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.