How the Peace Corps and Rotary led me to a life of international service

By Mark D. Walker, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer

As a naïve young man from Colorado just having graduated from a small university, I joined the Peace Corps with the dual purpose to travel, serve and, if possible, save the world. After four months of language and agricultural training, I landed in one of the most isolated sites in the highlands of Guatemala. Though beset with fear of the unknown and feelings of profound isolation, I became familiar with and appreciated the people of the rural community of Calapte. After several years on assignment, not only was I able to introduce new crop varieties which enhanced local production, but I mobilized the community to reconstruct their 100-year-old school. After a near-death experience took me to another part of the country, I met the love of my life and we established a stable bi-cultural home for our three children during the violent Guatemalan Civil War.

My first real job out of the Peace Corps was with CARE International in Guatemala. I was responsible for designing an agroforestry program to combat the destruction of the environment and increase agricultural production for small farmers working on steep hills. This began my thirteen-year career promoting rural development through various international NGOs.

My career in cross cultural settings promoting community development made Rotary a natural fit. In 1981, I joined one of the downtown Rotary clubs in Bogota, Colombia, where I was a Director for Plan International. I continued with Rotary in the United States and eventually served as president of the Rotary Club of Scottsdale in Arizona (United States). As the District Chair for World Community Service (now known as International Service) for District 5510, I lead groups of Rotarians to Guatemala, Honduras and Bolivia to form lifelong relationships with local Rotarians and develop programs such as a clean water initiative in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Naturally, my wife and I encouraged our children to consider the Rotary Youth Exchange program by hosting several students ourselves. Eventually our children participated and were hosted by different Rotary clubs in Germany and France where we made many friends among the local Rotarians.

My work in global development came to a sudden turn after I was let go as CEO of an international NGO. This unexpected twist led me to focus on my children and six grandchildren, also provided a new opportunity to reflect on what I’d accomplished, where I’d failed, and where the international NGO community had come up short. My memoir Different Latitudes provides an insight to this life I lived, and is a tale of physical and spiritual self-discovery through Latin American, African, European, and Asian topography, cuisine, politics, and history. You can read the book here to learn more about my journey.

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My journey with the Peace Corps and Rotary came together earlier this year when fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and Rotarian Steve Werner asked me to join the board of a new National Peace Corps Association affiliate, Partners in Peace. The goal of Partners in Peace is to improve service and friendship locally and globally by helping Rotarians, current and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers work together on projects that meet the goals of both organizations.

Our group aims to enhance the service partnership between Rotary and the Peace Corps. I’m working with Ross Feezer, President of the Rotary Club of Casa Grande, to identify and recruit fellow Rotarians who are also Returned Peace Corps Volunteer in Arizona to join the effort. Our group will have a booth at the upcoming Rotary International Convention in Atlanta and a district-organized Rotary- Peace Corps Workshop at the University of Denver in Colorado on 4 August, 2016. Personally, I’m astounded at the potential of this incredible partnership between Rotary International and the Peace Corps. If you’re a Rotarian Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, connect with our group and join us in jointly improving communities locally and internationally.

Leveraging our vocational skills to help disadvantaged youth succeed

By Quentin Wodon, Author of the Rotarian Economist Blog, President of the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and Lead Economist at the World Bank

In the Washington Metropolitan Area, the Capital City of the United States, more than 17,000 young adults ages 18 to 24 are considered disconnected from work and school. Quite a few of them live in or near Capitol Hill, which is where my Rotary club is located. These youths often come from low-income families, are not in school and are not working. They typically face multiple challenges, including homelessness, issues with the courts, or substance abuse.

These challenges prevent them from successfully transitioning into adulthood. They are a serious threat to long-term community development, not only because of the risks of violence and criminality that arise when youth do not have the tools to succeed, but also because of the sharp impact that their current challenges may have on their future ability to make a living. For a community to prosper, all youth need to be able to grow and contribute.

However, there is hope. Programs reaching out to these youths have been proven to work. Latin America Youth Center (LAYC) is one of the few  nonprofits in Washington, DC, implementing rigorous impact evaluations of its programs. LAYC was founded in 1968 and serves 4,000 individuals per year.

The organization uses an innovative approach to address the needs of youth at especially high risk. Its flagship initiative, Promotor Pathway, is a long-term, intensive, holistic case management and mentorship program. Data from a five-year evaluation suggests that the program has led to positive changes in terms of increasing school enrollment, reducing birth rates, and reducing homelessness among participating youth.

Shayna Scholnick, the Director of the Promotor Pathway program for the District, was a guest speaker at our bi-weekly meeting of the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill in late August 2016. She shared some volunteer opportunities. There are many opportunities for our club members to get involved with this type of community-based partner.

We decided to support LAYC by sharing our professional skills. As part of our pro bono initiative,  described previously on this blog, we have put together a small team of five professionals to prepare a cost-benefit analysis of LAYC’s Promotor Pathway program.

The team includes Rotarians as well as non-Rotarians. Three of us are looking at the value the program’s benefits such as school enrollment, the reduction in homelessness, and the reduction in pregnancies. The fourth member of the team is researching other similar programs and the fifth member is looking at the cost data.

Together we hope to be able to demonstrate that the program’s benefits are much larger than its costs, which would help LAYC raise more funds and expand its program nationally. In doing this work pro bono, we feel that we are in a small way contributing to community development in our area.



Making an impact in Honduras through economic and community development

By Charlene Bearden,  District 5360 District Executive Secretary

494_654781924_4I had the opportunity to go to Honduras with Steve Rickard from the Rotary Club of Calgary West, Wally Gardiner from the Rotary Club of High River, and Jim Louttit from the Rotary Club of Toronto-Sunrise, all of whom are instrumental in the Honduras Economic Community Development (HECD), a microfinance project implemented by the Rotary Action Group for Microfinance and Community Development (RAGM) in collaboration with the District 5360 Microcredit Task Force.

The groups worked with the Rotary Club of Real de Minas Tegucigalpa, Opportunity International Canada (OIC) and their operating partner in Honduras, Instituto para el Desarrollo Hondureño (IDH), to provide microfinance services in the region.

During my visit to Honduras, I got to see the great impact the project has had on the community and the people. A small loan makes such a big difference, both for the original loan recipient and by sparking ideas and initiatives amongst family and friends. As a result, spin off economies develop and often the people close to the loan recipient sign up for loans themselves.

There are more than 8,000 beneficiaries from the HECD program! One of the projects we visited was a shoemaking business where I met Milton, who was able to acquire raw materials and shoe molds through the loan program.  Another beneficiary, German, was able to repair his moto-taxi. Martha, who makes the best tortillas, was able to increase raw material supplies so she could expand into wholesale selling.

I also met Marvin, who spends hours in the open sun baking bricks with his brother. A loan allowed them to erect a lean-to so they could continue working during the rainy season. The loan was used to stockpile raw materials and increase production. Marvin has contracts to supply his bricks wholesale and is now making environmental clay ovens for export; the clay ovens produce better heat, burn less wood and burn cleaner than similar stoves.

To actually witness the impact my district is making is something I will always carry with me. I’m inspired by all Rotarians who do humanitarian work at home and throughout the world, by every project you take on and by every person you touch.

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The Rotarian Action Group for Microfinance and Community Development (RAGM) is a group of Rotarians whose purpose is to provide global leadership to assist clubs and districts in effective Microfinance and Community Development programs. Contact the group for assistance with your economic and community development projects.



Sustainable Development Goal in action: New Economic and Community Development Trend with Rotarians

By Bonaventure Fandohan, Area of Focus Manager for Economic and Community Development

Over the past 25 years, the number of workers living in extreme poverty has declined dramatically despite the lasting impact of the 2008 economic crisis and global recession. In developing countries, the middle class now makes up more than 34 percent of total employment – a number that has almost tripled between 1991 and 2015.  However, as the global economy continues to recover, we are seeing slower growth, widening inequalities, and not enough jobs to keep up with a growing labor force.[1]

wcms_396387The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a universal call to action to end poverty, encourage growth, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.[2] These 17 Goals, which built on the successes of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), encourage us to focus our efforts on promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth and achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all. This eighth SDG goal is actively being realized by The Rotary Foundation’s support of Rotarian-led projects to create measurable and enduring economic improvement in lives and communities; for example, Rotarians are helping bring vocational and entrepreneurship trainings to their communities to build capacity for local economic advancement.

Recently, Rotarians around the world have increased global grant applications focused on creating more local work opportunities.  In South Korea, the Rotary Club of Youngilman, District 3630, worked with Rotarians from District 3470, Taiwan, to create a mushroom farm and training center for mushroom growers to supporting 20 people with disabilities in the city of Pohang-si. In the same country, the Rotary Club of Cheonan Sky Club collaborated with District 3830, Philippines, to design a program empowering 30 migrant women in the city of Cheonan.

In Brazil, Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Rio de Janeiro partnered with Rotarians from District 1820, Germany, on a grant promoting inclusion of socially vulnerable women. That project, called Mulher Empreendedora, was designed to provide vocational training to 120 women in five communities on topics including fostering entrepreneurship, economic, social and cultural development, citizenship, health and welfare in Rio de Janeiro.

In Texas, USA, the Rotary Club of Sugar Land, District 5890, and the Rotary Club of Torreón, District 4110, Mexico, assisted 210 inmates from the Darrington Correctional Facility by sponsoring innovative educational opportunities through the development of vocational skills before their release into their communities. The Rotarians partnered with Alvin Community College to develop a market-based training that would help inmates in the program get hands-on experience in business, networking, and leadership.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the club Lubumbashi-Etoile, District 9150, and the Rotary Club of Heerleen, District 1550, Netherlands, partnered to sponsor a vocational training program for 450 underprivileged youth to become craftsmen in building and construction, car and equipment maintenance, and other technical areas. This program, designed in partnership with Cite des Jeunes, a local organization, gives at risk youth an opportunity to get or create new jobs in Lubumbashi or neighboring areas.

These examples, amongst many others, show that sustained economic development is not possible without improved employment opportunities. As our efforts continue around the world, we encourage Rotarians to prioritize sustainability and community ownership in projects by involving stakeholders from the onset during the community assessment stage and continuously throughout every aspect of project planning and implementation.





Reducing poverty through economic and community development

By Azka Asif, Rotary Service and Engagement Staff

Globally, 836 million people still live in extreme poverty today. About one in five persons in developing regions lives on less than $1.25 USD per day. Global unemployment has increased from 170 million in 2007 to nearly 202 million in 2012, of which about 75 million are young women and men.*

How can we change that?

By supporting projects that focus on generating income and creating productive employment opportunities, we can reduce poverty. Providing income security and empowering women, people with disabilities, youth, and the extremely poor is essential to economic and community development.

Rotarians worldwide are committed to reducing poverty through projects that provide people with equipment, vocational trainings, and work to strengthen local entrepreneurs and community leaders, particularly women, in impoverished communities. Below are a few examples of Rotarians taking action.

Growing local economies

The Constantia Rotary Club helped set up a community garden and farm training center for young residents in Khayelitsha, the largest township in Cape Town, South Africa. The club is working with Abalimi Bezekhaya, a local organization that helps create income-producing gardening opportunities, and partnered with Rotary clubs in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany.

The garden yields many vegetables and herbs that supply Abalimi’s Harvest of Hope venture, which sells boxes of produce to middle-class Capetonians for a monthly fee. As the garden grew, a training facility was built for young, unemployed people, who could benefit from the knowledge of the older farmers. The training offers both practical instruction and theory, covering topics such as soil preparation, seedling production, cross-pollination, organic growing, and climate change.

Read more about the story in the October 2016 issue of The Rotarian or online here.

Providing vocational trainings  

The Rotary Club of Panaji in India conducted a vocational training program focused on training 12 women in stitching and tailoring. The workshop was conducted over a period of ten days for four hours a day to help women gain skills to be able to earn their own living and be financially independent. After the trainings, the women were each given sewing machines that they could use to start their own tailoring business.

Strengthening local entrepreneurs

Based on a community needs assessment, the Rotary Club of Ikeja in Nigeria concluded that traders or other local entrepreneurs interested in  growing their business did not have access to funding through local financial institutions. The club provided an interest free micro-credit loan to 20 beneficiaries to be used to enhance their businesses. After three months, those beneficiaries passed along the money to another set of 20 people. Over time, the revolving fund has assisted carpenters, tailors, barbers, hair dressers, various food sellers.

During October, Rotary Economic and Community Development Month, we’ll be sharing tips and resources to help with club and district economic and community development projects. Read previous posts below focused on growing local economies and check back here for more inspirational stories!


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

Are you ready to make a global impact?

By Azka Asif, Rotary Service Connections Staff

International service opportunities allow members to make new friends around the world while empowering a community in need. What is one way to dive into international service? By attending a project fair! Project fairs are the perfect way to make a global impact.

2015 West Africa Project FairProject fairs are regionally hosted events encouraging international service and collaboration. Fairs provide life-changing opportunities for attendees to learn about the host region, make new friends, and connect with clubs in need of international partners. Fairs highlight club and district projects while helping attendees gain a better understanding of the local communities’ most pressing needs.

Consider attending one of these upcoming fairs to immerse yourself in international service:

Any club representative or Rotary member interested in supporting an international service project can attend a fair. Project fairs give visitors the chance to develop a relationship with Rotary members in another part of the world and see firsthand how a community would benefit from an international collaboration.

If clubs in your district are looking for international project partners, contact your district leadership about hosting a local project fair. Write to the Rotary Service Connections team with any questions!



Creating stronger community ties through Rotary Community Corps

By Carolina Barrios, Member of the Rotary Club of Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

In 2010, severe flooding affected a huge part of the Colombian territory and the Caribbean region surrounding Cartagena. Streets had turned into rivers and canoes became the only possible form of transportation. During this time, the Rotary Club Cartagena de Indias connected with the community of Leticia to assist them through emergency relief efforts.

After these efforts, the club remained active in Leticia to develop a revitalization plan with community leaders. Our objective was to understand their challenges and needs, and propose possible solutions while giving the community hope that we were there to stay and assist. As passionate Rotarians aiming to make a difference, our actions were oriented to improve the community through projects like: decorating the church, building a new park, organizing health brigades, standing up for the public school (it was in danger of being downsized through teacher cuts, etc.), vocational orientations, city planning and urbanism, distributing Christmas gifts and even a Global Grant project to provide basic sanitation!

In 2013, the year I joined the Rotary Club of Cartagena de Indias, we organized the community of Leticia into a Rotary Community Corps (RCC). The group was key for determining community needs that we were able to translate into a Global Grant with the support of several Los Angeles area rotary clubs. The grant, successfully implemented earlier this calendar year, provided basic sanitation to twenty five families as direct beneficiaries, and training to the whole community in water management and waste disposal through hands-on workshops. Since Leticia is a 45-minute boat ride away, members of our club could not always be physically present and forming this RCC helped us have eyes and ears in the community every day!

The Leticia RCC is composed of ten amazing women leaders who take their role very seriously and are always proposing ideas to improve their community. They play a central role in the success of all the implemented projects and our club supports their new ideas for meeting community needs. Recently, together we carried out productive projects such as a traditional food (sweet) festival, hosting a flea market, and a community bingo night in order to finance projects for their village.  We have certainly developed a close relationship with the Leticia community through this Rotary Community Corps. Word has spread and now a nearby village has asked for their own RCC. We are in the process of chartering this new RCC and know it will be just as successful!

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If you are looking for a way to make a difference, a Rotary Community Corps is a great way to make an impact. Learn more and get involved today!



Rotary service project unites an entire community

By Gregg Alexander, Rotary Club of Bozeman Sunrise 

For six years now the Bozeman Sunrise Rotary Club (Montana, USA) has provided home repair assistance to local residents through the Bozeman Fix-Up Festival. Giving preference to elderly and disabled homeowners, the Fix-Up Festival strives to provide home improvements to low-income residents that either can’t afford it or are physically unable to complete the work themselves. The impact of this one-day event stretches far beyond just benefits to the homeowners. The Bozeman Fix-Up Festival touches many lives and brings the community together.

Finding Homeowners in Need

The planning is a year round effort starting in January and wrapping up in mid-November. We begin the year by developing a budget and outreach to find applicants. We partner with local non-profits that work with residents to educate and inform as many homeowners that may be in need of assistance. We do require that recipients own their home and fall below the State of Montana’s poverty level.

We publicize the project on the radio, through TV interviews, and social media marketing to drive interested people to our website, where they can fill out an application. Applications are due in April. Once all applications have been received, our committee evaluates the homes and homeowners through interviews, home visits, and income verification. Over the last five years, we have completed almost 60 homes through the Fix-Up Festival.

Funding & Volunteers

While homes are being evaluated, the Fix-Up Festival Committee seeks out businesses and organizations to adopt and sponsor each home. Sponsors must provide a level of funding along with a number of volunteers on Fix-Up Day to complete the work. Over the years we’ve found that sponsors find the Fix-Up Festival very rewarding and a great source of team building.

To make all of this happen in one day, it takes many dedicated volunteers. Each project has to be detailed out, a list of materials created and delivered, skilled laborers assigned to work with sponsor teams, meals secured, trash and debris removal planned, material runners assigned for additional materials and much more! All of this has to be done for each home, so its large undertaking made possible by lots of volunteer hours from the Rotarians that make up the Fix-Up Festival Committee.

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The Impact

After six years of planning and execution, our operations have become more efficient but it’s still amazing to see the Fix-Up Festival come together in a single day. Walking around and talking with volunteers and homeowners, you realize that the reward isn’t only for the people in need, but also for everyone involved. The day is filled with smiles, hugs, tears of joy, pride and humility and shared as a community. The day reminds us all that we are all in this together and it is our duty to place Service Above Self.



The Importance of Social Business and Inclusivity

By Ingrid Schwab, Regional Grants Officer, Rotary Grants

We often receive questions about how to best engage the local community in Rotarian-led service projects. One way in which Rotarians can provide service to others is by prioritizing inclusivity in their humanitarian projects. Inclusivity gives an opportunity for all individuals and groups (especially marginalized populations) to have a voice and to actively participate in the local culture and economy.[1] Rather than making assumptions about what needs may exist within a community or the best way to address them, consider instead integrating yourself in the community and taking the time to speak with and listen to all populations. This can include not only meeting with established leadership but also visiting different families at their homes and holding a general assembly meeting open to all community members. It is important to ask about needs while also taking note of existing community strengths through asset mapping and storytelling.

For Rotarians interested in grant or service projects, establishing and operating a social business is a good opportunity to put inclusivity into practice. A social business addresses a need within a community by selling local products and reinvesting the profits into the business itself. While a social business can be privately owned, its value on inclusivity should ensure that profits are used towards a public benefit and prosperity is shared among all members of the community.

Kalpeshkumar L. Gupta and Sujo Thomas provide a good example of social business and inclusivity in their 2013 case study[2] of Mirakle Couriers, a courier agency that employs low-income deaf adults in Mumbai. The founders of the for-profit company saw an opportunity to help the deaf become self-sufficient in a sustainable way through employment. They took the time to understand deaf culture in Mumbai and address their social exclusion through employment, income generation and human connection, and have seen incredible results in self-reliance and independence.

How to establish a successful social business will vary depending on the needs and dynamics of a particular community, but placing a value on inclusivity from the start can help everyone feel they benefit and have a voice. To consider supporting social business and inclusivity through a grant project, please visit Grant Activities for more information and resources.



[2] Gupta, Kalpeshkumar and Sujo Thomas. “Social Inclusion and Social Entrepreneurship Case Study of Mirakle Courier, Mumbai.” 10th Biennial Conference on Entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India, Gandhinagar. 20-22 February 2013.