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.



Growing local solutions to fight hunger and malnutrition

By Past District Governor Una Hobday, Chair of the Food Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group

In 2015, 2.6 million children under the age of five died from malnutrition linked causes. The first 1000 days from conception are critical in a child’s development.  If children do not receive adequate quantities of key micronutrients, they can be irreparably impaired for life. These statistics always leave me shocked, which is why I’m serving as chair of the Food Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group. Together with our RAG members and partnering clubs and organizations, we are working to change this fact.

One solution to malnutrition is as simple as growing the right food plants in the right places. In 2011, the Food Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group was recognized to support clubs with their efforts to help grow the most nutritious and viable food plants in their local environments.

The action group focuses on addressing malnutrition, hunger and food security through the use of readily available local food plants. This self-sustaining solution empowers people to understand local food plant resources and allows them to feed themselves and their families.

The main obstacle people face in taking advantage of local food plants is a lack of knowledge about their importance and true nutritional value. The Food Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group helps clubs and districts identify the most appropriate local food plant options with the most nutritional value by creating resources and advising on related projects.  These resources help people, particularly women, understand the connection between plant selection and nutrition, and empowers them to grow a range of plants with differing seasonal requirements and maturities.

All projects (whether they be housing, water, schools, maternal health, etc.), could be further enhanced by adding a food plant solution component to them. Most people in dire situations require a sustainable way to grow and access nutritious food. The results are impressive: our partner in Vietnam has seen malnutrition reduced by as much as 95% through the implementation of a school garden

In 2015, approximately 2,600,000 children under the age of five died from malnutrition-related causes. Hunger and malnutrition is preventable. Through extensive partnerships, the Food Plant Solutions RAG can make a difference.

You and I can make a difference. Learn how you can start a program in your region and visit our website for more information. Let’s take action against hunger today, and commit to eradicating malnutrition within our lifetime.

Browse Rotary Showcase for inspirational Rotary projects addressing hunger and malnutrition. Join the discussion group on hunger in Rotary’s online community.


Strengthening clubs through local partnerships

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

Most Rotarians are professionals with deep skills in their area of expertise, yet many club service projects do not make systematic use of their members’ expertise. We see exceptions when Rotarians who are passionate and knowledgeable about a particular topic implement global grants. But in terms of the service work, my impression is that the great initiatives we undertake are limited in impact simply because they may not be truly strategic or may not make full use of Rotarians’ areas of expertise.

One solution to increase the impact of our service work is the concept of Pro Bono Rotarian Teams. On 1 July, my club launched partnerships with a half dozen local nonprofits in our community as part of a pro bono initiative. These partnerships bring four benefits: better service opportunities for members and greater impact in the community; more visibility for our partners and our club; attracting new members; and strengthening teams. Let me briefly explain these four benefits in case they may inspire other clubs to adopt a similar model:

Better service opportunities and larger impact: Rotarians in our club, as elsewhere, are professionals and/or business leaders. We are building on these skills by organizing pro bono strategic advising with small teams of 4-5 individuals (both Rotarians and non-Rotarians) that support local nonprofits in solving issues they face. This makes our club more interesting for our members in terms of the service opportunities we provide, and it also increases the impact that we have in the community because our engagement becomes more strategic.

More visibility for our partners and our club: Higher visibility is achieved in several ways. First, we are sharing our work on social media using the main community blog, The Hill is Home. We publish posts not directly about our club, but about the great work of our nonprofit partners and the fact that we are working with them. We also started writing short articles about our partner nonprofits in the main monthly community magazine.

New members: Our club has been losing members for several years, but since 1 July, we increased our membership by 50% from 18 to 27. Our pro bono initiative and our partnerships with local nonprofits is helping us recruit new members.

Stronger service teams: Our pro bono teams work for a period of three months with local nonprofits, and they include both Rotarians and non-Rotarians. We hope that some of the non-Rotarians working with the pro bono teams will become Rotarians, but this is not the main goal of combining members and others in our teams. The main goal is to build strong teams and benefit from the expertise of friends and colleagues who are ready to help, but may not be interested in Rotary. Think of this as our own model for a Rotary Community Corps, whereby we all work together to support and strengthen great local nonprofits.

There are multiple ways for Rotary clubs to partner with local nonprofits in a strategic way, and some clubs have a long history in doing so. Our new model emphasizing pro bono consulting teams working closely with local nonprofits may not be the right model for all clubs, but it does appear to be working for us, and it ties in nicely with our efforts at improving our public image and recruiting new members. If you would like to know more about our new model, please do not hesitate to post send me an email through the contact me page of my blog at The Rotarian Economist.



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

Assist victims of the 2016 Ecuador earthquake

By District Governor Fressia Abad, District 4400 Ecuador 

Dear friends,

It is our pleasure to invite you and your club to attend District 4400’s XII Rotary Project Fair, to be held in Cuenca, Ecuador, on 11-13 November, 2016.

During this three-day event, clubs in Ecuador will exhibit their projects to visiting Rotarians. Visitors will have the opportunity to learn firsthand about the community and the projects looking for assistance. Rotarians will personally meet project contacts and other local Rotarians establishing important partnerships as well as long lasting friendships.

Due to the severe 7.8 earthquake that struck Ecuador’s Provinces of Manabí and Esmeraldas in April 2016, many of this year’s projects will focus on long-term disaster recovery and providing assistance to communities devastated by the disaster.

The beautiful city of Cuenca has become a favorite and appealing retirement spot. Visiting Rotarians will have an opportunity to experience local cultural and artistic treasures including a tour to its historic town center. Exciting and high-end excursions to the Galapagos Islands, Amazonian Jungle, Quito, the Andean Sierra, and Vilcabamba (well known for the long life expectancy of its population) can also be added to attendance at the Fair.

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Please contact the Chair of the XII Project Fair Committee, Past District Governor Manuel Nieto or Assistant Governor Amparo Albuja Izurieta for additional information.  You can also visit our district webpage or register online.

We hope to greet you soon in our country well known for its hospitality.



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!



Get involved with Rotary Community Corps

By Zuhal Sharp, Rotary Programs Staff

Rotary Community Corps (RCCs) are teams of men and women who work in partnership with Rotary clubs to improve their communities. RCC members may be farmers, teachers, shop owners, or even retirees, but they all share a commitment to their communities’ long-term development. They bring enthusiasm, creativity, and sustainability to the projects they design and carry out.

There are more than 8000 corps in 90 countries. Some examples of their work include:

  • The RCC of Alexandria Sunrise in Egypt provided new toilets, drinking faucets and an improved playground to the local school in their community.
  • The RCC of Chowbaga in India provides free medical checkups and treatment to women and children from poor communities
  • The RCC of Chandi-Bhanjyang in Chitwan assisted with post-earthquake relief efforts in Nepal by providing food supplies to families in the community.

Sign up for the Rotary Community Corps: Community Solutions for Community Challenges webinar to learn how chartering a new RCC, or strengthening relations with an existing one, can enhance your club service projects and help ensure their sustainability.

Wednesday, 30 March, 10:00-11:00 Chicago time (UTC-5); convert to your local time
Space is limited, so register today!



Making an impact through Rotary Community Corps

By Jerry Olson, Rotary Community Corps chairman for District 3850 (Philippines) and past president of the Rotary Club of Metro Roxas Central

Originally featured on Rotary Voices

When then President-elect M.A.T. Caparas, the only RI president from the Philippines, introduced the Rotary Community Corps (RCC) program in 1985, I’ll bet he didn’t envision the effect it would be having on the world today.

His vision for RCC’s has improved the quality of life in villages, neighborhoods, and communities all over the world. There are now around 8,000 RCC’s in over 90 countries.

RCC’s are not made up of Rotary members. They are people living in their communities. They may be farmers, tricycle drivers, or even retired people. But they hold one thing in common – they each are committed to their community’s long-term development and self-sufficiency.

As a Rotary member, we are only here to help you form a RCC and teach you how to make it successful at improving your community. You want your RCC to last a lifetime and continue to help your community prosper. Let me give you an example of a successful RCC.

In 2011, a member of the Rotary Club of Metro Roxas suggested looking for a way to bring water to the impoverished barangay of Ameligan, an island community surrounded by the ocean and the Panay River in the municipality of Pontevedra, Capiz. We brainstormed, did our homework to draw up a sustainable project, and applied for a Rotary Foundation grant. We wanted residents of Ameligan to manage our project. So we asked them if they would be interested in forming an RCC, and they were excited to do so!

We went to Ameligan with professional trainers to teach the residents how to manage both the RCC and the water project. Within a few months, we had found an international partner, lined up support from the Rotary Clubs of Pomona and Metro Roxas and Districts 3850 and 5300, and received approval for our grant.

Now the fun began. In January 2012, the RCC provided labor for the project and formed the anchors needed to cross the river and resist the strong currents. By March we had laid five kilometers of piping, built five water stations, made the difficult water crossing, and handed over the water system to the RCC of Genesis Ameligan.

The RCC has been very successful at maintaining and administrating the water system, which has now grown to six water stations serving more than 50 homes. The project has benefited more than 1,600 people who previously had to rely on rainwater or bring over water in boats. The RCC also has been selling the water, using the proceeds to maintain the system and make improvements. Even after Typhoon Yolanda ravaged their island, they were able to rebuild the damaged parts of the water system and bring it back bigger and better.

So if you’re a concerned citizen and want to make a difference in your community, contact your local Rotary Club about organizing an RCC. It’s easy and effective. Contact our club at if you want more information about our experience with RCCs.

Participate in the Rotary Community Corps: Community Solutions for Community Challenges webinar on 30 March at 10 AM (Chicago time; convert to your local time) to learn how chartering a new RCC, or strengthening relations with an existing one, can enhance your club service projects.



Peace Corps partnership seeks to enhance project capacity

Rotary PeaceCorps_lockup




By Ellina Kushnir, RI Staff and Scott Kumis, Peace Corps Partnership Manager

Last year, Rotary International and Peace Corps, formalized a service partnership to help enhance our club and district service activities locally and around the world.

Peace Corps sends U.S. citizens abroad to help tackle the most pressing needs around the world while promoting better international understanding of culture and enhancing global awareness. Peace Corps Volunteers live and work alongside the people they support for a period of two or more years and concentrate efforts to create sustainable change that lives on long after their period of in-country service. Peace Corps currently has volunteers in more than 60 countries and concentrates on the following sectors: education, health, community economic development, environment, youth in development, and agriculture.

By working together with active and returned Peace Corps Volunteers, we can continue addressing Rotary’s six areas of focus while enhancing goodwill, international understanding, and building capacity to address the most pressing community concerns.

Local collaborations for sustainable development around the world

A Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) offers access to local contacts, project planning and development insights, and funding possibilities within a particular community. Involving a PCV in your project can help increase its reach, impact, and sustainability.

Peace Corps Volunteers work with nongovernmental organizations, host-country governments, and local community members to identify and address local needs. PCVs can help you identify prospective beneficiaries and work with you to find the most effective way to address a community’s needs: they can partner on a community assessment, help involve local residents, mobilize community members to oversee project implementation, assist with training, and help incorporate sustainability components so that a project thrives under the care of the local community.

Visit Peace Corps’ website for a list of countries where Peace Corps works.

Working with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in the United States

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), those who have completed their in-country service and are back in the U.S., offer a wealth of service project knowledge, interesting community insights from living abroad, and often maintain strong relationships with their host communities and local partners which can include Rotary and Rotaract clubs. These links can lead to international Rotary partnerships that provide resources for projects in the host country.

If you’re located in the U.S., consider:

  • Contacting a Peace Corps Regional Recruitment Office to connect with the local RPCV alumni network in your region
  • Inviting a returned volunteer to attend your club meeting or a Rotary event.
  • Inviting a returned volunteer to make a presentation about his or her work abroad and, if applicable, about how he or she worked with local Rotary or Rotaract clubs.
  • Asking a returned volunteer to facilitate an introduction to the Rotary or Rotaract clubs with which he or she worked while abroad.
  • Inviting a returned volunteer to use his or her community development expertise to assist your club with its projects.

Read the RI-Peace Corps partnership factsheet or contact with questions.

Peace Corps is celebrating their 55th Anniversary this year. Add your support to their work to improve communities by joining their Thunderclap on March 1. If your club or district has worked with an active or returned Peace Corps Volunteer, share your story using the commenting feature below.