Empowering women and girls in Afghanistan

By Bibi Bahrami, member of the Rotary Club of Muncie and founder of AWAKEN

Growing up as a young girl in the peaceful village of Qala-e-Malakh in Afghanistan, I was part of a loving family with ten brothers and sisters. We were happy, but little did we know that our lives would soon face devastation as the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979. I was frightened and scared for my life and for the lives of my loved ones. Every time I heard shots or explosions, I trembled at the thought of losing a family member.

In the face of war, we were forced to flee our home, leaving everything behind to head towards refugee camps in Pakistan. A long journey awaited us as we traveled through mountains without much food or water, with small children and my mother who was eight months pregnant at the time. We arrived to the camps safely where I spent the next six years of my life. My life had been turned upside down. Growing up, I always had aspirations and dreams to be educated, and hoped for the opportunity to pursue them. My six years in the camp did not give me that opportunity, but I tried to learn what I could from my brothers’ books.

In 1986, I boarded a plane to meet my fiancé, who was a medical student in the United States who I had met in the refugee camp in Pakistan. My trip brought me to Muncie, Indiana, and I was blessed with the opportunity that I had always wanted. I was finally able to pursue my education, completing a GED and continuing on to receive an art degree from Ball State University. As my life has moved on from my home in Qala-e-Malakh and the refugee camps, I never forgot about the girls I left behind who have the same dreams as I did.

My husband and I continued to travel back to the refugee camps in Pakistan every year, with medicine and other humanitarian supplies. In 2002, with the support of family and friends, we established AWAKEN (Afghan Women and Kids Education & Necessities) to provide educational opportunities, vocational training, and healthcare services to the people of Afghanistan, especially the women and children.

As part of AWAKEN, we offered a vocational training program where we traveled from village to village and rented a room conveniently located near women’s homes. We conducted a six-month course teaching women basic hygiene, reading, writing, and sewing. At the end of the course, all women received a sewing machine and kit so they could become self-sufficient.

There were also no opportunities for education in my hometown of Qala-e-Malakh. In 2004, AWAKEN established a school for children grades K-12. The school now has more than 1200 students enrolled.

Most villages in Afghanistan do not have access to any sort of healthcare. In 2008, we built the Behsood Health Clinic which provides over 500 families access to basic treatments such as vaccines, birth control, etc. The clinic sees more than 180 patients daily.

Recently, AWAKEN partnered with the Rotary Club of Muncie Sunrise (United States) and the Rotary Club of Jalalabad (Afghanistan) to establish a Saheli Center. The center will open near the current AWAKEN clinic and school providing literacy, nutrition, and reproductive health classes. The center will also provide vocational education, including but not limited to computers and tailoring expanding upon AWAKEN’s efforts.

One of my biggest dreams was to open a birthing center in the village. AWAKEN created a birthing center to provide prenatal and postnatal care. With the support of partnering Rotary clubs, we will expand our efforts by conducted Family Planning Workshops taught by medical professionals from the Rotary Club of Jalalabad and the AWAKEN clinic staff. Birth attendants will also conduct small workshops on pre-natal nutrition, birthing practices and infant nutrition, including breast feeding for those receiving pre-natal care. Small packages of infant care supplies provided by the Rotary clubs will be given to women who complete all the classes.

I was once a little girl in Afghanistan with limited opportunities, and am blessed to have the life I enjoy today. Unfortunately, people living in impoverished countries do not have access to the opportunities and resources that I do now. Together we can make a difference in the lives of many women and children in Afghanistan, so that they can awaken to a brighter future with opportunities for continuing their education and becoming self-sufficient!

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Ethical dilemma: what would you do?

As your club’s vocational service chair, you have been engaging young professionals through mentorship initiatives and career counseling projects. You would like more of your fellow club members to participate in these initiatives since many of the mentees are starting off in their careers and you want to introduce them to Rotary and all it offers. You would like to see the young professionals join your club, but have received feedback that they cannot attend your club’s meetings because of the cost and inconvenient time.

You propose to your club leadership that they should change the location, time, and introduce a reduced cost option to attract young professionals. The youth have mentioned that they like to meet with one another at a local bar, so you suggest your club starts meetings at this location instead where drinks and food are optional making it more affordable for the prospective members. Your club leadership is opposed to this idea; they believe it will drive away current members who are not comfortable in that setting. You believe these changes will help attract young professionals to join your club while helping members get more engaged with youth.

What would you do?

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If you would like to submit an ethical dilemma for discussion, email us at rotary.service@rotary.org.

Creating greater good in partnership with innovative change makers

By Ellina Kushnir, Rotary Service and Engagement staff

Noran Sanford, a licensed social worker, a man of faith, and a vested community member, is empowering a rural U.S. community to utilize overlooked resources and pioneer change from within. In 2000, Noran moved back to his hometown in rural North Carolina, USA, where he was stunned to find his childhood community continuing to face growing challenges.

North Carolina’s Scotland, Hoke, and Robeson counties compete for the state’s highest rates of unemployment, food insecurity, crime, and poverty. Yet, Noran knew that even the most challenged community houses a wealth of untapped resources and assets.

In partnership with universities, faith centers, state agencies, correctional facilities, businesses and corporations, community leaders, and vested organizations including the local Rotary club, Noran has created a model to transform closed prisons into skills training facilities and employment incubators specifically for troubled youth and returning military veterans.

Through his organization GrowingChange, Noran began connecting young people deep in the court system to the disenfranchisement of the communities they come from: by evoking the sense of shared struggle, paroled youth and community members rally around new opportunities. In his initial five-year clinical pilot, Noran saw a 92% success rate in helping youth who were headed to prison reverse their future.

Now young people serving probation terms are leading their community to reinvent a local symbol of the broken justice system, such as a decommissioned ‘work farm’ prison in Noran’s rural North Carolina. Today, religious leaders work side-by-side with homeless youth, university professors work with high school dropouts, returning veterans with troubled youth and state leaders with their rural constituents to directly address their own biases, change their behaviors, and develop a deeper sense of civic imagination and societal efficacy.

It is precisely Noran’s work with the returning veteran community that connected him with local Rotarian Paul Tate from the Rotary Club of Laurinburg. Paul first met Noran at their community church. As a retired U.S. veteran with extensive experience in international diplomacy, Paul became a strong supporter of Noran’s community empowerment approach. Today, Paul sits on GrowingChange’s Board of Directors and uses his professional skills to shape the organization’s strategy for engaging the local veteran community. Noran plans to soon offer veterans internship opportunities, and eventually create a hub for acquiring skills within the agriculture sector while simultaneously establishing an incubator for the creation of new jobs and fostering local entrepreneurs.

Inspired by Noran’s goal to break down social barriers, Paul worked with his club’s leaders to invite a group of former gang leaders to discuss the reasons youth join gangs, becoming disenfranchised members of their very own community. Had it not been for Noran and Paul, these two groups of community members would have likely never intersected. Intrigued by GrowingChange’s model, the Laurinburg club is exploring additional ways this site can be used to empower the community alongside instrumental local change leaders. GrowingChange is preparing to launch their initial capital campaign to transform their first site in Wagram, North Carolina. The model will then be given to other communities who are struggling to reuse old prisons, more than 25 in North Carolina alone.

Noran humbly credits the many different partners that have contributed to the success of his work. In 2016, Noran was selected as an Ashoka Fellow, joining a global network of social entrepreneur peers. Through a rigorous application and screening process, Ashoka finds, selects, and supports innovators like Noran and connects them to the resources and people that help their ideas thrive. Ashoka’s network currently consists of 3,300 Fellows in more than 80 countries. Very much like Rotarians, Ashoka Fellows are community leaders with a vested interest to work in partnership with the community to identify and leverage existing assets to address local challenges.

Inspired by Noran’s story and the partnerships he’s forging with Rotarians and other community leaders? Your club can also explore opportunities to partner with innovative social entrepreneurs in your local community. Ashoka Fellows can help you develop creative, innovative approaches to solving needs in the communities where you live and work. Search Ashoka’s network of Fellows and contact rotary.service@rotary.org for an introduction to a local change maker.

Empower others with your expertise

By Azka Asif, Rotary Service and Engagement Staff

As part of Rotary’s guiding principles and the Avenues of Service, Vocational Service calls on Rotary members to empower others by using their unique skills and expertise to address community needs and help others discover new vocational opportunities and interests. January is Rotary’s Vocational Service Month, a great time to reflect on how the concept of vocational service is implemented in your club and district.

Here are some examples of Rotarians using their expertise to help meet their community’s needs:

  • For the past decade, the Rotary Club of Newport Beach Sunrise in the United States has supported a local career center. Club members have been trained to facilitate a series of workshops designed to assist adults re-enter the workforce after experiencing traumas and tragedies in their personal and professional lives. Members coach center attendees on preparing a job application, interview skills, business culture and etiquette, body language in the business environment, goal setting and dressing for success. The final phase of the initiative is a fun filled day of self-esteem building including a colorful graduation, new business attire, haircuts, manicures and massages for all the participants.
  • The Rotary Club of Madras Industrial City in India conducted a career guidance workshop for their Interact club to help students discover their interests. The District Vocational Service Chair arranged a half-day interactive session for students to form career goals and plan for their future vocations. A special workshop was conducted for girls and more than 200 students benefited from the project.
  • In Nigeria, the Rotary Club of Port Harcourt Airfield partnered with a local organization to host a free training program for impoverished people on making handcrafts such as beads, soaps, baking sweets, and repairing computers. At the end of the training, thirteen participants were given grants to start their own businesses.
  • The E-Club of Tamar Hong Kong in China organized seminars for youth in their community aimed at teaching them to balance everyday life and a career. Members of the club shared insights on different industries such as travel, jewelry, entertainment, and entrepreneurship. Youth were also taught to write a resume, cover letter and offered suggestions for successful interviews.

Read more stories about vocational service and gain inspiration for club and district service projects. Post your club’s vocational service project on Rotary Showcase and join the conversation in My Rotary’s discussion groups. Share your thoughts about vocational service in the comments below!

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.

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Building life-long friendships through Rotary Fellowships

By Past RI Vice President Serge Gouteyron, member of the Rotary Club of Valenciennes-Denain aerodrome (France) and Chair of the 2015-16 RI Rotary Fellowships Committee

The second Object of Rotary encourages Rotarians to hold high ethical standards in business and profession; to recognize the worthiness of all useful occupations; and to dignify each Rotarian’s occupation as an opportunity to serve society. Through Rotary, members from different professional and cultural backgrounds are able to combine their expertise and experiences to create a greater impact. By connecting with fellow Rotarians who share a common profession or hobby, Rotary Fellowships contribute to the promotion and advancement of Rotary worldwide. Fellowships enable Rotarians to bond with those outside of their club, district, or country. Vocationally oriented fellowships allow Rotarians to use their unique skill sets to serve their community and further their professional development while building lasting friendships.

There are currently more than 60 Rotary Fellowships covering unique topics of interests including various vocations such as lawyers, doctors, police law enforcement and more.

How can we increase our impact through Fellowships?

Dear friends, let’s extend our spirit of friendship and service spirit beyond our clubs and let’s further mutual understanding through Rotary Fellowships. We invite Rotarians whose profession is not represented among the current fellowships to create one. Vocationally-based fellowships based are quite significant as they embody the historical identity of Rotary and of its values.

The following stories will inspire you to join an existing group or start a new one:

Starting a fellowship requires a roster of potential members representing at least three countries and approval from the RI Board of Directors. Find more information online: www.rotary.org/fellowships

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Bringing vocational service to life through club projects

By Beth Keck, member of the Rotary Club of Bentonville, AR, USA, and member of RI’s Vocational Service Committee

My club does not have a vocational service committee.  However, last year when I surveyed my colleagues, it became apparent that the concept of vocational service is deeply integrated into the fabric of our club.  My fellow club members knew that through their Rotary affiliation they were using their skills and expertise to do good in our community and the world.

For example, although at the time we did not consciously consider our club’s International Women’s Day event as a vocational service project, it is an example of an application of the concept by my club.

At the 2014 RI International Convention in Sydney, a local Women in Rotary group told my husband and me about their community International Women’s Day program.  We realized that while large employers in our area held internal celebrations, students and employees of small- and medium-sized businesses did not have access to such inspiring professional development events.  With women making up only 24 percent of our club membership, we were looking for a way to make Rotary more visible to the women in our community.  Organizing an International Women’s Day event seemed like a good approach.

Tapping the expertise of our members, and with support from area women leaders and Rotary International Directors Jennifer Jones and Mary Beth Growney-Selene, our club organized its first International Women’s Day professional development event last March.  More than 200 students, women and men from our community attended and heard five accomplished women speak about their careers and families.

This year we are hosting our second International Women’s Day event on 9 March and look forward to bringing more inspiring stories of achievement to an even larger audience in our community.

The concept of vocational service is rooted in the second Object of Rotary.  Every time my fellow club members and I say or apply the 4-Way Test, we reinforce our aspiration for high ethical standards.

By including men and women in our club from diverse professions and backgrounds, we recognize the worthiness of all useful occupations. Whether it is a lawyer from my club providing pro bono work, a financial adviser helping a low-income family get on a better financial footing, or a club committee organizing an International Women’s Day professional development event, we are using our skills, expertise and occupations to serve society.

January is Rotary’s Vocational Service Month, an ideal time to reflect on how the concept of vocational service is being woven into the fabric of each of our clubs around the world.  Post your club’s vocational service project and join the conversation in My Rotary’s discussion groups.

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Inspiring others through vocational service

By Azka Asif, RI Programs Staff

Rotarians serve, empower and inspire others through vocational service by using their unique skills and expertise to address community needs and help others discover new vocational opportunities and interests. As professionals, Rotarians represent their particular field or area of expertise and hold a dual responsibility: represent their vocation within their club and exemplify the ideals of Rotary in their place of business. Check out these projects on Rotary Showcase highlighting how Rotarians contribute their expertise to the problems and needs of their communities:

  • Using their professional experiences, Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Phoenix in Mauritius provide career counseling for students going into universities. The club also encourages their spouses and friends to provide counseling, share hands-on experience and offer advice to students pursuing higher studies to help them decide their future goals and aspirations.
  • In India, the Rotary Club of Rajkot Midtown set up a vocational training center for women in their community. The center provides training in different areas such computers, sewing, beauty care, dancing, cooking, and arts. The center aims to equip women with the skills they need to gain employment. Over the past six years, the center has helped more than 6000 women find jobs.
  • The Rotary Club of Amman Capital partnered with the Elia Nuqul Foundation to conduct a leadership program with a group of 28 young scholars from around Jordan. The three day program help scholar grow professionally and personally while strengthening their leadership skills to ensure that they become productive members of society and successful in their business endeavors.
  • The Rotary Club Omole-Golden in Nigeria held a seminar on ethics in business and governance. Professionals and youth from the community were invited to attend key note speeches and lectures from motivational guest speakers on best ethical practices.
  • The Rotary Club of Waterkloof in South Africa provides ongoing professional training to 25 caregivers working at a home for mentally challenged individuals.

How is your club and district promoting Rotary’s commitment to integrity and inspiring your community through vocational service? Add your voice to the conversation using the blog’s commenting feature below and share your club initiatives on Rotary Showcase.

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How will you Be a Gift to the World this year?

T1516-ENBy Ellina Kushnir, RI Programs staff

RI President K.R. Ravindran challenges us to use our gifts – talents, knowledge, abilities, and efforts – to make a genuine impact through fellowship and service activities. Through our Rotary network, we have access to many resources to plan projects using our skills, expertise, and passions to improve communities near and far.

Showcase how your club or district supports communities:

  • Through a Rotary grant, the Rotary Club of Santa Maria, Philippines, is working with the Rotary Community Corps of Pulong Buhangin 2 and other partners to provide safe water and sanitation for a community within the Santa Maria Bulacan municipality.
  • BELThe Rotary Club of Udaipur Udai, India, partnered with a cooperating organization to provide computer literacy classes to older residents. The Rotaract Club of Aishwarya volunteered as teachers during the trainings which covered topics including scheduling appointments, making reservations, and paying bills online. The Rotary club members provide students with ongoing consultation after completing the courses.
  • The Rotary Club of Santurce, Puerto Rico, collaborated on a Rotary Friendship Exchange with the Rotary Club of Port of Spain West, Trinidad and Tobago, to build fellowship and friendship and explore international service opportunities. The visiting team from Puerto Rico visited several projects, engaged in fellowship, and met the club’s sponsored Interact Club and RCC. They will host their new friends from Trinidad and Tobago later this year.
  • VocServiceThe Rotary Club of Irvine, USA, teamed up with the Irvine Valley College to host an interview workshop and mock interviews with college students. Students were interviewed by a panel of three Rotarians and then received feedback to improve their interviewing skills.

Support club and district initiatives:

  • The Rotary Club of Benin Metropolitan, Nigeria, seeks an international partner to assist with their initiative to provide safe drinking water for the 5,000 residents of the Obazagbon and Ugieghudu communities.
  • IDEASThe Rotary Club of Kharkiv Multinational, Ukraine, is seeking partners to assist with a camp program for local youth. Children who are refugees from nearby conflict areas, part of military families or face tough life situation will participate in the program which includes fun outings and activities along with a targeted curriculum to help participants adapt and socialize given their backgrounds and traumatic experiences.
  • The Rotary Club of Sorocaba-Sul, Brazil, seeks partners to help build a playground for children with physical disabilities. The project will create safe place in the city for recreation, rehabilitation and physical education for children with disabilities. The park will also offer opportunities for children to socialize with their peers

Visit Rotary.org for many more resources to help you with your club or district project. Remember, the 2015-16 Presidential Citation will recognize clubs that achieve an array of accomplishments intended to make Rotary stronger, more effective at delivering service, and more widely known and respected by the general public. Encourage your clubs to focus on the Humanitarian Service goals listed in the Presidential Citation brochure.


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Ethical dilemma discussion: what would you do?

Your club commits to covering airfare for a local high school student embarking on a yearlong Rotary Youth Exchange. Club members form three committees, each responsible for hosting a fundraising event to collect money that will pay for the student’s round trip international airfare. The first two events raise the targeted amount, but bad weather forces your club to cancel the third committee’s event, scheduled a week before the student’s flight must be booked. As a result, that committee requests that all club members split the remaining amount needed for the ticket purchase. You, along with a handful of other club members, are uncomfortable with this request.

What do you do?