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!



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:

Stand #UpForSchool with Rotary

Every child has the right to go to school, without danger or discrimination. 59 million children around the world don’t have access to basic education. Rotarians, Rotaractors and Interactors all over the world are taking action to enhance basic education and literacy in their communities.

Stand with Rotary and millions of other youth, teachers, parents, and advocates by signing A World At School’s #UpForSchool petition, a global campaign to get all children into school and learning. Signing the petition adds pressure for global leaders to uphold their 2000 commitment to ensure all out-of-school children gain their right to education by a target date of 2015 through the Millennium Development Goals. Together we can create the biggest petition in history and show the world how Rotary can mobilize their communities to support education and literacy.


“We, the world’s youth, teachers, parents and global citizens appeal to our governments to keep their promise, made at the United Nations in 2000, to ensure all out-of-school children gain their right to education before the end of 2015.

We are standing up to bring an end to the barriers preventing girls and boys from going to school, including forced work and early marriage, conflict and attacks on schools, exploitation and discrimination. All children deserve the opportunity to learn and achieve their potential.

We are #UpForSchool.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Celebrate International #LiteracyDay

By Ellina Kushnir, Rotary Programs staff

BEL Project StrategiesEvery 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 to recognize. Today, 8 September, International Literacy Day, we join the global community in celebrating the successful growth of literacy rates around the world.

In honor of International Literacy Day and the release of our new Basic Education and Literacy Project Guide, we asked RI staff Alison Randall, Regional Grants Officer for Africa and Europe, and Mary Jo Jean-Francois, Area of Focus Manager for Basic Education and Literacy, about our strengths within basic education and literacy and how we can continue improving our humanitarian initiatives.

What are the most important components of a basic education and literacy project?

AR: The Rotary family is very passionate about enriching students’ education. When an initial needs assessment is conducted, typically through a visit to the school, the material needs are overwhelmingly obvious. Students are sharing books, teachers don’t have computers, children are seated on a dirt floor. It is natural to want to provide physical materials to conduct class in a comfortable environment but we know merely providing equipment is not sustainable, nor does it create a quality education. After the equipment wears out and breaks down, will students continue to receive quality education? Have they been equipped with valuable knowledge to help them advance and succeed?

If the project site is a school, initial site visits and assessments are key opportunities to meet with teachers and administrators about desired teacher training and curriculum development. There are many soft costs to education beyond desks, books, paper and pencils. Many grants that come across my desk include training and equipment but struggle to integrate these components into a cohesive project. Incorporating the teaching curriculum into the project training plan enhances the project’s impact. For basic education and literacy projects, the community assessment should start with conversations with school administrators and teachers, students, students’ families, and other key members about what they would like for their schools regarding training and support, in addition to a discussion about material needs.

For example, usually the basic needs at a school in a developed nation have been met compared to a school in a developing country. These projects still tend to request material goods, usually smart boards or more sophisticated computer programs for students. In these circumstances, a need has been identified but without incorporating a corresponding teacher training, providing equipment is not sustainable. These types of mistakes can be avoided by directly asking teachers if they have training requests.  Grant sponsors are surprised to find that teachers, even in the most developed nations and advanced educational systems, have a great desire to enhance their own knowledge by learning about different teaching methodologies, cutting edge technology tools, and managing different learning styles, to name a few.

MJJF: We love hearing from international project partners interested in helping address basic education and literacy needs in a different country. Oftentimes, international partners outside of the project country have “pre-developed” a project concept that they would like to apply to a school. Sometimes this cookie cutter strategy can work but typically the project does not address core needs because the local community was not assessed before the project was designed. These projects usually end up being over budget because the international partner identifies additional needs at the school while implementing the grant and tries to alter the project scope to address these new needs. It is critically important for the host schools to identify its own needs even if they don’t align with the international partner’s original project plan. It is important to be flexible.

What types of roles can Rotary members assume to help with project implementation?

AR: There are many ways Rotarians can be involved in the implementation of a basic education and literacy project. I often see primary or secondary education projects where teachers are looking for a helping hand and students can always use a mentor. For example, if a global grant project is providing an evening adult literacy course to parents, the partnering Rotarians can offer a simultaneous mentoring sessions or homework program for the participant’s children.

Rotarians can also help by putting on their networking hats. Our members are business leaders within their communities and can facilitate introductions. For example, some basic education and literacy projects may require cooperating with the Ministry of Education to ensure the project is complying with national education standards, a seemingly daunting effort. Rotarians may be able to help facilitate introductions, partnerships, and agreements.

How do you think the new Basic Education and Literacy Project Guide will help clubs and districts with their projects?

AR: I am very excited about this new project guide! It is a very concise document that provides great global grant examples of how to address problems that occur in real Rotary projects. These are not hypothetical scenarios. The beginning of the document identifies BEL opportunities that occur in almost every county, including developed nations!

MJJF: This guide is a great tool for all Rotary clubs, regardless of their experience with basic education and literacy projects.  I hope that Rotary clubs who are doing smaller projects in their communities can utilize this tool to make their projects stronger.  The best projects are those where Rotarians have long-term involvement with schools in their communities.  This guide can help Rotarians and Rotaractors scale up their projects so that more students can benefit from their great work!


Committing to universal education during Rotary Basic Education and Literacy Month

Basic education and literacy are essential for reducing poverty, improving health, encouraging community and economic development, and promoting peace. Over the years, we’ve helped make significant progress towards helping achieve the United Nationals Millennium Development Goals, especially within the basic education and literacy area of focus. According to a 2014 progress report, literacy rates among adults and youth continue to rise and the gender gap in literacy is narrowing.

This September, Rotary Basic Education and Literacy Month, we’re celebrating our progress and reaffirming our commitment to help attain universal education! Here are just a few examples of club service projects helping improve education around the world:

  • PhilippinesIn partnership with local government, community, and international clubs, the Rotary Club of Tagum North, Davao City, Philippines, reconstructed classrooms at the Imelda Daycare Center damaged by Typhoon Pablo.
  • The Rotary Club of Latur Mid-Town, Maharashtra, India, hosted teacher training workshops for educators who work in small rural government-operated schools. 213 teachers received six hours of coursework on new educational technologies and applications available to the teachers.
  • BoliviaThe Rotary Club of Grigota, Bolivia, undertook an advocacy initiative to inform families on the importance of children, especially girls, receiving a basic level of education before beginning to work.
  • The Rotaract Club of Baker College Muskegon, MI, USA, participated in a literacy board game tournament to raise funds for its reading program. Proceeds from the fundraiser supported READ Muskegon, a volunteer one-on-one tutoring program for adults who want to improve their literacy skills.
  • IndonesiaWorking with local Rotary and Rotaract clubs and the Ministry of Education, the Rotary Club of Solo Kartini, Indonesia, organized a Literacy Day event where hundreds of high school students read and reviewed a preselected book. The event celebrated literacy and honored the 20 best literary reviews.
  • Working with the local municipality, partnering Interact club, and sponsoring Rotary club, the Rotaract Club of Izmir-Alsancak, Turkey, created mobile libraries to provide books in three low-income communities in Turkey.

While we’re making progress, there’s still much work left to be done. Pressing global concerns still remain: 58 million children worldwide are out of school while 781 million adults are illiterate[i]. Imagine: if all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty equaling a 12% reduction in global poverty[ii].

Throughout the month of September, encourage fellow Rotary members to check back here for tips, resources, and inspirational success stories to help plan club and district literacy projects. Add your voice to the conversation using the blog’s commenting feature and share how your club supports basic education and literacy initiatives on Rotary Showcase.

[i] The Millennium Development Goals Report 2014
[ii] UNESCO Global Monitoring Report 2013/14

One Rotarian’s dream for education in Nepal

By Malcolm Lindquist, member of Rotary Club of Brownhill Creek, Australia, and Zone 8 Rotary Coordinator

Malcolm LindquistWhen my friend David Rusk, a primary school principal in Adelaide, Australia, fell in love with the disadvantaged children in Kathmandu, Nepal, little did I know the path on which it would lead me.

Through his connections with the Rotary Club of Dillibazar in Kathmandu, David had established relations with several schools leading to the creation of a teacher development program and financial sponsorship of about 80 disadvantaged students in the Nepali community.

Then, by chance, David visited an orphanage on the outskirts of Kathmandu run by a saintly woman, Mother Rajan Bishwokarma. She had established the orphanage in 2007 which cares for more than 50 Dalit (untouchable) children and founded the Nepal Deprived Women Uplift Centre organisation. David immediately saw the urgent need for a school to accommodate the children from the orphanage.

David Rusk
David Rusk

In typical David fashion, he marshalled all of his resources in Adelaide to raise more than $AUD 200,000 to build a school alongside the orphanage. Family and friends were not immune. David spoke at Rotary clubs and Rotary District 9520’s conference to gain support.  A group called “Friends of Nepal” used film nights, car rallies and dinners to help raise the necessary money to commence the project.

This is where fate stepped in…

After approving the school plans and returning back to Adelaide in August 2013, David was diagnosed with an aggressive form of skin cancer and died exactly three months later.

In those short three months, David did everything he could to ensure that the project would be completed. This included asking me to become the project manager. I am now quite familiar with Kathmandu!

The completed Kumari Vidhya Mandir English School.
The completed Kumari Vidhya Mandir English School.

The result has been spectacular. In collaboration with Rotary Australia World Community Service (RAWCS), the Rotary Club of Dillibazar and the Rotary Club of Brownhill Creek in southern Australia, the Kumari Vidhya Mandir English School project has been completed. On 22 February, we hosted the official school opening ceremony in grand Nepali style. A group of 11 family friends and Rotarians made the trip to Nepal as the event’s distinguished guests.

With some twenty percent of funds being depreciated as the result of the falling Australian dollar, the path has not always been easy. But the results are rewarding: fifty orphans now learn in a modern, spacious school. An additional seventy children from the local community are also eligible to enroll at the school. And most importantly, the school will serve many future generations.

We are now looking to set up a trust fund to ensure an ongoing maintenance program for the school. $AUD 300 per year can sponsor a student by covering living and schooling costs. I know David would be so proud to see his dream come true!

Please contact me if you wish to know more or contribute to the trust fund or sponsorship program.

Students at the new Kumari Vidhya Mandir English School.
Students at the new Kumari Vidhya Mandir English School.

June summit will inspire and assist Rotary family with water, sanitation, and hygiene resources for youth

By Bill Boyd, Past President of Rotary International and Chair of the Water & Sanitation Rotarian Action Group (Wasrag)

Dear Friends,

PRIP Bill Boyd speaks at the World Water Summit in Sydney, Australia, 30 May 2014. Photo by Monika Lozinska/RI
PRIP Bill Boyd speaks at the World Water Summit in Sydney, Australia, 30 May 2014. Photo by Monika Lozinska/RI

Wasrag’s World Water Summits have established a tradition of excellence. The 2015 World Water Summit promises to be the best yet. The day-long event will focus on pressing concerns related to Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) in Schools and how we can address these needs.

Water, sanitation, and hygiene education in schools, commonly known as WASH in Schools, provides safe drinking water, improved sanitation facilities, and hygiene education encouraging the development of healthy behaviors in our youth. The resulting behavior changes throughout an entire community are bringing significant breakthroughs in eradicating disease and improving health in developing countries around the world. Additionally, more children, particularly girls, attend school and the overall health of communities improves.

Join us and be prepared for one of the greatest opportunities to improve communities with the Rotary family around the world. Simultaneous interpretation from English to Portuguese will be available during the plenary sessions.

Our list of excellent speakers includes:

  • Lizette Burgers, Senior Advisor of UNICEF’s WASH in Schools program; Greg Allgood, Vice President of World Vision; Raul Gauto, Strategic Supervisor of Water Opportunities at AVINA Foundation; and a very special young lady from Sesame Street called Raya
  • Foundation Trustee Sushil Gupta will share about Rotary’s WASH in School plans; Erica Gwynn, Area of Focus Manager for WASH, will give a Foundation update; and RI General Secretary John Hewko will close the Summit with a rousing message for us all
  • A number of breakout sessions focused on a variety of WASH-related areas will supplement the plenaries and give participants an opportunity to talk about their experiences and ask plenty of questions from sector experts

Don’t miss this unique opportunity to dive into one of the most popular Rotarian-led activities in the field!

Date: Thursday, 4  June, 2015
Location: Renaissance São Paulo Hotel on Almeda Santos
Time: 7:30 registration; 8:00 – 17:00

Register Now!

We look forward to seeing you there!

My regards,



This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Creating a cycle of opportunity through partnerships in education

By Jeannette Stevens, member of Rotary Club of Managua and Executive Director of Gocare Nicaragua

Jeannette Stevens with a Gocare program participant
Jeannette Stevens with a program participant

My relationship with Rotary started when I joined Gocare’s staff 10 years ago. Founded in 2001 by Rotarian Jan Lindsay, Gocare is a nonprofit organization that works closely with community residents in Nicaragua to create and implement educational and economic development programs.Jan is one of the most dedicated and passionate Rotarians I have ever met. He introduced me to the many impactful projects developed and supported by the Rotary family around the world that help people improve their lives.

Like Rotary, Gocare’s principal mission is to help people improve their lives. We have collaborated on many projects with dedicated Rotarians from around the world. Recently, Gocare entered into a project partnership with the Rotary Club of Managua, Nicaragua, and the Rotary Club of Ventura-East, California, USA. The two clubs came together and applied for a global grant in 2014 with Gocare serving as the cooperating organization in Nicaragua. This grant will help fix and furnish three new community learning centers in impoverished communities. The partnering Rotary clubs are not only helping fund these new centers but will be helping refurbish buildings by repainting facilities, and will serve as tutors and mentors to youth and adults at the centers. We are all working together to provide 6,000 people with access to education and a better quality of life.

Preschool program participants. Photo courtesy of Gocare
Preschool program participants. Photo courtesy of Gocare

In the past five years, Gocare has worked closely with local and international Rotary clubs and other partners to serve thousands in Nicaragua. Together we have funded nearly 3,660 free educational scholarships and offer tuition funding for vocational training programs in sewing, beauty, cooking, and baking. We operate a tuition-free preschool and offer scholarships for both beginning and advanced-level computer courses and English literacy. We also provide adult education courses, an after school tutoring program for students, and a library with an inventory of textbooks that are used at the local public schools.We currently have 34 students on university scholarships ranging from full tuition to assistance with transportation and supplies.

University preparation program for scholarship recipient. Photo courtesy of Gocare
University preparation program for scholarship recipient. Photo courtesy of Gocare

Ericka, one of our university scholarship recipients, recently graduated from college and has become a lawyer. Ericka’s scholarship helped her gain more than a college degree. Gocare’s core philosophy of mentorship and leadership asks all scholarship recipients to volunteer at our centers to help others in return for the assistance they have received. We help students become mentors and leaders within their communities as they give back by teaching others. Now Ericka’s goal is to mentor and advise fellow community members and help extend educational opportunities to others.

It’s amazing how life’s pieces are arranged to accomplish a greater purpose. I am proud to be part of these two organizations that work towards a better world by sharing opportunities with people in need.


Upcoming webinar series will help you make a greater impact with your water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) projects

By Bill Boyd, Past President of Rotary International and Chair of the Water & Sanitation Rotarian Action Group (Wasrag)

Past RI President Bill Boyd addressing 2012 World Water Summit participants.
Past Rotary International President Bill Boyd addressing 2012 World Water Summit participants.

Dear Friends,

All of us who have an interest in water, sanitation and hygiene realize that the needs of much of the world can only be addressed by targeted and well thought out projects and programs.

History tells us that an unacceptable percentage of well-intentioned activities fail and this is simply not good enough. There are limited resources and they need to be used effectively.

That’s why Rotary and Wasrag are pleased to host a three part webinar series to share knowledge and strategies for conducting more effective WASH projects. Better knowledge leads to better projects and none of us know it all. Every opportunity to share our experiences with others opens us the chance for us to learn as well.

The webinar series will share lessons learned at the May 2014 World Water Summit in Sydney, Australia, which focused on the topic of collaboration with governments, NGOs and the private sector. The summit provided excellent information, opened up new conversations, and gave participants the opportunity to exchange ideas through workshops. If you weren’t able to attend the summit in person, these webinars are a great opportunity for you to interact with WASH industry experts and experienced Rotary project leaders.

I urge you to participate in the webinars not just for what you can learn but also for what you can contribute.

Best wishes,


Register to attend the World Water e-Summit series using the links below (you must register separately for each webinar in the series). Registration is free!

Learn more about Wasrag, including plans for the next World Water Summit in São Paulo, Brazil on 4 June 2015. The theme will be “WASH in Schools.”

Promoting literacy by recognizing young authors

By Diana White, past district governor and member of Rotary E-Club of the Caribbean, District 7020

Lapel Pin for WinnersIt all started when my friend Past District Governor Donna Wallbank opened my eyes to the very successful nationwide youth programs run by Rotary across the UK. I was amazed and inspired by these competition-based programs, particularly “Young Writer”. That gave me the idea of suggesting a contest as a project for our E-Club, the Rotary E-Club of the Caribbean.  The original plan was simply to run a story writing competition, but a brainstorming session with club members led to “we need to share these children’s stories online”.  As ideas were put forward, the Butterfly StoryBook emerged!

Young authors pose with their certificates of recognition for their contributions to the Butterfly Storybook
Young authors pose with their certificates of recognition for their contributions to the Butterfly Storybook

We couldn’t realize this dream without the support of the other clubs in District 7020. Clubs were invited to initiate their own local story writing contest and send the top three stories to us. These winning stories, focusing on Rotary ideals, came to life in the Butterfly StoryBook.  Feedback from students and teachers alike has been positive. They praise the Rotary club for focusing primary school children on important values such as truth, fairness, friendship and helping others.

After designing the book and posting it online in a magazine style, the next question was “how can we get this wonderful book published for all to read, and to do it for free?”!  Our assistant governor told us about CreateSpace, a self -publishing subsidiary of Amazon. All we had to do was provide the creativity and upload the book — free!

A student poses with his copy of the Butterfly Storybook, distributed by the Jamaican Reading Association
A student poses with his copy of the Butterfly Storybook, distributed by the Jamaican Reading Association

After the Butterfly StoryBook was published and placed on Amazon worldwide,  the Jamaica Reading Association (JRA) discovered it.  They needed to find an age appropriate book for children for Jamaica Reading Week and contacted our e-club directly. Their partnership has been incredible! They made copies of selected stories and their members and volunteers from First Heritage helped distribute the stories to 30 Jamaican primary schools.

We are grateful to JRA and proud to receive the Pearson Foundation Literacy Award. The grant will enable us to increase the number of Butterfly StoryBooks we can send to underprivileged students and to provide the JRA with hard copies of the books next year.

The Rotary-International Reading Association Literacy Award, made possible by the Pearson Foundation, recognized two literacy projects undertaken jointly by a Rotary club and International Reading Associate affiliated council.