Prioritizing women’s and girl’s health through Rotary and Peace Corps

By Katie Northcott, Rotary Global Grants Scholar and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer

“Je ne sais pas quoi faire”. I don’t know what to do. Six words that can define any experience with an unintended pregnancy, especially for a teenager. In this case, I was standing in front of a 16-year-old Burkinabe girl who had participated in a youth sexual health education camp I had organised just a few weeks earlier. During the camp, she learned about sexual and reproductive health issues including contraception, gender-based violence, sexually transmitted infections and HIV, and the importance of planning for the future. During the session on pregnancy, the young woman realised that perhaps the symptoms she was experiencing were more than just general illness. A pregnancy test at the health clinic the following week confirmed her fears.

My Peace Corps service in Burkina Faso, where this experience took place, guided my current career path and life focus. I wanted my work to ensure that other young people would not find themselves in similar situations. Initially motivated by the concept of economic opportunity in Sub-Saharan Africa as a conduit to support women’s rights, I had pursued Economics, African Studies, and French during my undergraduate studies.

A research project studying women’s experiences starting their businesses took me to Senegal where I met the president of a micro-finance office providing income-generating activity training as well as contraceptive and reproductive health services. Here, I directly connected a woman’s and girl’s well-being and participation in the public and economic sphere to the ability to make choices about her own health. From then on, I knew I wanted to focus on sexual and reproductive health rights, which led me to apply to Peace Corps and serve as a Community Health Development volunteer in Burkina Faso.

Working in a rural setting in a country with some of the world’s worst health outcomes, particularly for maternal, neonatal and child health, is challenging. As a volunteer, you often expect to make ground-breaking changes in your host community within a two-and-a-half-year time span. Realistically, projects and their outcomes only reach a small community, and their effects may not be seen until after the end of one’s service.

However, the focus on local, context-specific solutions – working from grassroots community level rather than a top-down approach – became a cornerstone of my career goals. I decided to apply for a Master’s degree in Population and Development at the London School of Economics, focusing on sexual and reproductive health in low-resource settings in Sub-Saharan Francophone Africa.

After much research, I applied for a Rotary Global Grants scholarship to help me pursue the graduate degree. I was awarded a scholarship focused in maternal and child health through District 7620 in the United States. Rotary’s alignment with Peace Corps’ own vision, to make a lasting impact on the world around us, made me feel proud to be a Global Grants scholar. Upon arriving in London, the Rotary community was warm and welcoming. While I have since left London, I still feel very much a part of the Rotary community.

Once I completed my degree, I began working for AmplifyChange, a multi-donor fund providing grants to civil society organisations in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America who advocate for and promote better policy and action on neglected sexual and reproductive health and rights issues. As a member of the grants support team, I interact with grantees who are doing vitally important work all over the world.

Without first living in Burkina Faso with Peace Corps and working on the ground, my goal to continue supporting local efforts to advocate for sexual and reproductive health rights would not be realised. Without Rotary’s grant for my master’s degree, my pursuit of this goal would have been nearly impossible to achieve in such a short span of time. Now, I can contribute to the work of organisations around the world who envision universal access to the services and protections individuals need to fulfil their sexual and reproductive health and rights.



Preventing cervical cancer in Kenya

By Judy Wolf, Immediate Past President of the Rotary Club of Davis, California, USA

Kenya is a land of utter beauty, stunning exotic animals, crowded road-side markets, robust farmlands, and friendly people. Astonishingly, nearly 5000 Kenyan women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and 50% will die from this disease.  A disease that is nearly 100% preventable.

Our vocational training team left for Kenya in October 2016 in hopes of making a difference in the lives of these brave women. We couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride, knowing that we were a part of a team, organized by the Rotary Club of Davis (United States) through a Rotary Foundation Global Grant, sent to Kenya to provide cervical cancer screenings, treatment, and education to women in the poor and needy region of South Nyanza. Kenya has a population of almost 13 million women aged 15 years and older who are at risk of developing cervical cancer. The bedrock of economic life in Kenya revolves around women working in their prime. And when we save women, we save their children as well.

During our first team visit, we set up medical clinics at Homabay County Referral Hospital and Kendu Bay Sub-District Hospital. The medical team, consisting of a medical director, four doctors, and a native Kenyan nurse practitioner, spent the first seven days at Homabay where 163 cervical examinations were performed. These routine examinations led to four women needing cryotherapy to freeze lesions and three women receiving the lifesaving Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP). Sadly, one of the ladies was discovered to have terminal cervical cancer. Our team was in awe of her courage and strength as she sat with her husband while the Kenyan physician explained to her the stark truth of her situation.   We will never forget this beautiful woman and her husband.

Kendu Bay Sub-District Hospital was our next life-saving visit. There, the team examined 215 women and performed five cryotherapy treatments and six LEEPs. Thankfully, most of the women were found to be disease-free.

We are proud to report that our trip was successful. The team trained Kenyan physicians and nurses on how to identify cervical lesions, and now the trained doctors and nurses are equipped to carry out the work and train other Kenyan medical professionals.

We look forward to our second team trip in June 2017 to the same region to do follow-up examinations and treatment, and offer additional training. During our final trip in November 2017, we’ll hold follow-up examinations, conduct a skills assessment of the trained medical professionals, and donate medical equipment to each of the hospitals.

We are profoundly grateful to The Rotary Foundation and the clubs that supported this life-saving global grant. We share a sense of honor and deep satisfaction to have been able to serve the women of Kenya in partnership with our Rotary community.



Planning successful water and sanitation projects

By Carolyn Crowley Meub, former member of the Water and Sanitation Rotarian Action Group (Wasrag) Board and Executive Director of Pure Water for the World, an organization started by the Brattleboro, Vermont Rotary Club

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erica Gwynn, Rotary’s Area of Focus Manager for Water and Sanitation Hygiene (WASH) about the components of a successful global grant. During our interview, we didn’t just discuss global grants. We spoke during the holiday season, when food is part of many conversations. It was for this reason that Erica and I first started discussing cooking and favorite recipes.

As we moved onto the real purpose of the conversation, we discussed how recipes and global grants are similar. Both require time, the proper tools, and need to have all the key ingredients before you begin. When one cooks or bakes, we envision the end result. When designing a water and sanitation project, there are necessary steps to be taken and key programmatic elements are needed.  We must start with the end in mind.

Carolyn: What is the unique perspective Rotary members bring to global WASH projects?

Erica: Rotarians bring a unique perspective to the project that non-government organizations cannot. Rotarians have relationships with local leaders, and they know the needs and capacity of the community. Understanding the local culture, water sources and availability, and community resources are critical to the success of the project. Rotarians are key to the design, planning and forecasting.  The more we see local Rotarians’ involvement, the greater chance for the grant being approved.

Carolyn: What are the key ingredients in successful and sustainable WASH projects?


  1. Engagement with the community from the beginning to end – from the needs assessment phase, to post-completion monitoring and evaluation phase.
  2. Engage with other organizations and local or regional governments. There needs to be integration with other existing programs. Rotary-funded programs are part of the greater whole, and there should a collaborative effort made with other entities. Rotarians need to be at the table with other organizations to address the WASH needs and the solutions.

Rotarians cannot work in isolation. We know that the “Rotary Bubble” is not sustainable.  We need to expand upon the other work that has been done in the area as to not be a “one-off” project.

Carolyn: How else can Rotary members get involved within the WASH sector?

Erica: I believe the strength of Rotary is the advocacy role they offer, that can influence decision-makers with making real systemic changes in the role of governments. Rotarians are in a unique position, as they have great and extensive networks. Rotarians have changed national agendas.

Read the complete interview on the Wasrag blog.

Wasrag is an international group of Rotarians, their family members, program participants and alumni with expertise and passion in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). Wasrag advises on club and district WASH projects while offering a wealth of resources for enhancing initiatives. Visit to access resources, become a member, or request assistance.


  • Read more stories about water and sanitation projects to gain inspiration for club and district service projects.

Improving maternal and child health in Uganda

By Past District Governor Ronald Smith, member of the Blue Bell Rotary Club, District 7430 (USA)

I began planning a vocational training team with my son Ryan in 2006, who at the time was a medical student at Drexel University in Pennsylvania, USA, with an interest in doing a rotation in Africa. This idea, combined with my friendship and previous matching grants experience with a governor classmate, Francis Tusibira “Tusu”, who I met at the San Diego Zoo at International Assembly, led to forming a vocational training team.

Later, as we met at various Rotary International conventions, we collaborated on several medical center Matching Grants. When Tusu and I were District Rotary Foundation Chairs in District 9200 (east Africa) and District 7430 (USA) respectively, we began exploring the idea of exchanging medical professionals.  As a District Rotary Foundation Chair, I was interested in learning how vocational training teams would be developed and managed under the new global grants structure.  Combining my personal interests with the support of my district and the Rotary Club of Blue Bell, a detailed plan evolved.

During a personal visit to Uganda in January 2013, I met with the Rotary Club of Kampala North and faculty at Makerere University in Kampala. The need for improved maternal and child healthcare education in suburban and rural areas of Uganda emerged through meetings and discussions between faculty and Rotarians. Visits were made to more than eight health centers and interviews held with health officials and the ministry of health uncovered a need for midwife education in emergency obstetric care and childbirth interventions.

The plan that emerged aimed to:

  • Exchange healthcare professionals to develop sustainable results.
  • Develop a sustainable computer network for educating healthcare professionals.
  • Improve community health center infrastructure with equipment and supplies.

Team members were selected from both Drexel University faculty in the United States and from Makerere University in Uganda. In Uganda, the team provided healthcare to patients along with obstetricians and pediatric training for health center staff. Drexel faculty was trained in Helping Babies Breathe, an infant resuscitation technique used in resource-limited settings, and Helping Mothers Survive, an innovative training initiative designed to equip health workers with the knowledge and skills they need to prevent mothers from dying during birth. The team helped set up health camps, trained midwives, and provided a computer network that will not only assist with continued self-training,  but will also be the back-bone for distance education learning. During the vocational training team from Uganda’s visit to Drexel, they were trained in developing distance education courses focused in healthcare.

These teams of doctors, nurses, midwives and information technology faculty have now exchanged twice.  Both teams immersed in one another’s environments and cultures. Through the personal and professional relationships that have been made between the two medical schools, these universities have now signed major collaboration agreements that will sustain this effort well beyond the vocational training teams. Additionally, the Ugandan health centers will become Centers of Excellence in Midwife Training and demonstrates how Rotary clubs and universities both in Uganda and the rest of Africa can work together to develop sustainable technology-based healthcare education systems.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Building peace in Chicago

By Past District Governor Patricia Merryweather, District Foundation Chair of District 6450 (Illinois, USA); Rotary Club of Naperville

As District Governor-elect at the 2012 International Assembly, I remember tears streamed down my face when President-elect Tanaka announced the 2012-13 Rotary theme Peace Through Service.

Fast forward to our District’s Conference in May 2012 as I wondered how we could bring peace to the streets of Chicago. A few weeks later, our district sprang into action when Heaven, a seven year old girl in Chicago was shot and killed by stray gunfire while she was out selling candy to raise money for a trip to Disney World.  A group of our District Rotarians started to talk about what we could do to create peace in Chicago. With Chicago averaging seven people shot each day and at least 10 people killed each week by gun fire, inaction was no longer an option.

That summer, we formed a Peace Partner Committee consisting of Rotarians and non-Rotary peace-focused organizations to work together and learn more about peace building by participating in each other’s peace programs.  We also participated in local initiatives such as peace building and dialogue efforts with the Chicago Police Department and various religious and community organizations.

Since 2012, we’ve held our Annual Chicagoland Peace Summits every year in communities most affected by violence.  The Peace Summits are for both youth and adults and offer breakout sessions led by our Peace Partner Committee members.  In addition to the Peace Summit, this year we added a program for youth between 10 and 16 years old at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. The program will feature inspirational speakers and leaders who, like many of the youth at the center, have had trouble with the law.

Pam Brockman from the Chicago Little Village Rotary Club is leading a Rotary Global Peace Grant project for youth in Chicago.   The project involves several of our Peace Partners whose programs have a strong history of reducing violence among youth and increasing conflict resolution.  We knew that the programs individually were very good and offered useful tools, but we also recognized an integrated approach can help the programs reach many more people.

Approved in 2015, the global grant is being implemented at two Chicago Public Schools:  Theodore Roosevelt High School and Joyce Kilmer Elementary School.  Both schools serve low income, multi-cultural populations in which 31 languages are spoken. The project will impact nearly 2000 students and 200 teachers. We hope to train youth and teachers in practical skills to manage their stress, resolve conflict, increase cooperation, compassion and understanding, and reduce violence through the programs listed below:

  • The Youth Empowerment Seminar (YES!) will teach students how to manage their mind, negative emotions and reduce impulsivity and stress.
  • Alternatives, Inc. will teach restorative justice, peace circles and conflict resolution.
  • Play for Peace will teach noncompetitive games to increase cultural understanding, cooperation and leadership.
  • The Peace School organizes an annual International Peace Day Celebration in Chicago. We will work with them to organize 3 events to celebrate the beginning, middle and end of the project.

For the sake of all of our children and our communities, doing nothing is no longer an option.  While we know we are not the only solution to bringing peace to Chicago, we can bring many parties together and must be part of the solution.



Rotary continues to fight diseases and make strides in health care

By John Wahlund, Area of Focus Manager for Maternal and Child Health & Disease Prevention and Treatment

This year, 2015 ushered out the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and introduced the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the period 2015-2030. Rotary International’s Area of Focus goals and policies in Disease Prevention and Treatment were a direct response to and reflection of the MDGs. The new SDGs are broader and more expansive in international development, and were developed in a much more inclusive and consensus building environment than the MDGs.

UN Sustainable Development Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, addresses how we could create a healthier world through disease prevention and treatment. Learn more about the specific targets that fall under this area. Within this area, Rotary International’s commitment, accomplishments and ever expanding scope of health care projects and programs has never been stronger. We remain completely aligned with and committed to successful achievement of the SDGs.

There has been a dramatic shift in morbidity and mortality rates in the last fifteen years reflecting a significant decrease in sickness and death from communicable diseases; correspondingly there has been a significant increase in sickness and death from non-communicable diseases (NCDs). NCDs include cancers, heart diseases, diabetes and neurological diseases. They have become the greatest threats and equalizers in global health and account for 80% of all illness and death around the world. As life expectancy has risen around the world, so has the prospect of acquiring what used to be regarded as ‘first world’ diseases.

During a subnational polio immunization day, a Rotarian visits a children's center in an underdeveloped urban neighborhood outside Lucknow, India.
During a subnational polio immunization day, a Rotarian visits a children’s center in an underdeveloped urban neighborhood outside Lucknow, India.

Rotary’s strengths and accomplishments in the area of disease prevention and treatment include:

  • PolioPlus has a strongly developed Rotarian program model in place. This regional and community level model can be utilized extensively in all disease prevention and treatment initiatives throughout the world.
  • Rotarians have a proven track record of partnering with local governments and organization in projects addressing HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, polio, dengue and other communicable diseases. These targets remain paramount on the UN SDG agenda.
  • The Rotary Foundation has funded almost 2,000 projects and programs to build healthier communities all across the world. The Rotarian network remains active in their communities, which presents potential for expanding and scaling up focused programs that emphasize strategic partnering with governments and the private and NGO sectors.
  • Foundation grant activity in disease prevention and treatment demonstrates that Rotarians have broad sector interests and strong local impact. Differing regionally, priority areas of Rotarian involvement include; medical and dental equipment, blindness prevention and treatment, public health and sanitation activities, and nutrition and childhood disease projects. Other successful and popular project types address rehabilitation and physical therapy, malaria, HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases, lifesaving and congenital surgeries, and large scale prevention and treatment projects targeting diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
  • The greatly increasing use of Rotarian Vocational Training Teams are providing health care training and provision of on-site services in many areas of disease treatment throughout the world.

This broad menu of activities can be harnessed into larger more focused projects utilizing existing Rotarian resources such as Rotarian Action Groups and developing new regional partnerships to create a healthier world.



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!


Relief and recovery efforts in Nepal

By Gary C.K. Huang, 2014-15 Rotary International President

Devastation in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital captured by Rotaractor Ashish Chaulagain. Photo courtesy of ShelterBox
Devastation in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital captured by Rotaractor Ashish Chaulagain. Photo courtesy of ShelterBox

Joined by Rotary members worldwide, we express our profound sadness and extend our sympathies to all those impacted by the devastation resulting from the 25 April deadly earthquake in Nepal. Rescue missions and emergency aid continue to arrive in Nepal as 8 million people have been impacted by the massive 7.8 magnitude quake.

As we mourn the thousands of lost lives, Rotary joins many international agencies in providing immediate relief to survivors and mobilizing our expertise to support long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts throughout the country.

Thank you to everyone who has expressed their concerns and desires to assist the devastated communities in Nepal:

  • District 3292, Nepal, has established a disaster relief fund to provide needed equipment and supplies to impacted communities. Contact District Governor Kumar Piya for information about contributing to the fund.
  • ShelterBox response team member Nicola Hinds with Geeta Shrestha, Nursing Director at one of the Kathmandu hopsitals that have received ShelterBox tents. Photo courtesy of Phil Duloy/ShelterBox.
    ShelterBox response team member Nicola Hinds with Geeta Shrestha, Nursing Director at one of the Kathmandu hopsitals that have received ShelterBox tents. Photo courtesy of Phil Duloy/ShelterBox.

    Rotary’s service partner ShelterBox is working closely with Nepali Rotary members to coordinate immediate relief efforts. On Monday, 27 April, and Wednesday, 29 April, Rotarians greeted ShelterBox response teams in Nepal who will mobilize temporary housing and relief efforts in impacted communities. Two more relief teams will arrive in Nepal this weekend. Working with local authorities, an initial 500 housing tents and 500 shelter kits will be distributed throughout impacted communities. An estimated additional 2,500 kits, tents, water purification kits and solar lamps may be deployed once further assessments are complete. Learn more about supporting ShelterBox’s relief efforts.

  • As with all disasters, the Rotary family may apply for global grants to support long-term recovery efforts in Nepal. Once immediate health, safety, and relief efforts have been addressed, work with local Nepali Rotary members and their international partners to develop projects within Rotary’s six areas of focus.

Monitor the announcements section of My Rotary for more information as it becomes available and do not hesitate to contact with any questions.

Our thoughts are with our Nepali neighbors during this difficult time. Thank you for continuing to Light Up Rotary through your compassion and generosity.