Pursuing my passions through Rotary and Peace Corps

By Cecilia Kern, former Rotary Global Grant Scholar and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer

Community service has always been a big part of my life. When I was 11-years-old, I joined the youth leadership organization, Job’s Daughters. This group of adult and peer mentors instilled in me the principles of leadership, compassion, empathy and selfless service. Guided by these values, I spent much of my free time in high school and college volunteering and fundraising for various charities.

These activities however, remained fairly separate from my studies and professional life. In 2008, I was preparing to graduate from a four-year university where I had earned a Bachelors in Business Management, and suddenly it hit me: this was not at all who I was or what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My heart was in the volunteer work where I had dedicated so many of my years. Why does a professional career have to be separate from what one is truly passionate about? Pursuing Peace Corps was my way of finding out how to merge the two.

I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cape Verde, where I worked in the area of small business and community development. The experience was life changing. When spending two years completely immersed in a small village, the community becomes your friend, and friends become your family. I learned so much about myself through cultural exchange, respectful dialogue and meaningful engagement.

Returning to the United States left me feeling empty, yet inspired. I was saddened to leave what became my second home, but I now knew, more than ever, my life mission. I am meant to dedicate my life to a cause higher than myself, something that outlasts me, something that leaves this world a little better than I found it.

I spent some time volunteering for non-profit organizations in the U.S. and Brazil before joining the World Bank in their mission to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. Working among esteemed economists and specialists at the World Bank inspired me, but I quickly realized that I would need to further my education in order to make a meaningful difference. After researching and applying to several programs, I decided on a Master’s of Science in International Development and Public Policy at the University of Manchester, England. As a perpetual volunteer who had only worked for about 24 months in the past 7 years, funding a graduate degree would be the next immediate challenge.

I had been familiar with Rotary mainly because I saw their signs everywhere, from my village in Cape Verde to the streets in Porto Velho, Brazil. I reached out to my local Fairfax Rotary Club and was blessed to be connected with Rotarian Verne Tuininga, the Youth Service Director, who graciously guided me through The Rotary Foundation’s Global Grants Scholarship application process, interview and eventual acceptance process.

I set off for the United Kingdom in September 2015, as a Rotary Global Grants Scholar. I began my graduate program where I also co-started the fundraising group Students Unite to End Polio in support of Rotary’s PolioPlus campaign. Students Unite to End Polio consisted of ten international students committed to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in an effort to raise funds and awareness around polio eradication.

After graduating from the University of Manchester and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, I have returned to the World Bank as a research analyst for the social protection department. Looking back, Peace Corps and the community I served, gave me the self-belief and drive to pursue radical social change; and my Rotary scholarship equipped me with the education and knowledge I needed to transform that drive into action. It may be awhile before we see the end to extreme poverty, but my experiences with Peace Corps and Rotary give me hope that lasting change is possible through time, unwavering focus and fierce determination.

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Related:

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

Reflections from the field: intensive disaster relief courses inspire service

By Luke Addison, member of the Rotaract Club of University of Winchester, England and Rotaract Multi-District Contact for RIBI

I first heard about ShelterBox in 2013. I had just become the President of the University of Winchester Rotaract Club and was working with several friends to get the group involved in local and international projects. We were, and are still to this day, very lucky to have the support of the Winchester Rotary Club in all that we do. Their club allowed our members to engage with their projects and therefore create some great connections. There was a particular Rotarian who had spoken with me about ShelterBox and the work they did and suggested we raise funds for them. In just a few days we were at Winchester University at 7:00 AM putting up a ShelterBox tent and then standing alongside it for several hours.

In the past few years since working closer with Rotaract and Rotary on an international level, as well as being involved in many diverse projects and with many organisations across the globe, my interests and drive for what I want to achieve sit very much in the humanitarian sector.

One morning I received an email inviting me to the three-day Understanding ShelterBox Operations course, and there was no way I could turn this down. I replied without hesitation and several weeks later, found myself packing a bag and booking a ten-hour coach journey to Truro! After arriving at the ShelterBox Headquarters, I was extremely early and one of the team members must have taken pity on me and invited me in from the cold. The course didn’t begin until noon, but I was met by Alex Youlten and several other staff who offered to show me around and gave me a great introduction to ShelterBox. Along the tour, we were invited into an actual operations meeting which was taking place in a board room and involved the whole team looking at where ShelterBoxes and other ShelterBox aid were currently being deployed, and also talking much about international affairs of the world… I was hooked and I hadn’t even started the course yet!

After meeting the rest of the course participants, we boarded a minibus and headed towards the training camp. We opened with a briefing about the organisation and then went straight into setting up three tents outside. These would be our accommodations for the next few nights!

The three days of the course were a fascinating combination of problem-solving activities, treks, team-building games and even critical thinking within a classroom. The last part surprised me because although I was expecting to hear more about what they did, I hadn’t fully appreciated exactly what it is they do. By this I mean, we looked deeply into human psychology and how people react in a disaster while also looking at ethical and moral dilemmas and the level of strength and compassion needed to operate effectively.

We even learnt how the organisation’s fundraising department worked and had a great presentation from Richard Lee, Director of Fundraising and Communications. Again, it was a side I was not expecting to see, but was so clearly effective as it had everyone in the room suggesting ways to help.

ShelterBox and Rotary share the same humanitarian aims, and have been linked by common goals and ethics for more than sixteen years now. The two organisations have formed a durable international project partnership which grows in scale and sophistication with every year. It is quite unique in international aid. Obviously this includes Rotaractors too, whose youthful energy, compassion and local knowledge are harnessed in so many ShelterBox deployments and disaster responses.

We were treated with so much respect and I felt so valued as an “outsider”; I’m grateful to have been invited to this course but given so much whilst on it. I could feel my place within ShelterBox already forming!  I have never met a single other charity that would invite you to their headquarters, show you around everything, let you sit in a real operations meeting, then take you to the training ground and give you three days of training on what they actually do. It was genuinely one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had and I would absolutely encourage everyone to go and take part in the course and learn about the many ways your club can work with ShelterBox.

I am so grateful and look forward to working with ShelterBox again!

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Related:

Collaborating with partners on sustainable service projects

By Rotary Service Connections Staff

Working with partners can strengthen club and district service projects by ensuring sustainability, providing access to subject-matter experts, and strengthening local networks. Partnering with local, national, and international organizations can help meet the many needs of communities around the world.

Rotary’s service and project partners support Rotarian-led initiatives within the avenues of service and areas of focus. All activities take place at the local level at the discretion of individual clubs and districts. Consider partnering with one of Rotary’s service partners to create a greater impact in your community:

The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) for alleviating hunger and malnutrition

Food banking is a proven solution to two critical global problems: world hunger and food waste. There is enough food to feed the world, but one-third of it is wasted. Food banks rescue perfectly edible and nutritious food before it is wasted and redistribute it to feed hungry people. In most countries, food banks distribute food through a network of community agencies, including school feeding programs, food pantries, soup kitchens, AIDS and tuberculosis hospices, elderly care facilities, orphanages, and nongovernmental organizations that provide food to the hungry. Rotary’s service partnership with GFN provides opportunities to work together to create and support food banks around the world. Read the partnership factsheet to learn more.

Peace Corps for promoting peace and enhancing community development

Peace Corps, an independent U.S. federal agency, sends U.S. citizens abroad to help tackle the most pressing needs around the world while promoting better international understanding. Peace Corps Volunteers live and work alongside the people they support to create sustainable change that lives on long after their service. A Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) offers access to local contacts, community development insights, and funding possibilities within a particular community. Involving a PCV in your project will increase its reach, impact, and sustainability. Read the partnership fact sheet.

ShelterBox for disaster relief

ShelterBox is an international aid organization that provides immediate assistance to areas ravaged by disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic activity, flooding, hurricanes, cyclones, tsunamis, or conflict. The project partnership between Rotary and ShelterBox offers opportunities to collaborate in providing emergency shelter and vital supplies to stabilize, protect, and support communities affected by disasters and humanitarian crises. Read the partnership fact sheet.

YSA (Youth Service America) for youth involvement

YSA focuses on the engagement of young people, ages 5-25, as partners in solving the problems of the world by addressing challenges that are stifling economic and human potential, such as: environmental degradation, childhood obesity, hunger, illiteracy, animal welfare, water scarcity, human rights, and communicable diseases. Read the partnership fact sheet.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library for literacy

The collaborative relationship between The Dollywood Foundation’s Imagination Library and RI provides a way for clubs in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia to support early childhood literacy by providing children in their community with a free book every month from birth to age five. Read the partnership fact sheet.

Along with collaborating with like-minded groups, you can make a more successful impact and create stronger service projects by:

  • Inviting representatives from partner organizations to speak at club meetings
  • Utilizing club and district service chairs for help identifying local partners
  • Leveraging Rotary Ideas to find funding and partners for your projects
  • Organizing a Rotary Community Corps to help mobilize a community and ensure local needs are met
  • Collaborating with a Rotarian Action Groupto help conduct a needs assessments, incorporate monitoring and evaluation components, and secure funding.
  • Attending a project fair to make new connections

We hope these resources will help your clubs and district carry out impactful and sustainable initiatives.  Please write to the Rotary Service Connections team with any questions.

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Related:

 

Rotary Friendship Exchange lays foundation for international service partnerships

By Camille Ronzio, member of Rotary Club of Eugene Southtowne, OR, USA, and District 5110 Rotary Friendship Exchange Chair

I never thought Rotary International winning second place in the December 2013 United Miles contest would have a personal connection to my life. Using a portion of the awarded miles, Rotary District 5110 (USA) won the opportunity to offer free round trip tickets to four Rotarians from our district to embark on a service-oriented Rotary Friendship Exchange (RFE). I had the opportunity to lead this team – a mixed group of young faces and experienced travelers, some new to the RFE program and some program veterans.

Working with RFE district chair Alexandre Iote from District 2241 (Romania and Moldova), we planned an exchange introducing RFE to two new areas in his district. Our plans included a joint service project as well as many cultural and fellowship experiences that would introduce us to the countries’ amazingly resilient, generous and warm people.


On the May exchange in Romania and Moldova, we saw two countries trying to restore their roads, buildings, economies and town squares. We also saw commonalities that unite us as Rotarians: the desire to build good will and friendships, and the commitment to service. Reflecting back on the experience, team member Ted Stevens said “the trip expanded our knowledge in countless ways,” and Tyson Woodard remarked that “it was truly an educational and awe-inspiring adventure.”

Here is a glimpse of our exchange:

When we arrived in Timisoara, Romania, we were met by group of young, vibrant Rotarians who incorporate the whole family into Rotary: Rotakids, Interact, Rotaract, and spouses – they even have a band made up of Rotarians and their family members. What a memorable first night!

We partnered on a number of service with our various hosts throughout District 2241:

  • Our team collected funds to help revive a dated playground located near apartment complexes housing young families. We gained many ideas for future projects as we talked with a young man who was rescued from an unsafe environment as a child and now manages a house for abandoned children.
  • We met with a Rotarian who built Deborah’s House, a safe haven
    for young women who are victims of trafficking or abuse. I will never forget the conversation with the young girl practicing her English who proudly showed me her room, or the smiles and hugs our team received when we gave each girl a new pair of shoes. These are just the beginnings of longer-term projects!
  • Onward in the city of Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania, local Rotarians met us in a hotel and restaurant owned by a club member. We
    were greeted with homemade sour cherry liquor, music and dancing! Here we met Gabriela Rosus, a Rotarian who took time away from her job to organize our stay and show us around. She runs a non-governmental organization which moves children from orphanages to foster homes. We met her special-needs children who wore big smiles and lived in a loving environment. We saw how she utilizes every resource she has.

Cultural immersion:

  • “Merry Cemetery” – I will always remember the painted carved markers telling the story of each person buried in this cemetery. A local Rotarian told us about his father who is buried there. On this stop we also visited the prison memorial to the victims of Communism – a truly somber and moving tribute to a period of history that still affects the people of Romania.
  • A van ride took us to Suceava, Romania, where we stayed overnight. The local Rotarians arranged local folk dance entertainment, and treated us to a wonderful traditional meal, a hike, and a tour of one of the famous painted monasteries of the Bucovina region.
  • The next day, another van organized by Moldovan Rotarians – all women – their bilingual daughters and Rotaract members greeted us for the trip to Chisinau, Moldova. Upon arrival in the city, we were treated to the traditional welcome braided bread dipped in salt and paired with Moldovan red wine. Local music and dancing again filled the room! We visited an upcoming center dedicated to keeping local crafts, music and culture alive for young people, a project supported by several Rotarians. We bought some of their crafts and discussed ideas for supporting this effort in the  future.

Long live friendships and eye opening experiences!

Team members Don Arkell and Laurie Power said it best: “We caught glimpses of the everyday lives of our hosts and how they, through Rotary, make life better for the less privileged. We can now put faces on unfolding geopolitical events in the region with appreciation for the challenges our new friends may undertake.” You can see more pictures from our exchange on our exchange Facebook page.

We will welcome our Romanian and Moldovan hosts to District 5110 in August, and we already agreed to have another exchange between our districts in 2017. Potential team members from both districts are lining up to participate!

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Learn more about Rotary Friendship Exchanges online and contact your District Rotary Friendship Exchange Chair for information about how you can get involved.

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