Empowering women and girls in Afghanistan

By Bibi Bahrami, member of the Rotary Club of Muncie and founder of AWAKEN

Growing up as a young girl in the peaceful village of Qala-e-Malakh in Afghanistan, I was part of a loving family with ten brothers and sisters. We were happy, but little did we know that our lives would soon face devastation as the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979. I was frightened and scared for my life and for the lives of my loved ones. Every time I heard shots or explosions, I trembled at the thought of losing a family member.

In the face of war, we were forced to flee our home, leaving everything behind to head towards refugee camps in Pakistan. A long journey awaited us as we traveled through mountains without much food or water, with small children and my mother who was eight months pregnant at the time. We arrived to the camps safely where I spent the next six years of my life. My life had been turned upside down. Growing up, I always had aspirations and dreams to be educated, and hoped for the opportunity to pursue them. My six years in the camp did not give me that opportunity, but I tried to learn what I could from my brothers’ books.

In 1986, I boarded a plane to meet my fiancé, who was a medical student in the United States who I had met in the refugee camp in Pakistan. My trip brought me to Muncie, Indiana, and I was blessed with the opportunity that I had always wanted. I was finally able to pursue my education, completing a GED and continuing on to receive an art degree from Ball State University. As my life has moved on from my home in Qala-e-Malakh and the refugee camps, I never forgot about the girls I left behind who have the same dreams as I did.

My husband and I continued to travel back to the refugee camps in Pakistan every year, with medicine and other humanitarian supplies. In 2002, with the support of family and friends, we established AWAKEN (Afghan Women and Kids Education & Necessities) to provide educational opportunities, vocational training, and healthcare services to the people of Afghanistan, especially the women and children.

As part of AWAKEN, we offered a vocational training program where we traveled from village to village and rented a room conveniently located near women’s homes. We conducted a six-month course teaching women basic hygiene, reading, writing, and sewing. At the end of the course, all women received a sewing machine and kit so they could become self-sufficient.

There were also no opportunities for education in my hometown of Qala-e-Malakh. In 2004, AWAKEN established a school for children grades K-12. The school now has more than 1200 students enrolled.

Most villages in Afghanistan do not have access to any sort of healthcare. In 2008, we built the Behsood Health Clinic which provides over 500 families access to basic treatments such as vaccines, birth control, etc. The clinic sees more than 180 patients daily.

Recently, AWAKEN partnered with the Rotary Club of Muncie Sunrise (United States) and the Rotary Club of Jalalabad (Afghanistan) to establish a Saheli Center. The center will open near the current AWAKEN clinic and school providing literacy, nutrition, and reproductive health classes. The center will also provide vocational education, including but not limited to computers and tailoring expanding upon AWAKEN’s efforts.

One of my biggest dreams was to open a birthing center in the village. AWAKEN created a birthing center to provide prenatal and postnatal care. With the support of partnering Rotary clubs, we will expand our efforts by conducted Family Planning Workshops taught by medical professionals from the Rotary Club of Jalalabad and the AWAKEN clinic staff. Birth attendants will also conduct small workshops on pre-natal nutrition, birthing practices and infant nutrition, including breast feeding for those receiving pre-natal care. Small packages of infant care supplies provided by the Rotary clubs will be given to women who complete all the classes.

I was once a little girl in Afghanistan with limited opportunities, and am blessed to have the life I enjoy today. Unfortunately, people living in impoverished countries do not have access to the opportunities and resources that I do now. Together we can make a difference in the lives of many women and children in Afghanistan, so that they can awaken to a brighter future with opportunities for continuing their education and becoming self-sufficient!



Improving basic education and literacy – a task for all Rotarians

By Ivan Karanovic, member of Rotary Club Belgrade Skadarlija (Serbia) and lead for a global grant project

To ensure Rotary continues to attract passionate members, we must invest in our future leaders. By focusing on basic education and literacy projects, we develop future leaders that will catapult Rotary forward. Youth faced with disaster or living in disaster struck areas are in need of our support and assistance to ensure they have strong futures ahead of them.

Terrible floods struck the Balkan countries in May 2014. The city of Obrenovac, in southwest Serbia, was greatly impacted. Homes, schools, public buildings and peoples’ lives were destroyed. Everyone in the region offered their support by volunteering, rescuing people trapped in their homes, and by working with the government and NGOs to donate resources including food and clothes. The scale of the floods was massive and every effort made a difference.

School buildings were strongly affected by these floods. Most classrooms were damaged and students had to be moved to different schools. The chairs, tables, doors, electricity, and floors in each classroom was completely unusable. On top of that, the flooded classrooms became a potential health hazard for children. We knew we had to focus our flood relief efforts on these children and their school to ensure they still had a bright future ahead of them.

Building on the idea of investing in our youth, our Rotary Club of Belgrade Skadarlija decided to support three schools in Obrenovac, Serbia. Inspired by the Rotary Foundation’s guidelines for basic education and literacy projects, we wanted to help these students get back their lives and plan ahead for their future. We decided to invest in school equipment for technology classrooms, teaching programs and education methods for teachers.

Partnering with the Rotary Club of Cesena in Italy and with the support of the Rotary Foundation, we began working on a Global Grant project valued at US $102,000, which was presented at the 8th Multi-Club Workshop held in Ischia, Italy, in September 2014. The Rotary Club of Cesena became our international partner and we collaborated with eight other clubs from D2072 and other clubs from D 2483 on this global grant. After two years of working on the project, we achieved our goal and were able to provide 55 computers, 21 laptops, 20 interactive boards, 20 projectors, a 3D printer, along with complementary training for teachers.

The formal handover of the equipment was attended by students, teachers, representatives of municipal authorities, as well as Rotarians from Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia and Italy. Nearly 2900 students were thrilled to receive new equipment that gives them the opportunity to develop their creativity and learn through multimedia methods.

In the next phase of the project, we are shifting our focus onto teachers.  We aim to give them the opportunity to attend trainings on improving their teaching methods and ensuring sustainability in education. During 2017, 45 professors will attend a 5-day training session, which will be organized in cooperation with the Petnica Science Center in Valjevo, Serbia. During this training, teachers will have the chance to learn about new teaching methods, evaluate their current programs and exchange ideas with other teachers.

Members of Rotary Club Belgrade Skadarlija are very grateful to all the Rotary clubs and districts that supported this project and proud of the successful Global Grant project management and implementation. By investing in new equipment and training teachers to effectively teach students, we wanted to demonstrate our strong determination to building a better educational future for children!

Attend the 2017 Multi-Club Workshop in London, England. The 11th annual event will take place 6-10 September. Learn more about the workshop and visit their website for more information! 

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!


Read more posts about basic education and literacy

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.  


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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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!

* www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/education


Related resources:

Get involved in WASH in Schools

By PDG Sandy Forster, District 5810; Water & Sanitation Rotarian Action Group Board of Directors

The young girl shyly holding my hand took me on a tour of her school – similar, yet strikingly different, from the schools I knew at home, half a world away. The students were eager to have a visitor and excited to show me their work. Since supplies were limited, I could see many students sharing paper, short nubby pencils and schoolbooks.

I noticed in the upper 2primary school grades, four through eight, the classrooms had fewer students, especially girls. The headmaster explained many children drop out of school, girls especially, to help their mothers bring water from creeks or rivers or because they don’t have access to bathrooms as they reach the age when menstrual cycles begin. He went on to share this particular school didn’t have a water source, nor toilets or even latrines for the students to use.

This first experience visiting a Rotarian-led water and sanitation project site has stayed with me throughout the years. WASH in School programs are vital for community development and growth. Because of these programs, we are able to see positive changes for families, villages, and nations. School dropout rates decline, health improves as fewer diseases spread, and economic growth accelerates.

1In the years following my first WASH trip, I made several more trips to this village. The homes and the school now have easy access to clean water. Toilet blocks have been built at the school and homes have added latrines with toilets. All grades are full with both boys and girls learning, and the dropout rates have declined. Children became ‘teachers’ to parents and grandparents about sanitation and hygiene. Micro businesses have grown. And it all began with water.

Now as a member of Wasrag (Water & Sanitation Rotarian Action Group), I have the opportunity to help other clubs and districts with their WASH projects. Wasrag has teamed up with Rotary to offer a three-part webinar series to assist clubs and districts with their WASH in Schools projects. The series will feature ideas and best practices from experts in the field to help you start or expand your projects.

Join us to learn how you can make a bigger impact in your community through WASH in Schools.

Reserve your spot now using the links below. Note that the time is Chicago time (UTC-5); convert to your local time.

Part 1: Thursday, 15 October, 10:00-11:00
An Introduction to Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) in Schools

Part 2: Tuesday, 20 October, 10:00-11:00
WASH in Schools beyond toilets and tap: Behavior change through hygiene education

Part 3: Tuesday, 27 October, 10:00-11:00
Engaging your community through WASH in Schools



Rotary’s young leaders improve communities through education and literacy projects

By Jessie Dunbar-Bickmore, RI Programs staff

Young leaders around the world are dedicating their time and talents to helping fellow students improve basic education and literacy skills. Through mentorship and skills training to instilling a love for learning, Interactors are addressing some of the most pressing educational needs in their local communities and across the globe:

The Interact Club of Sekolah Sri Cempaka, Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, pioneered the iTeach iLearn iGrow campaign, an effort to assist fellow youth at the Dignity for Children Foundation. With funds raised from a walkathon, the Interactors purchased six computers and dedicated many weekend mornings to teach students at the Dignity for Children Foundation how to use the hardware and software. With access to computers and knowledge to use them, the students can now play educational games, type up homework, access the Internet to complete research, and have gained lifelong skills to help them stay competitive in school and the workforce. Here’s their story*:

*This video was submitted as part of the 2014-15 Interact Video Awards. Follow Interact on Facebook to learn more about the 2015-16 Interact Video Awards launching later this year.