A Dialogue Through Service: Making a Difference while Making Friends


If we are to solve the world's major problems such as ending war and making sure everyone has enough to eat, millions of people from all over the world will need to be involved. They will need to understand the interconnectivity of all people, care about others, and maintain the highest ethical standards while they focus on solutions. In other words, we need world citizens to communicate with one another. But how are we to find and cultivate these people?

One way is being practiced by the membership of Rotary International and has been evolving and improving since 1917 when its president, Arch Klumph, suggested that they create a means "to do good in the world". Rotarians are loyal to their own communities and understand that others all around the world have similar needs and desires. The mission of Rotary International, a worldwide association of Rotary clubs, is to provide service to others, promote high ethical standards, and advance world understanding, goodwill and peace through its fellowship of business, professional, and community leaders.

Rotary encourages successful people from all over the world to work with others in order to help those less fortunate. We believe that the "development of acquaintance is an opportunity for service".1 Our 1.2 million members in 34,000 clubs throughout 200 countries and territories all subscribe to the goal of placing "Service Above Self". We have many ongoing projects with varied target goals, like the eradication of polio from the face of the earth; the dialogue created in the formation and implementation of such projects develops friendships, and these friendships lead to practical sustainable actions.

The 73 clubs in my district practice this approach through various service opportunities. This article focuses on our international endeavours.

Rotary programmes include Youth Exchange, in which we send and receive high school students for a full school year and others for short term or summer stays with Rotarians in countries around the world. Since 1947, we have participated in International Ambassadorial Scholarships, which has sent 41,000 college and post graduate students around the globe. The purpose of these scholarships is to further international understanding and friendly relations among people of different countries and geographical areas. Within the Peace Centres programme, we are a Peace Builder District through our support for Rotary's partnership with seven major universities from around the world. We provide funding to train proven effective peace builders in various conflict resolution methods and strategies at the master's degree level. A three month professional development programme in peace and conflict resolution for mid-career professionals is also supported. Through matching grant projects, a majority of our clubs send representatives four times a year to approve and sponsor international grants, where funds raised at the local level are matched by district funds and then matched again by The Rotary Foundation. This effort more than triples our local efforts while we partner with Rotarians in the receiving countries.

Matching grant projects are founded, developed and implemented by our own members, by Rotarians in partnering countries and by recipients of our services. Examples of these projects include: a team member sponsored by the Scott Valley club, after spending five weeks on a Rotary Group Study Exchange to the Dominican Republic, wanted to assist one of the impoverished schools she had visited. Such schools do not receive any assistance from the government. With the help of the exchange team which had visited our district from the area and many e-mails, a productive relationship was established. Six projects have been completed in six years, ranging from the installation of computer classrooms, equipping a physiotherapy centre and libraries, to furnishing new beds in an orphanage. A seventh project to assist their neighbouring Rehabilitation Centre is planned for later this year. The relationship has grown to the point where several members of the Club Rotario Salcedo, the Rotary Club of Scott Valley and the children of Loudres Home, Inc., Conuco Salcedo have become family.

Several professional Rotarians, with the support from seven other clubs, Public Health International (PHI), and two clubs in Dapaong, Togo, joined to assist the community of Nano, a village of 2,000 in West Africa. Over a six-year period, team members returned three times, seeing the village triple in size as the surrounding people noticed the improvements in the health and vitality of the village. The people of the village decided to form a single large health committee with subcommittees for each new well area and agreed to teach others using a children's book. The health committee organized latrine maintenance completion and then looked for opportunities to train people in other villages. This resulted in a two-thirds reduction, and eventual elimination, of cholera deaths in a nearby village. The health committee also inducted three people from that village to receive further training and support.

Multiple clubs in our District developed volunteers to travel to Nano to aid in training and show support to the village organizations. They also raised funds to aid in the construction of wells and latrines. Working with the two local Dapaong Rotary Clubs also furthered the friendships and increased the sustainability of the project, while informing them of a new way to reach poor villages with the benefits of public health. Finally, in an extraordinary show of trust, the Nano Health Committee agreed with the Rotary/PHI team to hold a prize competition to build latrines and rehabilitate a well to public health standards using their own resources to the extent possible. This required face-to-face, repeated communication, and commitment over an extended period of time.

Another example of a successful project, Amigo Vision was started by an optometrist from a club with only 26 members. For 12 years they have partnered with clubs in developing countries starting with Mexico, then Viet Nam, Thailand, and in 2013 they will be going to the Dominican Republic. Prior to choosing a location, they begin a relationship with the local Rotarians to establish community support, and those with the greatest need are helped. As they treat patients, they also train preselected local volunteers to diagnose vision needs and prescribe corrective lenses, often for individuals who have been severely handicapped by their poor vision. At the end of the visit, these newly trained local volunteers are given the equipment so that each project continues in the community long after the visiting Rotarians return home. The fully equipped clinic is valued at $35,000.

Stove Team International was started by a single member of Eugene Southtowne Rotary club. While volunteering with a medical team, she noticed patients with horrifying burns. After talking with the patients and fellow Rotarians, they decided that low cost, fuel efficient stoves could be substituted for traditional open cooking fires. Such stoves would have the added benefit of relieving homes of the main cause of upper respiratory disease that is the leading cause of death in children under age five worldwide.2 Rather than simply distributing stoves, Stove Team works with and assists local people in establishing sustainable factories to produce and sell them. It supplies moulds and business training and helps identify sources of materials for stove construction, and also teaches marketing and budgeting. Rotarians in the target country and in the United States maintain continued contact to ensure that the factories are sustainable and producing high quality stoves which are sold at the lowest possible price, thereby guaranteeing use by the local women. The stoves provide jobs, not only for those in the factories and surrounding businesses, but, since the stoves are portable, women now also use them to start roadside businesses of their own. In the past five years, with the help of 75 Rotary clubs, they have assisted entrepreneurs in five countries in selling over 25,000 safe, fuel-efficient cooking stoves.

These four projects utilize four different approaches but, in all cases, Rotarians get to know those they are trying to help so that the solutions implemented are ones that the locals want and are effective for the community. Such integrative negotiation approaches are practiced by other Rotarians around the world as well. Those interested should read If I Had a Water Buffalo by Rotarian Marilyn Fitzgerald (www.mafitzgerald.com). None of these projects would have been nearly so successful if Rotarians did not take the time to work together with the local recipients to understand their problems and find solutions.

The beauty of Rotary's multifaceted approach is that cooperation and friendship is built all around the globe while allowing every single club member the opportunity to make a major difference. Each person is allowed to become involved at the level he or she chooses, with the end result that people all over the world benefit and our members become passionate, dedicated and empowered. We need millions of world citizens, and Rotary International is providing a place for them to gather and grow.


1 The object of Rotary is to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise and, in particular, to encourage and foster:

First—The development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service;
Second—High ethical standards in business and professions, the recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations, and the dignifying of each Rotarian's occupation as an opportunity to serve society;
Third—The application of the ideal of service in each Rotarian's personal, business, and community life; Fourth—The advancement of international understanding, goodwill, and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service. Our four-way test guides us in all of our actions: Of the things we think, say or do: 1. Is it the truth? 2. Is it fair? 3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships? and 4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

2 In October 2010, the Clinton Initiative, in collaboration with the UN and the World Health Organization reported that the smoke from indoor cooking fires is one of the main causes of upper respiratory disease which is the leading cause of death in children under age five. It kills twice as many children as malaria.