One of the great privileges of being president of Rotary International is having the chance to visit so many parts of the Rotary world. Usually I travel to participate in Rotary events; speak at Rotary clubs, conferences, and institutes; and encourage Rotarians in their service. But as president, I am responsible for all branches of the Rotary family. This means that it is also my privilege to support the service of Rotary's youngest generations: our Rotaractors, Interactors, Rotary Youth Exchange students, and Rotary Youth Leadership Awards participants.
When I see the work Rotarians do, I am always impressed, always excited, and always inspired. When I see the work of our New Generations, I am all of this – and frequently I am surprised as well. Not by the quality of their work – for I have learned to expect great things from them – but by the creativity and ingenuity of their thinking. I look at what they have done and think not just "What a great job!" but "What a great idea!" Because every generation sees the world in a unique way, and every individual has a unique point of view. Faced with the same problems, we arrive at different solutions. This is why, in Rotary, our diversity – of culture, language, expertise, gender, and age – is our strength.
In Rotary, we try to take the long view in our service. We aspire to serve in ways that will make a lasting difference, that will continue to have an impact after our participation ends. Our younger generations, in my experience, share this sentiment, and apply it globally, by focusing on environmental issues in new and innovative ways. When I became a Rotarian, environmental issues were barely on our radar. To young people today, these concerns are front and center. Their perspective is a valuable contribution to the world of Rotary service, and it is one that we should all encourage and support. Just as they are learning from us, so should we be learning from them.
The young people who are serving in Rotaract and Interact, and participating in Youth Exchange and RYLA today, are the Rotarians of tomorrow. When we support them, we are supporting the future of our entire organization. We are helping to train the men and women who will be the club presidents, district governors, RI directors, and RI presidents of tomorrow.
In Rotary, we mark August as Membership and Extension Month. There is a good reason why we remind ourselves of the importance of membership early in every Rotary year: because the job of growing our membership is one that we can never begin too soon. It is also a job that we can never stop working on. In order to keep serving, Rotary always needs to be growing!
We have talked for many years about the importance of the family of Rotary. In this Rotary year, I want to make not just the family of Rotary, but our own Rotary families, a priority in our membership. After 37 years of following me in Rotary, my wife, Corinna, finally became a Rotarian last year. We attended the chartering of a new club in Taiwan together, and she said, "It's time for me to become a Rotarian too!" So she joined that club. And soon, so did a lot of other people. Now that club has 102 members, and it's the second-largest club in Taiwan.
Inviting our spouses into Rotary isn't just about getting our numbers up. It addresses the reality that Rotary still has far more men as members than it does women, and that is something we need to work on. When we bring more women into Rotary, our clubs become more appealing to prospective female members – and become more productive as well.
This year we are going to have something new in Rotary: a membership support team pin. This means that if you invite a new member into Rotary, you get a special pin to wear with your Rotary gearwheel. But we all know that the job of growing membership doesn't end when a new member joins. It ends only when a new member is enjoying being a Rotarian and never wants to leave! And making sure that our clubs are enjoyable places to be is a key part of growing membership.
People come into Rotary for all kinds of reasons, but they stay because Rotary is fun to be a part of. So I want to remind all of you to have fun in your clubs and your districts. Rotary is based on the idea that our service is more effective when we serve together with our friends. So let's enjoy our Rotary service, share it with others, and Light Up Rotary together!
In a municipal hospital in Cubatão, Brazil, a new mammography machine funded by a Rotary global grant provides breast cancer screening to women who previously had to wait for weeks before they could get in for a checkup with a doctor.
A Rotary global grant also funded training for medical staff and cancer awareness education for people in the community. Isis Mejias Carpio of Houston, studying at the University of São Paulo on a Rotary scholarship, played an instrumental role in bringing together Rotary clubs in two countries to make the grant possible.
Members of the Rotary Club of Cubatão, who hosted Mejias during her scholarship, had already identified the hospital's need for expanded health services for women. Visiting the clinic herself, Mejias saw an opportunity to collaborate with her contacts back home in the Rotary Club of Humble Intercontinental, north of Houston.
"Building a bridge between a host and international sponsor on any grant project is always one of the most important parts," Mejias says. "It was very rewarding to know that my little participation evolved into a project like that."
The ink had barely dried on the final report for the mammography grant when Rotary member Bill Davis, Mejias' principal mentor in the Humble club, approached her with another health-related project. Baylor University in Texas had partnered with the government of Botswana to support the Botswana-Baylor Children's Center of Excellence, which provides free, state-of-the-art pediatric care, treatment, and support to HIV-positive children and their families in Botswana. The growing number of adolescents with HIV has outpaced the center's resources. So Davis, who had previous contacts with Baylor, was interested in pursuing a global grant to fund a separate adolescent center on an adjacent plot of land. The center would provide a safe place for kids to receive life skills education, health information, and training to deal with the stigma of HIV and discrimination they may face.
To get the project off the ground, Davis says he raised money in his district and called Mejias to see if her friends in Brazil would want to help.
The HIV project grant has been approved by the Foundation. It's just the latest good to come from Mejias' first meeting with Davis in 2011. A volunteer with the Central Houston chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) at the time, Mejias was looking for help on a clean water project for a hospital in Kenya and had heard that Davis and his club had a history of supporting EWB projects. So she approached him.
"I liked what she had proposed," says Davis, who recalls Mejias had already been to Kenya twice to see the project, which also involved a retired doctor from San Diego whose wife is a Rotary member. "I thought it's a pretty secure deal, so our club became the international sponsor and got a couple other clubs in."
"Talking to Bill we made a friendship through the months of developing this grant," Mejias says. She told him she was working with a team at the University of Houston developing a bio-filter to remove metals from water. Davis told her of a Rotary scholarship for graduate students that she might be interested in. But the deadline was in two weeks. "I knew little about the scholarship, but I researched it and thought it would be a perfect opportunity to understand more about water treatment."
Mejias met the deadline and was selected for the scholarship, but she didn't want to abandon her work. So with the help of her academic sponsors, she forged an agreement between the University of Houston and the University of São Paulo to collaborate on the study and work toward a dual PhD.
About her Rotary scholarship, Mejias says, it made her realize "I can have a huge impact on changing people's lives. I was able to find my passion in life and determine I want to create a road for future projects."
Mejias was also recently selected by The Rotary Foundation to lead a team of engineers who will be traveling to Uganda to study the feasibility of water projects.
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