If ever in our lifetime there was a defining moment of earth-shattering proportions – this is it. The generation before us lived through World War II which universally altered the course of our destiny. From time immemorial our predecessors have faced seismic economic collapses, devastating armed conflict, climatic catastrophes, and other traumatic incidences that have led to desperation, death and destruction.

These developments in turn have forced us to remodel personal behavior, restructure established institutions, and generally change our way of life.

The attack on humanity by the coronavirus is monumental. From the initial outbreak in China to today, the world has been jolted into action because the initial strides taken by governments to stop the spread of COVID-19 across the globe fell short, as the statistics have come to show. Here in East Africa, our governments took unprecedented action, closing borders, grounding national carriers, and suspending public meetings with the intention to halt its advance.

What distinguishes defining moments in our history is not the nature of the crisis, but rather the quality of the decisions that we make. In the wake of the drastic measures taken by our political leaders to address the outbreak we, as Rotary, have had our own decisions to make. These decisions are guided by three simple principles.

  1. The first one is that individual action has the greatest bearing on the disease, and this includes personal hygiene, social distancing, and other guidelines outlined by the World Health Organization. We must all take  individual responsibility to stop the spread of coronavirus.
  2. The second is to support the government in its initiatives to flatten the curve as indeed it is the concerted effort by the private sector, public institutions, development organizations, and society as a whole that will stop this threat.
  3. Thirdly, it is in sharing messages of hope and reminding people that together we will prevail, and that the disruption in our lives is not only momentary but it is also a crucial part of continuity.

From a global perspective, Rotary International’s Board of Directors has cancelled the international convention scheduled in June as the conditions amid the crisis are not projected to be favorable for hosting an event of this magnitude. This is the first time in history that the annual convention has been canceled altogether, and even through the World Wars the convention was convened, albeit smaller in scale. The Board has also decided to focus attention and assign resources to fight the pandemic. Funds from the reserves have been allocated to aid the disaster response initiatives across the world, and The Rotary Foundations has embarked on fundraising activities specific to this area.

Rotary members in Kenya are setting up handwashing stations.

In District 9212, we have canceled our district conference and instructed all Rotarians to suspend physical meetings. Without missing a beat, they have adopted wholeheartedly to virtual meetings on popular video conferencing platforms. The executive committee has set up a response team to support national administrations in Kenya, Ethiopia, and South Sudan, and past governor Dr. Geeta Manek has raised more than $20,000 in Kenya and Ethiopia.

The embodiment of Rotary clubs and their ultimate purpose is to embrace and support communities in need, and thus the world needs Rotary more now than ever before. Never in our lifetime has humanity been better equipped to crush a threat to our wellbeing of these dimensions. We have the technology to track it, the science to beat it, the media to coordinate our united action, and the heart to fight back.

It is through our determination and commitment that we give hope and healing to the world.

Keep up with what Rotary is doing on Facebook and Twitter at #RotaryResponds.


About the author: Joe Otin is the 2019-20 Governor of Rotary District 9212, and the Rotary International Representative to UN Environment. He is also the CEO of The Collective, a digital advertising agency, the chairman of the Advertising Standards Board of Kenya, and a board member of WWF-Kenya.

In early 2019, the Rotary Club of Cebu in the Philippines gathered to figure out what we could do to raise immunization rates on our island. We were troubled that in 2018 only 66 percent of children received doses of the oral polio vaccine.

Rotary’s campaign to eradicate polio began in our country four decades ago when Rotary International teamed up with the World Health Organization and the Philippine Ministry of Health to vaccinate 6 million Filipino children. We decided we needed to do something to persuade parents to vaccinate their children and get rates back to the 95 percent level that is necessary to prevent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like polio.

In 2015, I took part in El Tour de Tucson, raising $60,000 in pledges for PolioPlus. I had the privilege of joining Rotary cyclists from all over the United States and other countries in the Ride to End Polio, which was organized by District 5500. Those memories were fresh in my mind as we planned our own ride, the Cebu Perimeter Ride to End Polio, for 22-24 November 2019.

We recruited 20 riders to circle the island, a distance of 576 kilometers (or roughly 360 miles), in three days. Completing a perimeter ride symbolized our desire to protect our island from this dreaded disease. Our goal was to raise awareness and money for PolioPlus, but also to vaccinate children against polio. We collaborated with the Ministry of Health and local officials to hold mass immunization events in several communities along the way.

The event was a huge success! I’m sharing the steps we took to help others who want to hold their own polio event:

- We rode together in a group whenever possible to enhance visibility. We also wore bright jerseys that we had designed locally.

- Two weeks before the event, we distributed large tarps and signs to retailers all over the island to arouse interest.

- We worked with local governments and health officials to identify towns along our route where we could hold mass immunization events. We hired clowns and entertainers to make these events fun and handed out goody bags to keep the children entertained while they waited to be vaccinated.

- We decorated five support vehicles with End Polio Now signage and a message about the importance of vaccinations.

- During our ride, a large truck went ahead of us to attract attention, with loudspeakers playing a jingle that our Ministry of Health has made famous. Two buses followed with billboards marked with End Polio Now and information about our next stop.

- At the rallies, we distributed “This household is polio free” patches to families to continue building awareness after the ride.

I can’t emphasize enough how critical it is to coordinate with local and government officials. We worked with the Ministry of Health, the same organization Rotary International partnered with 40 years ago. I met with ministry officials and municipal mayors, and because I’m a Rotarian, I was able to communicate Rotary’s commitment to ending polio and demonstrate our desire to work with our partners to end this disease. It wasn’t hard to persuade them to join our efforts.

We rode about seven hours each day. The second day was the hardest because the adrenaline we experienced the first day had worn off and we were riding into the wind. But by day three, our energy was restored, helping us to maneuver through an unexpected patch of off-road riding. Every time we arrived in a town to vaccinate children, while the rest of the riders rested, I met with the mayor and handled publicity.

It was personally exhausting, but also deeply satisfying. We raised $20,000 for PolioPlus and were greeted by hundreds of children and their parents in every town we visited. When you’re exhausted from riding, this kind of response is just what you need to carry on.

We continue to organize other efforts to raise awareness for polio eradication and the need to vaccinate against preventable diseases. If you would like more information about our ride, contact us through our website or on Facebook.


About the Author - Bernard Vonn Sia, past president of the Rotary Club of Cebu, Philippines, as told to Arnold R. Grahl

Promoting Rotary’s public image

How can clubs help expand their community’s awareness of Rotary’s work and impact? Two new public image courses in the Learning Center will help new members learn about Rotary’s public image strategy, and provide fresh ideas for any member about building new connections. The courses are:

  The Rotary Brand – Provides a foundation for defining our brand and why it matters for Rotary

  Building Rotary’s Public Image – Teaches the importance of public image and offers strategies you can use to increase your community’s understanding of Rotary

Encourage your clubs to discuss public image strategies from these courses at upcoming events to support their membership goals.

Assistant Governor Basics

Review the new learning plan for assistant governors, Assistant Governor Basics, available in all languages this month. These courses will help assistant governors learn more about their role and responsibilities, work with clubs and the district team, prepare for governor visits, get ready for their term, and more.

Our newest course in the learning plan is Supporting Your Clubs (available in languages soon). This course provides challenging scenarios along with resources that incoming or current assistant governors can recommend to clubs to help them improve their member experience.  

Learning Topics, a new feature to share ideas and resources with other members, is now available in the Learning Center. Some topics are available for all members to view, while others can be viewed only by those in specific roles.

Learning Topics is similar to My Rotary Discussion Groups in that each topic has a moderator (either staff or a Rotary member), ensuring that the content is relevant to the topic, and members can comment on a resource or start a discussion related to it. The difference is that Learning Topics is more than just discussion — you can also share content like web pages, presentations, templates, and other tools to run and train your clubs and districts.

Use the search bar in the Learning Center to find resources that others have uploaded, then add the resources that are most useful to you to a favorites list on your My Favorites page. You can create favorites lists according to topic so you can easily find what you’re looking for later.

Use Learning Topics to upload content to share, invite others to view resources, and create lists of your favorite content. Enroll in the Getting Started with Learning Topics course today for more information.

Ready to try how it works?  Visit the District Trainer Best Practices learning topic. We invite you to participate in the discussion and share resources and best practices related to district training events.

My Rotary club, Hiroshima Southeast, has actively promoted peace for its entire 60-year existence. We built a house for orphans who lost their families during the atomic bombings in 1945 and in 1982, became a sister club with Rotary Club of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, USA. Our two clubs continue to exchange friendship and organize joint service projects.

The park is between Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This year marks two occasions: the 75th anniversary since the bombs were dropped and our club’s 60th anniversary. To commemorate both, our club planned to plant two tree saplings – second-generation descendants of a tree that survived the atomic bomb – in a park in Koge-machi in Fukuoka, Japan. We chose that park because it is at the exact mid-point between Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The mayor and town council accepted and supported our project.

On the International Day of Peace, 21 September 2019, we held an inauguration event with more than 400 attendees, including community residents and local school children, the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, members of three Rotary clubs (Hiroshima Southeast, Nagasaki South, and Buzen), and members of a local Interact Club. We planted the one sapling each at two locations that we named “Hiroshima Hill” and “Nagasaki Hill.” After the event, we continued the ceremony inside a community hall, where the mayors made proclamations of peace and declared that the trees would stand as a silent witness for peace.

Members of the Fukuoka Prefectural Seiho High School Interact Club and members of Koge Junior High School Student Council plant one of the two trees.

I talked about my own experience as an atomic bomb survivor. I talked about giving meaning to the deaths of those who perished from the bombs and the need for an open peace movement transcending Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A youth theater group performed an original drama about the grave reality of atomic bombs.

We hope that many peace activities will be held in Koge-machi. By collaborating with other Rotary clubs, we hope this place will become a hub where children and young people from all over the world can grow in their understanding of peace and be a witness for peace, just like the seedlings of the trees we planted in the park.

Adapted with permission. Read the original post in Japanese