of community agencies, including school feeding programs, food pantries, soup kitchens, AIDS and tuberculosis hospices, elderly care facilities, orphanages, and nongovernmental organizations that provide food to the hungry. Rotary’s service partnership with GFN provides opportunities to work together to create and support food banks around the world. Read the partnership factsheet to learn more.

Peace Corps for promoting peace and enhancing community development

Peace Corps, an independent U.S. federal agency, sends U.S. citizens abroad to help tackle the most pressing needs around the world while promoting better international understanding. Peace Corps Volunteers live and work alongside the people they support to create sustainable change that lives on long after their service. A Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) offers access to local contacts, community development insights, and funding possibilities within a particular community. Involving a PCV in your project will increase its reach, impact, and sustainability. Read the partnership fact sheet.

ShelterBox for disaster relief

ShelterBox is an international aid organization that provides immediate assistance to areas ravaged by disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic activity, flooding, hurricanes, cyclones, tsunamis, or conflict. The project partnership between Rotary and ShelterBox offers opportunities to collaborate in providing emergency shelter and vital supplies to stabilize, protect, and support communities affected by disasters and humanitarian crises. Read the partnership fact sheet.

YSA (Youth Service America) for youth involvement

YSA focuses on the engagement of young people, ages 5-25, as partners in solving the problems of the world by addressing challenges that are stifling economic and human potential, such as: environmental degradation, childhood obesity, hunger, illiteracy, animal welfare, water scarcity, human rights, and communicable diseases. Read the partnership fact sheet.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library for literacy

The collaborative relationship between The Dollywood Foundation’s Imagination Library and RI provides a way for clubs in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia to support early childhood literacy by providing children in their community with a free book every month from birth to age five. Read the partnership fact sheet.

Along with collaborating with like-minded groups, you can make a more successful impact and create stronger service projects by:

  • Inviting representatives from partner organizations to speak at club meetings
  • Utilizing club and district service chairs for help identifying local partners
  • Leveraging Rotary Ideas to find funding and partners for your projects
  • Organizing a Rotary Community Corps to help mobilize a community and ensure local needs are met
  • Collaborating with a Rotarian Action Groupto help conduct a needs assessments, incorporate monitoring and evaluation components, and secure funding.
  • Attending a project fair to make new connections

We hope these resources will help your clubs and district carry out impactful and sustainable initiatives.  Please write to the Rotary Service Connections team with any questions.