2017 Presidential Peace Conference – Celebrate Rotary’s continued commitment to Peace

By Past District Governor Rudy Westervelt, Conference Program Chair, and Past RI Director Robert Stuart, Conference Chair

Dear friends,

Join RI President John Germ and us in Atlanta on 9 and 10 June, immediately preceding the RI Convention, for the 2017 Presidential Peace Conference hosted at the Georgia World Congress Center.  The conference will discuss some of our world’s most pressing challenges and highlight solutions to address the root causes of conflict.

The opening session kicks off on Friday, 9 June, at 13:00 with an impactful keynote address by Dr.  Bernice A. King, Chief Executive Officer of The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and the youngest daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.

Nearly 100 experts will speak on twenty-four breakout sessions over the two-day event. Attendees will select breakouts from six tracks representing a variety of topics including, but not limited to, disputes over natural resources, the refugee crisis in Syria and the Middle East, addressing illegal labor and sexual exploitation, strategies to address cyberbullying, and discussing the media’s role in perpetuating instability or advocating for peace. Each session will offer opportunities to engage with panelists and fellow participants.

Friday evening will conclude with a cash-bar reception and networking opportunities, and the conference resumes on Saturday morning with keynote remarks delivered by a special guest.

Join us to learn from experts from the Rotary family, non-profit leaders, policy makers, educators, representatives from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation, Carter Center, Global Prosperity and Peace Initiative, Institute for Economics and Peace; Duke/UNC Peace Center, and much more. Gain inspiration from heroic members of the global community dedicating their lives to make lasting improvements for millions around our planet.

Space is limited and filling up quickly – register today! Take home solutions to address concerns within your own community and join us in working together to create positive change around the globe.

We look forward to seeing y’all in Atlanta!


2017 Presidential Conference: Celebrating our Commitment to Peace

Rotary programs offer opportunities to advance world peace

By Rotary Service and Engagement Staff

February is Rotary’s Peace and Conflict Resolution Month, a great time to take action in promoting peace worldwide. Rotary offers a variety of programs that allow members to discover new cultures, exchange ideas, promote global understanding, and develop leaders who become catalysts for peace. Here are a few ways you can get involved:

Exchange opportunities

With 1.2 million members from 200 countries and geographical areas, you’re near Rotary friends wherever you go. Expand your worldview and build goodwill through a Rotary Friendship Exchange, New Generations Service Exchange, or Rotary Youth Exchange:

Discover new cultures

International service opportunities allow members to make connections, exchange diverse perspectives, learn from one another, and make a global impact. Engage with fellow members outside your club and district:

  • Regionally hosted project fairs offer life-changing opportunities for international visitors to learn about a host region, make new friends, and connect with clubs in need of international partners. Read how the West Africa Project Fair changed Rotaractor Shapreka Clarke’s life.
  • Twin clubs, or sister clubs, represent a long-term relationship between two international clubs that promotes understanding, goodwill, and collaboration on service projects in their communities. Celebrate this relationship with a Twin Club Certificate of Recognition.
  • Intercountry committees, which promote peace, friendship, and strengthen relationships between two countries, offer opportunities for members to foster inter-cultural understanding. Read how the France-USA Intercountry Committee is supporting young leaders working to advance peace and cultural understanding.

Rotary Peace Fellows

Through academic training, practice, and global networking opportunities, the Rotary Peace Centers program develops leaders who become catalysts for peace and conflict prevention and resolution. In just over a decade, the Rotary Peace Centers have trained more than 1,000 fellows for careers in peacebuilding. Many of them are serving as leaders at international organizations or have started their own foundations. Rotary members can support the fellowship program by:

  • Becoming a Peacebuilder District. Your district can support the Rotary Peace Centers by allocating a minimum of $25,000 annually in District Designated Funds (DDF). Learn more.
  • Promoting the program within your club and district to identify and nominate candidates for the fellowships. Use the resources on this page for recruiting candidates and publicizing the program. The 2018 Rotary Peace Fellowship application is available and candidates have until 31 May to submit applications to their district.

How is your club and district Rotary Peace and Conflict/Resolution month? Share what programs and activities you are implanting in the comments below!

Peace is possible

By Past TRF Trustee Carolyn E. Jones, Chair of the Rotarian Action Group for Peace

It seems there are a whole bunch of Rotary members who aren’t content in merely being just members and want to make a greater impact. These members have decided to organize, specialize and focus their efforts on one specific area like water and sanitation, microcredit, or health. By the time they come up with a name, it is so long that they simply call themselves Rotarian Action Groups (RAGs). One day, I went online and stumbled across the Rotarian Action Group for Peace’s website and knew I wanted to join right away.

Peace RAG is a group of Rotarians, their family members, program participants, and alumni working together for the purpose of advancing peace throughout the world. The RAG formed in 2012 as a group focused on providing a network of resources to further the peace and conflict resolution work of Rotary members around the globe.

When it comes to matters of literacy, health, water or hunger, the needs and solutions easily come to mind: books, medicine, water wells, food, etc.  When it comes to furthering peace and preventing conflict, most Rotarians can’t immediately think of a project to implement.

Peace RAG connects clubs and districts to peace projects looking for support, as well as provides education and information about the many ways we can support peace. Here are a few ways the RAG is assisting the Rotary family:

  • Upon request, the RAG looks for funding for peace projects. Most recently, we helped secure a Global Grant for a project in District 4185, Mexico. The grant will finance a project that provides training for Rotarians, Rotaractors, youth and other local peace builders on the positive peace model and will offer practical instructions on how to build peace within their community. Working with local media outlets, the project aims to produce news that highlights positive and constructive opportunities for Mexico to grow more peaceful in the years ahead.
  • The RAG identifies speakers for high profile Rotary events such as conventions, district conferences, club programs, and presidential peace initiatives.
  • The group encourages collaborations between Rotary Peace Fellows and clubs by helping clubs identify local Peace Fellows and alumni and facilitating introduction.

Creating a virtual network of peace

Rotarian Action Group for Peace’s signature piece of work is the Rotary Peace Map, a virtual platform connecting Peace RAG members with other Rotary affiliated groups, projects, educational institutions and peace organizations. You can easily navigate the map by entity, region, or area of specialization. It is an exciting resource and here is all you need to know about it:

  • The worldwide map covers Rotary’s global network and the regional filter allows you to explore specific regions of interest;
  • The map highlights areas of specializations, connecting you with groups that share your interest;
  • You can easily find your Rotary club, organization, educational institute or peace project by using the search tool.  You can even find my name way up in Alaska, USA!

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As I write this, Peace RAG is collaborating with the 21st Century Peace Literacy Foundation to spread the message of peace via a unique Peace Hub Tour in western United States.  This mobile space is facilitating conversations about peacebuilding through community visits and meeting with local Rotary clubs. The hub is a huge eye catcher, as you can see from the photos above, and many clubs have already contacted Jerry Leggett, the lead on this initiative, to schedule a visit. If you can’t connect with Jerry on the west coast tour, be sure to meet him and the hub at the Rotary International Convention in Atlanta.

There are so many avenues to peacebuilding – many that I had not even considered. Peace is possible! Learn more about Rotarian Action Group for Peace and let’s advance world peace together.



Peace Corps Volunteers changed my world view  

By District Governor-elect Abbas Rajabi, District 5450 USA

Peace Corps sends U.S. volunteers, usually recent university graduates, to live and work abroad for two years. Their goal is to help host countries meet local needs and promote mutual cultural understanding. While abroad, volunteers learn the local language and work with professionals in education, health, community economic development, environment, youth in development, and agriculture.

My first encounter with Peace Corps was in high school in the mid-1960s. A number of Peace Corp Volunteers (PCVs) from the United States came to my hometown of Hamadan in Iran to serve as teachers at our local high schools. Their impact and their message of peace was profound. It was so inspiring seeing a number of young people working together to teach English, to serve selflessly and appreciate our culture throughout the city. More than that, seeing the cultural differences was eye opening to all of us young Iranians.

It is clear now that those Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Iran know the country better than perhaps anyone else who may have just passed through. Those of us who had the opportunity to learn from these teachers arguably understand the United States better than our fellow Iranians, and we have come to be the catalyst for peace and goodwill  between Iranians and Americans. This cultural exchange helped us learn about one another while promoting peace and goodwill.

Between 1962 and 1976, more than 1500 Peace Corps Volunteers served in Iran. Many of them forged lifelong friendships with Iranians and returned to the United States with a cultural understanding of Iran. The cultural impact and friendships between Iranians and Americans are far better and deeper than most people will ever realize.

I have very deep connections to my birthplace of Iran, but now I live in the United States. I have come to love my new country and Peace Corps first shaped my view of the United States and the people who live here.

Recently, I sought to reconnect with my Peace Corps teacher, Mr. Don Laffoon. After many attempts of calling and writing to a number of Peace Corps Volunteers, I finally found my old teacher in California. I called the phone number I had found and Mr. Laffoon picked up the phone; for moments, I felt nostalgic and emotional to hear a voice so familiar after nearly 50 years.

“Hello… who is this,” Mr. Lafffoon said. I responded: “This is Abbas Rajabi, I was your student in Hamadan and I wish to tell you I am grateful for all you taught me.”

He was excited to hear from me and we reminisced about that time, other classmates and teachers, and the city of Hamadan. We talked for a while and promised to be in touch. It was so satisfying for me to be able to thank Mr. Lafffoon and tell him the positive  impact he made on my life.

Through a formalized service partnership, Rotary International and Peace Corps are working together to help enhance club and district service activities locally and around the world. I hope to further the partnership by helping connect Rotarians with local Peace Corps Volunteers living and working in their communities, and by helping U.S. clubs connect with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Every Rotary district, all Peace Corps Volunteers around the world, and most importantly the people we serve through our community and international service projects can greatly benefit from this partnership.

We want to hear from Rotarians with experience working with Peace Corps! Have you served as Peace Corps Volunteers or worked with Peace Corps in other capacities? Please complete this survey by 28 February. The survey should take no more than ten minutes to complete and all responses are confidential. Email rotary.service@rotary.org if you have any questions.


  • Read the Rotary-Peace Corps partnership fact sheet for collaboration opportunities for clubs and districts.
  • If you’re attending the 2017 Rotary Convention in Atlanta, visit the Peace Corps booth in the House of Friendship and attend a Rotary-Peace Corps breakout session to learn more about the partnership.
  • Rotarian Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are invited to District 5450’s Rotary-Peace Corps workshop on 4 August 2017 in Denver, Colorado, USA. Contact Charlie Hunt or Steve Werner for more information and to register for the workshop.

Embracing and celebrating our differences

By Azka Asif, Rotary Service and Engagement Staff

Rotary brings together a global network of volunteers who come from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and professions. We embrace and celebrate these differences as they are what makes the Rotary community so strong. By leveraging unique perspectives and tapping into their expertise, members address the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges, one of which is creating a more peaceful world.

The Rotary family is committed to contributing time, energy and passion to empower our local communities. Through service projects, peace fellowships, scholarships, and international exchanges, members are taking action to promote peace and international understanding. Here are just a few examples of how Rotarians are advancing world peace:

  • The Rotary Club of Marikina in the Philippines hosted a peace forum to exchange ideas on how to progress towards a more peaceful world. Local Rotary clubs attended the half day forum collaborating on how to strive for global peace through Rotary’s unique approach of peace through service.
  • In the United States, the Rotary Club of Branchburg Township hosted an interfaith dinner and diversity award program. The club recognized individuals, businesses and community organizations who embrace peace and embody the values of civility, global and community awareness. This collaborative program brought together community leaders and the Rotary family to promote peace, understanding and goodwill.
  • The Rotary Clubs of Radolfzell-Hegau in Germany and Istanbul Sisli in Turkey partnered on an exchange for university-level music students. The clubs aimed to facilitate international and cross-cultural understanding. The students studied the international language of music and discussed their respective countries and cultures during the exchange, helping bridge divides and forge new friendships
  • The Rotary Club of Bursa-Uludag wants to prevent 500 disadvantaged children in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in Turkey from getting involved in crime by developing musical talents. The club hopes to provide instruments for each child and establish a music center. The center will be open to all children who want to learn music without any discrimination. Being a member of this music community will increase the child’s sense of belonging, respect and self-confidence.
  • In India, the Rotary Club of Mussoorie organized a talk on meditation, discussing the basic concept and potential benefits it brings to those suffering from mental and physical stress caused by everyday life.

February is Rotary’s Peace and Conflict Resolution Month, a great time to take action in promoting peace worldwide. Read more stories about peace and conflict resolution to gain inspiration for club and district service projects. Post your club’s project on Rotary Showcase and join the conversation in My Rotary’s discussion groups. Share your thoughts about peace and conflict resolution in the comments below!

2017 Presidential Conference: Celebrating our Commitment to Peace

By John Germ, Rotary International President, 2016-17

Dear Friends,

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

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

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



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

Working to empower Syrian refugees

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

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

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

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

My experience with Syrian refugees in Lebanon  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



48 hours as a diplomat

By Kristin Brown, Rotary Service Connections Manager

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

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

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

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

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



Doctors’ Fellowship aims to empower albino community in Tanzania

By Dr. John Philip, Past District Governor and Chair of the International Fellowship of Rotarian Doctors

Albino FamilyThree years ago I was on the island of Ukerewe in Tanzania leading a Rotary project when I heard a child had been abducted and murdered. The child was an albino and was targeted by traditional healers. I was in utter disbelief when I discovered traditional healers, sometimes called witch doctors, target albinos to use their body parts in ritual practices, which they claim bring wealth and good luck. The Tanzanian government banned witch doctors in January 2015. Since then more than 200 witch doctors and traditional healers have been arrested, but many people with albinism still live under the threat of death.

People with albinism lack melanin pigment in their skin and appear to have “white” skin. They have sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation and are at risk of developing skin cancer and significant sight problems. The Rotarian Doctors’ Fellowship is supporting a campaign in Tanzania to help this marginalized and discriminated community claim their rightful place in the society and live without fear. Our project addresses many interconnected challenges – reducing stigma through village seminars, vocational training and improving eye care.

ROTARIAN WITH AN ALBINOAs a cancer specialist, my initial interest was to help this high risk group receive better treatment for skin cancer. Skin cancer is not a lethal disease and is easily preventable. I soon realized that improving skin cancer care was important, but will have little effect until other complex social issues are addressed. Through village education and peace building efforts, we sought to help persuade communities with high incidences of violence against people with albinism to abandon old beliefs and myths.

This year, I went back to evaluate the campaign and our efforts. Our local partner, the Mennonite Central Committee of Tanzania (MCC), had conducted more than 40 village education meetings engaging 2,000 villagers.  At the review meeting, I met with 16 village leaders and heard their plans of action. There had been a dramatic change in their perception about albinism and a sense of determination that they did not want the good names of their villages to be tarnished by attacks on people with albinism.

Then I witnessed something that had never happened before. I heard a joint presentation by a traditional healer and person with albinism. As a result of the year-long peace building efforts, traditional healers and people with albinism had formed an alliance called CHATAS to openly fight against albinism myths.

They called for action to bring to justice those who propagated abhorrent views. The leader of CHATAS, a traditional healer himself said, “We – the traditional healers – condemn and disown those who bring disgrace to our profession. We hope they would be debarred from practicing healing. Albinos are people just like us.”

This type of collaboration was unimaginable a year ago. The village education meetings and peace building program were funded by Rotary and implemented by our partners – MCC and Albino Peace Makers. Rotary helped make this miracle happen.

Through the Fellowship’s network of contacts, I have been able to share my experience with colleagues all around the world and thus highlight the plight of people with albinism.  The project has attracted support from seven Rotary districts and a number of organizations. I was even invited to share my experience with delegates at the Rotary International Presidential Conference on Disease Prevention and Treatment in Cannes.

PEOPLE LIKE US1Helping people with albinism is one of many projects supported by the Fellowship of Rotarian Doctors. The Fellowship offers for Rotarians, their family members, and program participants and alumni a unique opportunity to bring their vocation into service, change lives and make friends. The group shares a vision for supporting and promoting global health improvements, an enthusiasm for making advancements through volunteering, and a strong commitment to support local and international healthcare initiatives. For more information, contact me.



Promoting peace between countries

By Kristin Brown, Rotary Service Connections Manager

Past District Governor Anton (Toni) Polsterer is passionate about peace. His district includes Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) and part of Austria, and he’s seen firsthand the role that Inter-Country Committees (ICCs) can play in promoting peace between countries, or between different ethnic groups within the same country. He’s also seen what the Rotary Foundation can do through grants for large-scale, sustainable projects.

So last year, at a conference on “Building Peace with Rotary” at UNESCO, Polsterer issued a challenge: he would contribute USD 10,000 to the Rotary Foundation for an international project in Peace and Conflict Prevention/Resolution. The USD 10,000 cash contribution will receive a 50% match by the World Fund, making his gift worth USD 15,000. A number of worthy proposals were submitted and Polsterer announced two projects will split the gift once the grants are finalized and approved by The Rotary Foundation.

One project plans to bring a Vocational Training Team and hold a five day International Training Institute for women peace builders from different countries. Polsterer hopes to see new ICCs emerge in the region as a result of this peace building project. The other brings together children from different ethnic groups and uses music therapy and the process of composing, scripting, designing and performing an original work to heal conflict-induced psycho social wounds and bridge differences among cultural and religious groups.

If you are attending the Rotary International Convention in Korea, participate in the Inter-Country Committees and the $10K Peace Project Challenge breakout session on Tuesday, 31 May from 13:00 – 14:30 to learn more.