Why do mothers die? A Rotarian’s mission to reduce maternal mortality

By PDG Dr. Himansu Basu, MD, PhD, RI Technical Coordinator on Maternal and Child Health 2013-16

Dr.HimansuBasuMy world stopped when I was 15 – my mother died after her seventh childbirth (I was the eldest). The pain and misery in the years that followed were unimaginable. Since then, I have been asking myself the question –“Why do mothers die?”

I entered medical school, specialised in Obstetrics and Gynaecology and did full time research on pregnancy haemorrhages. My interest in childbirth-related mortalities did not wane, but I did not get real answers to my question.

Then I became a Rotarian. I wanted to utilise my hands-on vocational efforts for service, but the opportunities at that time were limited.

In the 1990s, global organisations like the U.N. challenged the world to address this question in the form of Millennium Development Goals. Global organisations and governments put a lot of funding towards improving hospital facilities and started promoting institutional childbirth deliveries but progress remained slow.

Two events in 2010 helped me find an answer to my question. First, my district, 1120 (England), became part of the Future Vision pilot. This opened the door for service through hands-on vocational efforts and advocacy through a global grant-sponsored Vocational Training Team. Second, I had the good fortune to chair an international collaborators meeting on maternal mortality in Delhi focused on why mothers die in low resource settings. The combined results were fantastic.

Second CALMED1The concept of Calmed (Collaborative action in lowering maternity encountered deaths) developed during the next three years with the help of important collaborators including FIGO (The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics), GLOWM (Global Library of Women’s Medicine) and MAF (Medical Aid Films), Laerdal, Department of Health and Family Welfare, National Health Mission and of course our own Rotarian Doctors Fellowship and Rotarian Action Group on Population Development.

India remained our challenge. In spite of massive efforts by the Indian government, maternal mortality reduction in India was slow. Still today, the lifetime risk of a woman dying at child birth is 40 times higher in India than in the UK. India has the highest annual number of maternal deaths (about 55,000). Ironically, most are preventable.

TRF-sponsored Vocational Training Teams played leading roles in implementing the Calmed model. Using hands-on approaches, modern technology and a “train the trainer” model in two states in India, the team led skills trainings in managing emergencies at childbirth and raising awareness of childbirth related issues in the villages and urban communities. Monitoring and evaluation is an important component of the Calmed programme.

1st Calmed programme
First CALMEDIn Sikkim, India, where the programme was first introduced in 2013, our vocational training team of six doctors from the UK trained 13 local Ob Gyn staff members who became master trainers after stringent pre- and post-test assessments. The local master trainers have since trained over 200 doctors, midwives and health activists in the practical management of emergencies at child birth. Following the introduction of Calmed, the maternal mortality ratio was halved in just over 12 months.

2nd Calmed programme
Second CALMEDInvitations from the government and local Rotary clubs led to a second vocational training team to visit Gujarat in 2014 and train 26 master trainers.
More than 40 doctors and midwives were then trained and the training cascade continues with outstanding results.

As we move forward, we are planning to take a team this year to Madhya Pradesh, India, for the third Calmed programme.
We are also working with India’s government to establish skills trainings and development centres where selected local master trainers (rather than vocational training team members from England) will be responsible for training future master trainers. This will offer a sustainable, realistic local solution to eliminate preventable maternal and new born deaths.

CALMED teamWe would not have been able to move forward without the constant support, encouragement and stewardship of Rotarians at all levels, from the clubs t to districts , RIBI and RI, including past Rotary International Presidents, Directors, Trustees, and many officers (past and present). Our collaborators remain fully supportive.

It has taken more than 50 years of searching, but I am glad I have found the answer to why mothers die and more importantly, how we can save mothers and babies from dying or experiencing complications from childbirth. We have found a solution that works.

Read more about the Calmed programme and contact me if you would like to support this vocational service effort.

Pledge your support now and join the Calmed revolution!

Significant Achievement Award recognizes outstanding club projects

By Azka Asif, Rotary Programs staff

For many Rotary clubs, service begins at home. Each year clubs take on numerous initiatives and conduct various projects to help address a significant need or problem in their community. Some of these outstanding projects are honored through the Significant Achievement Award.

Last year, 207 clubs from more than 40 countries received the award recognizing their excellent community service projects. These clubs took on projects that not only helped their local community but also involved most or all of their club members and were commensurate with the size and the resources of their club. Below are just a few examples of these amazing projects:

Centennial Playground

A young child enjoys the Centennial Playground.

A young child enjoys the Centennial Playground.

In celebration of 100 years of service, the Rotary Club of Beaumont built the first disabled accessible playground for children with special needs to safely play alongside their peers in Beaumont, Texas, USA. Club members and volunteers throughout the community worked side by side to help make this project a success through various activities such as fundraising to construction. Local Rotaract and Interact clubs also assisted with the construction of the playground.

The club raised more than $400,000 USD and contributed nearly 100,000 volunteer hours to complete the project.

Novembro Azul (Blue November)

Members of Rotary Club of Timbó raising awareness for men’s health. Photo coutesy of Rotary Club of Timbó’s Public Image Committee.

Members of Rotary Club of Timbó raising awareness for men’s health. Photo coutesy of Rotary Club of Timbó’s Public Image Committee.

The Rotary Club of Timbó, Santa Catarina, Brazil, implemented the Blue November initiative to create awareness about diseases such as prostate cancer that affect men. Originally started in

Australia in 2003, Blue November is now implemented in many cities across Brazil. Through this initiative, the club distributed over 15,000 fliers and organized media interviews. The campaign reached 90% of the population in Timbó and led to over 1,200 disease screenings.

Empowering Girls

Girl Power Project Participants

Girl Power Project Participants

To help their community’s young women at risk of falling below the poverty line due to home environment, lack of education, and teenage pregnancy, the Rotary Club of Montego Bay Sunrise, Jamaica, created the Girl Power initiative for young women ages 14-25. Workshops are designed and implemented to empower participants to make positive changes in their lives. Phase one of the program focuses on personal development including improving self-esteem and leadership. Phase two is geared towards proper parenting skills, money management and career development.

MALAYA KA NA! (You’re Free!)

Club members and spouses at the Marikina City Jail.

Club members and spouses at the Marikina City Jail.

Members and spouses of the Rotary Club of Marikina West, Philippines, gathered at the Hall of Justice in Marikina City to provide free legal aid to qualified criminal defendants being wrongly held in the Marikina City Jail and help decongest the over-crowded jail. Several lawyer-members of the club represented various defendants, ultimately resulting in 112 releases.

Avoidable Blindness Outreach

The number of eye cases in Sabah, Malaysia, is three times the national average because of limited access to eye care services and general lack of education regarding the topic in remote areas.

The Rotary Club of Likas Bay hosted an Avoidable Blindness Outreach camp in rural northern Sabah. 86 eye specialists and paramedic personnel offered free eye screenings and cataract operations. 889 people received screenings and 117 cases were referred for further treatment

We’re currently accepting Significant Achievement Award nominations from district governors for the 2014-15 award. If your club conducted an impactful community service project during the 2014-15 Rotary year, contact your district governor to be considered for this award. District governors may select one outstanding project from their district and submit their nominations to riawards@rotary.org by 15 March. Eligibility requirements and procedures can be found on the nomination form.

Cruising trips inspire fellowship and service

By Rhonda Whitton, Kardinia Rotary Club, Victoria, Australia; member and Online Content Manager of the Fellowship for Cruising Rotarians

A few years ago, a group of Rotarians from the United Kingdom and Australia boarded a P&O cruise ship ready for an exciting vacation. When the group of Rotarians gathered for an onboard meeting advertised in the cruise newsletter, they realised they wanted to do more than just chat about their club activities.

(Left to right): Mike Oliver, Australia; Howard Jones, UK; Anthony Lilou, Papua New Guinea; Gordon Wiseman, UK; Christopher Podger, UK; Jelta Wong, Papua New Guinea

(Left to right): Mike Oliver, Australia; Howard Jones, UK; Anthony Lilou, Papua New Guinea; Gordon Wiseman, UK; Christopher Podger, UK; Jelta Wong, Papua New Guinea

The group talked about how they could work together on a project to help the people in the regions they were travelling. The Rotarians knew an earthquake had devastated Rabaul in Papua New Guinea in 1994 and their local hospital was only partly rebuilt. They arranged to meet with Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Kokopo when the liner docked at Rabaul.

During their meeting in Papua New Guinea, the cruise liner Rotarians learned that the infant mortality rate in Papua New Guinea was very high and the Rabaul hospital did not have incubators. Inspired to support this worthy cause, the Rotarians got permission from P&O to fundraise on board the cruise liner and within a week had raised nearly $10,000 — enough to buy three incubators for the hospital. P&O fully supported the project and arranged to send the money to the Rotary Club of Kokopo to buy the incubators.

The united strength of Rotarians and the power of Rotary can significantly impact lives. Forming a Rotary Fellowship was the last thing on my mind when I boarded the Queen Mary 2 ship for a 19 day cruise a year ago.

Rotary meeting on board the Queen Mary 2

Rotary meeting on board the Queen Mary 2

After nagging the cruise staff a bit, they helped arrange an on-board meeting. I was one of eight very relaxed Rotarians who turned up to the first gathering; eleven Rotarians turned up for the second meeting and 20 for the third.

We wondered how we could harness all that’s good about Rotary and cruising. After much paperwork shuffling and liaising with RI, our dream became a reality with the recent formation of the Fellowship for Cruising Rotarians.

To tap into 21st century social media communication trend, our Fellowship is Facebook-based. This means we can get information from our members within seconds and hope to avoid annual fees. Rotarians who are not active on Facebook can still join and receive news by email.

Our Facebook page serves as a place for members to share about cruising as well as service activities Rotarians can undertake onboard. Rotarians can also connect with other members who may be taking the same cruise well in advance of their trip. The Fellowship will work to get cruise lines to establish programmed meetings on board every liner, and makeup cards for Rotarians to take to their home club.

Follow us on Facebook or email us for more information about how to join.

Rotary Fellowships, formed by Rotary members, their spouses, and Rotaractors, empower their members to pursue their passions and connect with new friends in Rotary from all over the world. Many Rotary Fellowships undertake service initiatives closely related to their group’s focus. Visit My Rotary to learn more about Rotary’s 60+ fellowships and read about the many service activities these groups organize every year.

Rotary lights up Malaysia

By Mohamed Shedou, Rotary Programs staff

Presenting about Rotary’s online tools and how they can help develop and promote projects

Presenting about Rotary’s online tools and how they can help develop and promote projects

Since I started working at Rotary, reading about Rotarian service projects seeking resources and promoting completed efforts has been part of my daily routine. I learn about many inspiring projects but had my first opportunity to see them in real life in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this past November.

I often hear about Rotarians’ hospitality, but hearing is nothing like experiencing. When I landed in Kuala Lumpur, I saw a familiar sign in an unfamiliar land: a Rotary sign carried by a friendly face; a Rotarian was there to pick me up! Daily, a welcoming Rotarian was by my side offering a helping hand and accompanying me where I needed to be. It was wonderful to get to know them personally and enjoy hours of conversations on the road.

I was invited to many delicious meals and great conversations with Rotarians from District 3300, as well as District Governor Kirenjit Kaur, the district’s first female governor. These meals finally culminated in a gala dinner with RI President Gary C.K. Huang, attended by more than 650 Rotarians and friends!

It would take pages to write about everything I saw and every Rotarian and spouse I got to know. Instead, I will highlight a few of the outstanding projects and events I visited during my time in Kuala Lumpur:

Mums Sew with Love This sewing project, a collaborative initiative between Rotary Club of Pantai Valley and the non-governmental organization Pusat Bantuan Sentul, equips single and stay–at-home-mothers with a lifelong skill to eventually start a small business with their quality products.

Children’s Residence Rotary Club of Kuala Lumpur Diraja is helping provide a home for 100 homeless children. The large plot of land for this residence was donated by a generous local Rotarian.

Malaysia Rotary Day During Malaysia Rotary Day, President Gary inaugurated Rotary District 3300’s Rotary Kasih (Rotary Love) project. The event also included a beautiful exhibition of the Rotary projects from around the district.

This was a very brief overview of an unforgettable experience whose memories will stay with me for a lifetime, just like many of the Rotary projects that positively impact people’s lives forever.


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E-clubs pioneer innovative partnerships with local groups

By Zuhal Sharp, Rotary Programs staff

Empowering community members to assess and address their own needs leads to the most effective and sustainable project outcomes. While we often hear about how traditional Rotary clubs work with community members to address local issues, e-clubs are also pioneering innovative approaches to partner with communities on hands-on projects. By sponsoring a Rotary Community Corps (RCC), many e-clubs are expanding their networks and enhancing their service impact.

RCCs are teams of community volunteers who share Rotary’s commitment to service but are not Rotary members. They work in partnership with their sponsor Rotary clubs (traditional clubs or e-clubs) to address their communities’ specific needs. RCCs are highly adaptable and can be found everywhere Rotary is present: in urban and rural areas, and in both developed and developing countries. Some RCCs are established to carry out a specific project for a limited period of time, while others tackle more entrenched problems on an ongoing basis.

As e-clubs have grown in popularity, so have e-club-RCC partnerships. Currently, e-clubs on four continents have sponsored RCCs. Here are some great examples of these partnerships in action:

  • RCC-Foodbank-Roof

    Putting a new roof on the food bank building.

    The Rotary E-Club of District 1100 in England currently sponsors two RCCs, each to address distinct local needs: the RCC of Malmesbury is working to develop flood defenses and establish a food bank while the RCC of Let’s Loop Swindon helps improve the quality of hearing aid loops available in town.

  • The Rotary E-Club of Lake Atitlán-Panajachel in Guatemala works in partnership with the RCC Peña Blanca 1 to promote the conservation of natural resources in the lake basin through proper management and education of the community.

Learn more about RCCs and share your RCC successes on Rotary Showcase.

Rotary Community Corps of Parker celebrates five years of service and fellowship

By Kam Breitenbach, Rotary Club of Parker, CO, USA, and Rotary Community Corps (RCC) of Parker advisor

Do you like to have fun, laugh, volunteer and eat with friends? I certainly do! Today, 20 January, the Rotary Community Corps (RCC) of Parker celebrates five years of friendship, fellowship, and service. This group is different from most others; it is designed for both community volunteers and teens and adults with developmental disabilities.

As an advisor for the RCC of Parker and a member of the Rotary Club of Parker, I am very proud of our RCC members. They are positive, happy, caring, loving, and hardworking. They set an example for our community. Let me show you all we have accomplished this past year:

  • RCC Back Packs!Purchased backpacks and school supplies through a grant from District 5450’s District Designated Fund (DDF). RCC of Parker and Rotary Club of Parker members worked together to assemble 75 bags for distribution at Parker Task Force, a local food bank.
  • Sponsored PROM-Us and Homecoming Dances for the special needs community. It was an evening to dress up and feel special in a safe environment with friends. The Parker United Methodist Church offered space, Rotary and community volunteers set up for the amazing evenings of dinner and dancing. 92 special need teens and adults danced the night away to music from their favorite DJs.
  • Books? What if I can’t read? This is not a problem for the RCC members. Volunteers read out loud while interested members listen to the story. It takes four to five weeks to finish a book and then we have a pot luck dinner. I think some of the members come just for the potluck!
  • Cameras! Action! Did you ever want to make a video to tell about yourself and what you like to do? The RCC of Parker went to the public library and made their own video!
  • DSCF0052What’s the best thing about Christmas? For RCC of Parker members, it means Adopt A Family night for the Parker Task Force! This year we adopted two families, divided into eight groups and were turned loose in the local Walmart store. Each of our groups had the name of a family member, their age, and a budget. After paying for their gifts, RCC members and parent helpers wrapped all the gifts.

Want to learn more about us? We wrote our second book Messages and Recipes from the Rotary Community Corps of Parker. Books are available for a US $20.00 donation (postage included). All proceeds go to further the Rotary Community Corps projects. Contact Kam Breitenbach.

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Related posts:
Rotary Community Corps of Parker opens doors to service for those with special needs
Philippine Rotary Day shines a light on Rotary Community Corps

Rotary Community Corps are teams of men and women organized with the help of a sponsoring Rotary club to take action and improve their communities. RCCs empower their members to play an active and ongoing role in identifying and addressing their community’s needs. And they provide local leadership and sustainability to ensure that projects succeed. Learn more about Rotary Community Corps.

Connecting for clean water at the Ecuador Project Fair

By Doug Armey, Past President of the Rotary Club of Fresno, CA, USA, and Ecuador Project Fair exhibitor

In the time it takes you to read this article, five children will have died from water related illness. Over two billion people lack access to clean water. Impure water is responsible for approximately 80 percent of all illnesses worldwide. This affects not only health but also education and financial stability.*

Jennifer Armey demonstrating how to build a WAPI at the X Ecuador Project Fair

Jennifer Armey demonstrating how to build a WAPI at the X Ecuador Project Fair

My wife and I traveled to Ecuador in November to attend District 4440’s 10th annual Ecuador Project Fair, a three day event where clubs from around the district showcase local service projects in need of support to international visitors who are interested in partnering with local clubs. We had the opportunity to present about support we can offer local clubs and listen to numerous project presentations, most of which addressed local water issues.

The issue

As we traveled through small villages in the Andes outside of Quito and Cuenca, we learned although communities have plenty of water, it often sits in settling basins to let unwanted silt suspended in the water supply settle. Unprotected from storm runoff and animals, these water sources are at risk of biological contamination.

The numerous solutions to purify water presented at the project fair were elaborate water filtration systems that work but cost thousands of dollars and require technical expertise to build and maintain. Throughout the course of the project fair, the need for simple, low-cost solutions to help purify the contaminated water consumed by many Ecuadorian communities became evident.

Public health officials often recommend that households boil their water up to ten minutes to kill all microbes that would cause disease. Still, boiling water is not uniformly practiced in the communities we visited, often times due to costly or limited fuel sources and unpleasant heat and smoke. The quantity of fuel consumed for boiling water is large; it takes approximately one kilogram of wood to boil one liter of water. Part of the reason we came to Ecuador was to present local clubs with a simple, cost-effective tool to determine the pasteurization temperature for water and milk using local resources.

Explaining the WAPI in Africa

Explaining the WAPI in Africa

The Water Pasteurization Instrument (WAPI) is a reusable, inexpensive thermometer that helps determine when liquid reaches pasteurization temperatures. Pasteurization occurs at a lower temperature than boiling water, required less fuel resources. The WAPI is a transparent tube containing wax. As water is being heated for pasteurization, the small device is inserted into the water. After the water reaches 150 °F (65 °C) for six minutes, the wax melts and drops to the bottom of the tube, indicating that the water is safe from bacteria, viruses and parasites. Our Rotary club has been working with communities in Africa to provide families with WAPIs for over 25 years.


The Water Pasteurization Instrument (WAPI)

The Water Pasteurization Instrument (WAPI)

WAPIs are relatively inexpensive to make: they cost less than US $.50 per family or US $100 for a village of 200 families. They can be made with local resources available in Ecuador, are indefinitely reusable, and have no associated maintenance costs. They are simple to make and can be made by the hundreds, a great project for Rotary and Rotaract clubs, Rotary Community Corps, and other groups. The beneficiary community can also be trained on how to make these temperature assessment tools, which could serve as micro-business opportunities for local communities. 

Our role

Our club helps local clubs take ownership of this project. We can help local clubs determine which products to obtain to build a WAPI and we train the clubs on how to build and use the device. The club can then take on building the WAPI and distributing it/selling it for a nominal fee to those who need the device, and then train the beneficiary community on how to use the device.

WAPI training (photo courtesy of Fresno Rotary Club)

WAPI training (photo courtesy of Fresno Rotary Club)

Many of the local clubs at the project fair were excited about the device. I realize this is not a long-term solution for purifying water but a complement to the larger long term water purification projects. We hope to return to Ecuador in the near future to hold training workshops on building and distributing WAPIs in hopes of reducing consumption of contaminated water while long-term water filtration projects are developed and implemented.

Contact us if you’d like to learn more about WAPIs or how to turn this into a club or district project.

* UN-Water, a United Nations inter-agency branch for coordinating water and sanitation measures

Related articles:

Making connections at the 10th annual Ecuador Project Fair
Project Fairs foster international partnerships and lifelong friendships

Making connections at the X Ecuador Project Fair

By Adelita Hernandez, Rotary Programs staff

With Amparo Albuja (right), District 4440's X Ecuador Project Fair co-organizer and Rotary Club of Quito Club President

Adelita (left) with Amparo Albuja (right), District 4440’s X Ecuador Project Fair co-organizer and Rotary Club of Quito Club President

As part of my job here at Rotary, I connect online with Rotarians from all over the world but nothing replaces face to face interaction. I recently had the opportunity to attend the 10th Annual Ecuador Project Fair in Quito, Ecuador.  The three day event gave 22 local clubs a chance to present more than 80 service projects to 35 international Rotarian visitors.

Project Fairs are great opportunities for local clubs to showcase their work to prospective international partners and an equally fantastic way for visitors to learn more about the host country’s culture while finding a project to support. I met many Rotarians who are no strangers to Ecuador, returning year after year to visit the projects they have previously supported while learning about new initiatives.

After a 12 hour journey from Chicago, I finally arrived in Quito looking forward to seven days packed with project presentations, meetings, and project site visits. During the fair, I presented on several Rotary tools—Rotary Ideas, Groups, and Showcase—that help Rotarians promote and seek support for their projects. I was amazed by the variety of project exhibits ranging from providing heart valves to children in rural Quito, to water filtration systems in Tulcan, to supporting self-sustaining communities in Villaflora. It was inspiring to talk to the project coordinators and learn about the impact their projects were making in the lives of so many.

After the fair, I visited several of the exhibiting projects: an early education center in Machachi, a community health center in Quito, a center for families of cancer patients in Cuenca, and a homeless shelter in Cuenca.  The smiles of hundreds who benefit from these efforts illuminated the Rotary clubs’ passionate dedication to improving their communities.  Many of these projects are now listed on Rotary Ideas in hopes of finding more international partners.

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If clubs in your district are looking for international project partners, contact your district leadership about hosting a local project fair.

Ethical dilemma discussion: what do you think about Rotary as a means for business?

Every so often, the question of using Rotary as a means for personal business surfaces at meetings and on Rotary’s social media pages. If a dedicated Rotarian sees a new business opportunity which primarily profits off Rotarian customers or clients, is it ethical for the Rotarian to pursue the endeavor?

What do you think?

Top stories from 2014

By Ellina Kushnir, Rotary Programs staff

To wind down 2014, we’re taking a look at the past year. Your five favorite stories (based on views):

  • ShelterBox International Partnerships Manager Melissa Martins Casagrande recaps disaster relief accomplishments made possible through the Rotary-ShelterBox partnership.
  • Monique Cooper-Liverpool, a member of the Rotary Club of Monrovia, Liberia, shares updates about Ebola’s impact in Monrovia and information about how the Rotary family can help Rotarian-led relief and recovery efforts.
  • The October ethical dilemma discussion seeks recommendations on reminding members to act with integrity in their personal, professional, and Rotary endeavors.
  • RI President Gary C.K. Huang inspires us to Light Up Rotary through Rotary Days: fun, informal community events that highlight Rotary’s accomplishments while introducing neighbors and friends to Rotary.
  • The July ethical dilemma discussion asks how to resolve a service project issue by following Rotary’s guiding principles.

Tell your Rotary story: add completed projects to Rotary Showcase, share on Facebook and Twitter, and submit a blog post.

See you in 2015!