Migration challenges inspire Rotary peace scholar

Migration challenges inspire peace scholar

Rotary Peace Fellow Linda Low could not have known what world events would bring when she took a position as the communications manager for the Europe region of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in 2015. 

But shortly after she started her new job, the migration crisis began to overwhelm Europe. Low saw the waves of migrants and heard their stories firsthand. This challenging experience sparked her desire to help communities in conflict and ultimately led Low to the Rotary Peace Center at Duke University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is studying the connection between the environment and peace.

Low will speak on 10 February at a conference on environmental sustainability and peace hosted by RI President Ian H.S. Riseley in Vancouver, B.C. It will be the first of six presidential peacebuilding conferences in locations around the world between February and June, focusing on the connection between building peace and Rotary’s areas of focus. 

Low spoke with The Rotarian about her work and how the environment affects peace.

Q: What’s your background? 

A: I am a communicator by trade. I started in corporate communications but always volunteered with the Red Cross in Vancouver. The more involved I got with the Red Cross, the more I realized my values really aligned personally with the work of organizations like this. They do disaster relief but also build stronger communities.

Q: You worked for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies a total of six years. What led you to leave this work to become a Rotary Peace Fellow?

A: Over six years at the Red Cross Red Crescent, again and again as we responded to crises, words that kept coming up were “climate change.” In the Syrian crisis, drought was happening in rural areas, and farmers moved into the urban centers where they were competing for limited resources. I remember thinking that if I had to be part of it I would go back and tackle climate change.

Then I received the gift of this generous scholarship from The Rotary Foundation and the opportunity to go to Duke and study the nexus between policy, environment, climate change, and community.

Q: Do you have a specific area of study in your program? 

A: I am focusing on the link between food waste and climate change. As food rots in landfills it creates methane, which is one of the most powerful greenhouse gases. In the developed world, we all waste food. If I don’t waste one banana, that’s not a great impact, but if everyone in my community, everyone in my state doesn’t waste, then there is greater impact. 

Q: What has been your experience as a peace fellow? 

A: Everything I have learned here is elevating my game. Coming into this program I could write a great story that could bring you to tears, but I did not understand the science and economics behind it. Now I understand science and economics. I can bring that holistic view to drive solutions that are truly sustainable. I want to mobilize people in every community to reduce food waste and help build healthier environments and secure food systems.

–Susie Ma

• Read more stories from The Rotarian

Rassin's 2018 presidential theme

2018-19 RI President Barry Rassin wants Rotary members to Be the Inspiration

By Hank Sartin
Photos by Monika Lozinska

Rotary International President-elect Barry Rassin laid out his vision for the future of the organization on Sunday, calling on leaders to work for a sustainable future and to inspire Rotarians and the community at large.

Rassin, a member of the Rotary Club of East Nassau, New Providence, Bahamas, unveiled the 2018-19 presidential theme, Be the Inspiration, to incoming district governors at Rotary’s International Assembly in San Diego, California, USA. “I want you to inspire in your clubs, your Rotarians, that desire for something greater. The drive to do more, to be more, to create something that will live beyond each of us.”

View Slideshow

2018-19 RI President Barry Rassin announces his presidential theme, Be the Inspiration, at Rotary’s International Assembly.

Rassin stressed the power of Rotary’s new vision statement, “Together, we see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change — across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves.” This describes the Rotary that leaders must help build, he said.

To achieve this vision, the president-elect said, Rotarians must take care of the organization: “We are a membership organization first. And if we want to be able to serve, if we want to succeed in our goals — we have to take care of our members first.”

Rassin asked the incoming district governors to “inspire the club presidents, and the Rotarians in your districts, to want to change. To want to do more. To want to reach their own potential. It’s your job to motivate them — and help them find their own way forward.”

Progress on polio

Rassin noted that one source of inspiration has been Rotary’s work to eradicate polio. He described the incredible progress made over the past three decades. In 1988, an estimated 350,000 people were paralyzed by the wild poliovirus; just 20 cases were reported in 2017 as of 27 December. “We are at an incredibly exciting time for polio eradication,” he said, “a point at which each new case of polio could very well be the last.”

He emphasized that even when that last case of polio is recorded, the work won’t be finished. “Polio won’t be over, until the certifying commission says it’s over—when not one poliovirus has been found, in a river, in a sewer, or in a paralyzed child, for at least three years,” he said. “Until then, we have to keep doing everything we’re doing now.” He urged continued dedication to immunization and disease surveillance programs.

Sustaining the environment

Rotary has focused heavily on sustainability in its humanitarian work in recent years. Now, Rassin said, Rotarians must acknowledge some hard realities about pollution, environmental degradation, and climate change. He noted that 80 percent of his own country is within one meter of sea level. With sea levels projected to rise two meters by 2100, he said, “my country is going to be gone in 50 years, along with most of the islands in the Caribbean and coastal cities and low-lying areas all over the world.”

Rassin urged leaders to look at all of Rotary’s service as part of a larger global system. He said that this means the incoming district governors must be an inspiration not only to clubs, but also to their communities. “We want the good we do to last. We want to make the world a better place. Not just here, not just for us, but everywhere, for everyone, for generations.”


Theme logo and materials

Download the 2018-19 theme logo and materials

Download the 2018-19 Presidential Theme and Citation brochure

Order theme materials

International Assembly speeches

2018-19 Theme: RI President-elect Barry Rassin – 2018 International Assembly (PDF)

Leadership: John Hewko, General Secretary – 2018 International Assembly (PDF)

Foundation Goals: Ron D. Burton, Trustee chair-elect – 2018 International Assembly (PDF)


The power of light

Rotary members from Durango, Colorado, USA, team with the Navajo Nation to bring solar lights to remote, off-the-grid homes on the country’s largest Native American reservation.

By Kate Sieber
Produced by Stuart Cleland

After decades of crafting squash-blossom necklaces, pendants, and bracelets, Jerry Domingo knew he would have to quit making jewelry, because he couldn’t see very well anymore. 

[embedded content]

Navajo like Jerry Domingo are caught in isolated pockets of land, which are called The Checkerboard.

A sturdy Navajo grandfather, silversmith, and revivalist preacher, Domingo lives in a one-room house smaller than a single-car garage in the windswept sagebrush desert near Nageezi, New Mexico. 

His home is mere miles from the picturesque badlands Georgia O’Keefe painted and Dzilth Na-o Dithle, the sacred portal where the Navajo believe the first people came out of the earth. But it’s a long distance from all that the modern world seems to promise — grocery stores, jobs, medical care. Domingo’s home is new. It has unpainted walls, plywood floors, and a wood stove but no insulation or electricity. 

In a twist to his story, electric lines traverse the land just a few hundred yards from Domingo’s front door, but with all of the permissions and work required by the utility, it would cost more than $30,000 to connect to the power. 

Domingo, who has pewter hair and a broad, calm face, first started making jewelry in the 1970s, when he went to work in his uncle’s shop. Over the years, he honed his craft, and customers started to come to him to commission works. 

Now he sells his wares when he travels to preach all over the reservation. But with his failing eyesight, it has been getting harder to do the detailed work. After all, it takes a good four days to make a full squash-blossom necklace. 

View Slideshow

Jerry Domingo creates jewelry by the light of a window in his home in The Checkerboard.

Ben Fredman

At night, the glow of kerosene lamps is too dim. Even during the day, the home’s interior is full of shadows, making it difficult to tease, hammer, and solder metal into art. 

“When I do silverworking, I have to wait until the sun comes through the window,” said Domingo, wearing a thick Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt to insulate himself against the chill and large turquoise rings on his fingers, as he worked on a necklace more than a year ago. “I can’t really know what I’m doing when it’s dark in here. It would make a whole lot of difference just to not be in the dark.” 

Through a pastor at a local church, Domingo found out about a program through a Rotary club in Durango , Colorado, USA, that brings solar-powered lighting to remote homes on the Navajo reservation. 

A solar light is a simple thing: just a small panel the size of a baking sheet, which mounts onto a roof with a pole. A wire runs from the panel into the house, where up to three rechargeable lights hang from hooks on the ceiling. To turn on the lights, Domingo simply has to touch a button.

To use the light as a flashlight for going outside at night, he simply unhooks it. A fully charged lamp offers dim light for 75 hours or bright light for 7½ before needing to be recharged. 

But in this house, a light is more than a simple thing. It brings a world of possibility.

In the dark of The Checkerboard 

It’s not unusual for Navajo homes to lack electricity. 

The reservation, bigger than the state of West Virginia, sprawls across Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. It’s a harsh, beautiful land marked by extremes of temperature, sun, wind, and dryness. 

[embedded content]

Jeanette Sandoval explains why electricity is scarce in The Checkerboard.

Many Navajo — Diné in their own language — have lived in these rural areas for generations, as the land is passed from grandmother to granddaughter.

Although they are blessed with big skies and desert vistas, these remote locations are often far from services and paved roads. 

According to a 2016 assessment, about 16,000 Navajo homes don’t have access to electricity. Nearly a third have no running water, and more than half lack kitchen and toilet facilities. 

In an area known as The Checkerboard, in northwestern New Mexico, it can be particularly challenging to gain access to utilities. 

As a result of legislation dating to the 1880s, the land was divided into 160-acre chunks and distributed among individual Native Americans in an attempt to encourage them to adopt Euro-American farming lifestyles. 

The remaining chunks became a patchwork of lands administered by federal, state, and other entities. Now, when a house is separated from utilities by these checkerboard-like lands, it can be difficult and expensive to secure the rights of way. 

Joe Williams hugs Irene Guerito after installing solar lights in her home on the Navajo reservation.

Derek Knowles

Rotarian Joe Williams grew up in The Checkerboard in the 1960s, not far from where Jerry Domingo’s house now stands. The son of a natural-gas worker, he went to work in the oil-and-gas fields at age 14. But he still remembers riding the bus 48 miles to school and 48 miles back, one of the only white kids in a crowd of Navajo children. 

Williams now owns an industrial water-purification company in Aztec, New Mexico, and employs many Navajo people. He has been a member of the Durango Daybreak Rotary Club, about 35 miles north, since 1996. 

He always loved international service projects. In 2013, he traveled with a group to Nepal to trek along the Great Himalaya Trail and install solar lights in teahouses, which offer food, lodging, and other services to hikers. 

In such remote areas, under the shadows of the Annapurna and Everest mountains, it wasn’t surprising that residents didn’t have access to electricity. When the group returned, however, new member Nancy Lauro, a civil engineer in Durango, brought up a provocative question: Similar developing-nation conditions exist within a couple of hours by car. Why not serve our neighbors, the Navajo? 

“We can’t go very far south from Durango without driving through the Navajo Nation, and many Durango-area residents work or go to school with tribal members,” says Lauro, who joined Rotary after her daughters participated in the club’s Youth Exchange program. “Our International Committee had just come back from installing the solar lights in Nepal, and we all thought that it was a natural to bring it home.” 

The group planned a project that would bring solar lights to at-risk populations on the reservation, including elders over 70 years old and disabled tribal members. Soon after launching, the group asked Joe Williams to become the project leader. 

To see a house go from kerosene to solar … it’s life-changing. No longer do they have a proclivity for upper respiratory infections because of the soot. 

Joe Williams


“I viewed this as a bookend project,” says Williams. “I started off as a kid out there, and there were no lights. I’ve lived my whole life and traveled everywhere, and I’ve come back 50 years later, and the same places have no lights. I said to myself, ‘This is my project.’”  

Williams has an air of gentleness about him and an indomitable wellspring of energy. He walks with the slight stoop and occasional uncertainty of Parkinson’s, which he staves off with determination. Last year alone, Williams coordinated 90 service trips to the reservation at his own expense. 

“To see a house go from kerosene to solar … it’s life-changing,” he says. “No longer do they spend $20 a month on kerosene. No longer do they have a proclivity for upper respiratory infections because of the soot. It’s a hell of a thing.” 

Transformative power of light

One weekend in November, a group of Rotarians and international exchange students, part of the Mountains & Plains Rotary Youth Exchange, drove from their homes in southern Colorado across the state line and into northwest New Mexico. 

The wind was howling, kicking up sheets of dust, making the town of Shiprock look like a scene from an apocalyptic movie. But overhead, long spine-like clouds lay across a desert sky turning pink and purple with sunset. 

The group gathered to sleep on mats camping-style inside the Sanostee Chapter House, a branch of the tribal government. 

[embedded content]

Danny Simpson, the Nageezi delegate to the Navajo Nation, says Joe Williams’ respect for the Navajo helped build trust.

The next morning, two Navajo women volunteered to make the group breakfast, a crew of locals showed up to guide the teams, and Frank Smith, the Sanostee Chapter president, arrived to oversee the installations. Smith is responsible for the distribution of resources, maintaining infrastructure like roads and bridges and assisting the needy with housing and utilities in this sparsely populated and underserved area.

“You want to do your best to help your people, but there are always obstacles,” says Smith, who grew up here and prefers country life to working in one of the reservation’s population centers. 

One challenge is finding and encouraging groups like Rotary to bring assistance. “I’ve never really had anybody coming in with a specific purpose like Rotary has. I’ve tried a lot of things, going online, figuring out how to contact these groups or get donations. It’s hard to get that connection going .” 

Since Durango Daybreak started coming to Sanostee in 2012, volunteers have supplied more than 40 homes with solar power in this municipality. Along with a panel of community leaders, Smith, a jovial man who is quick to laugh and break out into Johnny Cash songs, has helped identify the households that would benefit most from the solar lights. He also shows installation crews to the houses, many of which do not have addresses and are miles from the nearest paved road. 

Irene Guerito receives a solar light from the Rotary Club of Durango Daybreak.

Derek Knowles

The beneficiaries are largely elders, the disabled, and other at-risk individuals and families. That day, the recipients included Albert and Joe James, brothers in their 80s who live in a one-room house with two twin beds and a woodstove way out at the end of a rugged dirt road in a solitary canyon. 

They’ve spent their entire lives in this spectacular enclave of rusty sandstone cliffs and big skies, herding their sheep. They speak to Frank Smith in Navajo, telling him that they’ll be able to play cards, work on artwork, and do puzzles with the new lights, passing the long dark hours of winter. 

They’ll also be able to use the flashlights to go the outhouse at night, a comforting prospect considering they’ve struggled with both a bear and a mountain lion that have started visiting regularly. 

Other beneficiaries that day included James Cambridge, an 89-year-old who lives alone in an ancient metal trailer supported by plywood. He’s a slim, likeable military veteran who loves to talk and joke.

Turkish Rotary Youth Exchange student Dogac Tataroglu and Navajo Albert Thompson work together to install solar lights.

Derek Knowles

When the light was installed, he was fascinated by its simplicity. Now, when he wakes up early in the morning, he doesn’t have to wait until it’s bright out to read. Miles north, a grandmother received a light that will help her young granddaughter, who dreams of becoming a doctor, do her schoolwork at night.

“The lights are a real plus for them,” says Smith. “They use them for basic necessities. They can stay up longer, play cards, read books. Their grandkids can do their homework.” Williams also notes that the lights provide more time in the evenings for elders to practice and pass on long-held traditions, such as weaving, to their families. 

The solar project also benefits those who offer their time and energy to participate. 

Over the past few years, volunteers from all over the country have enjoyed opportunities to sample regional cuisine at the chapter house, participate in a sweat lodge with a local medicine man, and learn about a vastly different culture. This weekend, the group visited a remote site with ancient rock carvings. 

“For me, the Navajo solar lights project was a life-changing experience,” says Akos Varga, an exchange student from Hungary. “I was very glad seeing the people’s emotions when they first turned their solar lights on. Probably that was the best part !” 

“We loved it,” says Tami Duke, who came with her husband, son, and stepdaughter from Durango. “My son is only 12 years old, and our daughter is 14. It was a really impactful thing for them. There was a young girl whose grandmother received lights who said, ‘Wow, now I’ll be able to do my homework at night.’ Her parents weren’t nagging her to do her homework — she’s thrilled she can do it. It was really inspiring.” 

Tangible change

Joe Williams and the Durango Daybreak Rotary club hope the project continues to change lives on the reservation. They are working with the Navajo Nation to pursue grant funding for further solar units and to train crews of young Navajo tribal members as installation and repair technicians. So far, progress is slow, but the group is persistent.  

“That’s what the Navajo say: ‘We have time. If we don’t get to it today, we’ll get to it tomorrow,’” says Joe Williams. “We continue to make our installations every year, and we have great support, because people see the results. Already we’re getting requests to buy lights” from people who don’t have electricity but can potentially afford to buy the solar lights, which cost about $300 each. 

Jerry Domingo shows his granddaughter how he makes jewelry.

Ben Fredman

Jerry Domingo, the silversmith and preacher in Nageezi, New Mexico, has now enjoyed his lights for more than a year. It’s wintertime again, and the days are shrinking as the evenings grow long. 

Life out here is secluded and beautiful but can be punishing. In summer, temperatures top 100 degrees, and in winter they plummet below zero. With rain or snow, the roads become muddy and rutted. 

Domingo has his own personal challenges, too. A few years ago in September, his wife and two of his adult children died when a truck hit their vehicle on the highway that leads north to the closest town. 

Even though Domingo now lives by himself, he is usually not alone. His remaining children and grandchildren, friends, and neighbors cycle in and out of his home. 

Now, at night, he can tinker with his jewelry and read his Navajo-language Bible by the light of solar lamps as the wind roars outside and the dust rises into great plumes. 

“Now when it gets dark I can do my silversmithing,” he says, working on a squash-blossom necklace laid out on a vintage desk one recent afternoon. “Many of our people are in need of electricity or lighting of some kind. This is a good thing that you all have going.”

More from the Navajo

[embedded content]

Navajo song

Irene Guerito sings Navajo song

Navajo leader essay

Samuel Harrison, social worker who has served as president of the Nageezi Chapter of the Navajo Nation, shares the history of Dinétah. Read his essay

On the road

Rotary helps fuel a brigade of mobile clinics that deliver free health care to rural

Six reasons you should give to Rotary on Giving Tuesday

By Rotary International

You can start the holiday season on a charitable note by donating on Giving Tuesday, 28 November.

Why should Rotary be your charity of choice? 

Because our 1.2 million members see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change — across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves.

Here are six reasons to donate to Rotary.

1. We fight disease around the world

For decades, Rotary has been a leader in the battle against polio and has kept the pressure on as worldwide cases plummeted from 350,000 in 1988 to only 15 cases so far this year. We’re closer than ever to ending this devastating disease. 

Your impact will be even greater, thanks to a 2-to-1 match from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. All donations (up to $50 million) to end polio will be tripled, providing critical funding to our work to create a polio-free world. 

2. We teach people to read

Our goal is to strengthen the capacity of communities to support basic education and literacy, reduce gender disparity in education, and increase adult literacy. We support education for all children and literacy for children and adults through mentoring, scholarships, teacher training, and access to learning opportunities. 

3. We build peace

Each year, armed conflict and persecution displace, injure, or kill millions of people. More than 90 percent of them are civilians, and half are children. 

Rotary projects provide training that fosters understanding and provides communities with the skills to resolve conflicts. Our members are taking action to address the underlying causes of conflict, including poverty, inequality, ethnic tension, lack of access to education, and unequal distribution of resources.

4. We provide clean water, sanitation

The statistics are alarming. Worldwide, one person in every 10 does not have access to safe water, and 2.3 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation. One consequence: 900 children under age five die each day from diarrheal diseases.

Having clean water and sanitation is a human right. Rotary members integrate water, sanitation, and hygiene into education projects. When children learn about disease transmission and practice good hygiene, they miss less school. When people, especially children, have access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene, they lead healthier and more successful lives. Rotary is helping to make clean water available to everyone by 2030.

5. We grow local economies

Nearly 800 million people live on less than $1.90 a day. Rotary is working to strengthen local entrepreneurs and community leaders.

We know that one solution doesn’t fit every problem, so we work with people to help them help themselves. 

We help Tanzanians with albinism find safe, healthy livelihoods. In Ecuador, Rotary has made 250 microloans and trained more than 270 people in job skills and business management. In Arkansas, USA, we worked with Heifer International to extend the growing season for farmers and help them find new customers.

6. We save mothers and children

An estimated 5.9 million children under the age of five die each year because of malnutrition, inadequate health care, and poor sanitation. More than 800 women die every day from birth- and pregnancy-related complications.

Rotary is saving lives by supplying birthing kits, immunizations, neonatal care equipment, and medical training.

With access to quality care, mothers and children live longer and healthier lives, and Rotary is providing that care.

Bringing up babies

After overcoming a tough childhood, pediatrician Ramon Resa is helping to raise a new generation of kids

By Mary MacVean
Photos by NashCO

At three years old, an age when most toddlers are being assessed on how high they can count or how well they can recite their ABCs, Ramon Resa faced a different standard of measurement: how much cotton he could pile up in the farm fields of central California.  

And for many years, as he harvested cotton, walnuts, or oranges, Resa felt that he didn’t measure up. That feeling was reinforced by some who might have been his mentors and guides: Even though he graduated at the top of his eighth-grade class, he was told to let a white classmate give the valedictory speech. A school counselor tried to shunt him into wood shop instead of algebra.

Ramon Resa strides the halls of Sierra View Medical Center in In Porterville, Calif., USA, where he’s on staff.

But Resa persevered. Today, to visit him at work, you’ll walk through a door labeled Dr. Ramon Resa. A Rotarian and a pediatrician in Porterville, Calif., he spends his days in an office not far from the tiny box of a house where he grew up among 14 relatives.  

From farmworker to pediatrician

At work, Resa moves among four exam rooms, sometimes seeing more than 50 patients in a day: a three-year-old suffering from allergies, a two-year-old in for a checkup, a 10-year-old who hurt his thumb playing sports. Resa tickles a child lightly as he checks a throat or belly, switching from English to Spanish as needed. “I can out-stare you,” he jokes with a determined boy who has a sinus infection. 

“He teases the babies and the moms, and he builds their confidence up, ” says his office manager, Shirley Rowell, who has worked with Resa since he arrived in Porterville in 1985 with his newly minted medical degree. The children energize him, bringing out his jovial nature, but he’s also gentle and caring. When C-section newborns were moved from surgery to the maternity ward, Rowell recalls, Resa always carried them in his arms and talked to them. He never used the transport carts. “Of course it was against protocol,” Resa says. “But if I have a chance to bond with the baby, I will.”

In his own childhood, doctors were called only for the most severe ailments. Resa was the fifth child born to a mother barely out of her teens herself, and he never knew his father. He and two brothers were sent to live with their grandparents: The kids crowded in with “Ama” and “Apa,” uncles, aunts, and cousins, sleeping on mattresses on the floor and sharing one bathroom. Goats, pigs, and chickens lived in a side yard. Everyone had to pitch in.

By the time he was seven or eight, he felt he was “no longer a child,” Resa wrote in his 2010 memoir, Out of the Fields. He was a worker who was paid 3 cents a pound for cotton. He tried to prove his worth by outworking people much older than he was. But alcohol, fights, and other stressors were all around him, and his feelings of isolation, inadequacy, and resentment grew. By the start of high school, Resa began to feel a debilitating depression that robbed him of the joy of his scholastic and athletic achievements. He found himself dreading the bad things he was sure were to come. But he had brains and determination, and he vowed to succeed.

Research has shown that aspirations and resolve play a role in resilience. Supportive role models do, too. Several key people saw promise in the young student and encouraged him: his fourth-grade teacher. A woman in the school district office. And his neighbors Jim and Susan Drake. Jim Drake was a principal aide to César Chávez, but Resa didn’t learn about his role in the labor movement until years later.

Ernest Moreno, a friend since childhood who also grew up in a farmworker family, has often thought about why he and Resa succeeded when others did not. “You had to think you were special and didn’t belong in that environment,” says Moreno, who runs an executive search firm in Illinois. “You had to have friends who were like you” – Moreno recalls the many Friday nights he and Resa spent playing board games such as Risk – “and you had to want it.”

A turning point: University of California, medical school, and Rotary

Resa’s first exposure to Rotary came when good grades earned him a club-sponsored trip to see the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was his first trip anywhere. 

As a teenager, he became aware of the advantages some of his classmates had: tutoring and private lessons, vacations, college and career expectations. But when a tennis coach offered him free private lessons, Resa turned him down. He had to work; his family needed the money. During his junior year in high school, he had to take a break from the cross-country team because his knees were so sore from kneeling to harvest walnuts. He was relieved when he got a letter jacket anyway, feeling sure that it would compel other students to see him “as a real person and not as a nobody.”

View Slideshow

Resa at the former site of Goshen School, near his childhood home.

Although Resa qualified for the University of California system, no one at his high school informed him about it. Instead, he says, he and other farmworkers were pointed toward vocational classes at the local community college – until recruiters from the University of California Santa Cruz Educational Opportunities Program showed up.

Early in his freshman year at UCSC, Resa met an artist named Debbie Binger, and she has been his partner ever since – through medical school at UC Irvine, parenthood, all the ups and downs of life. The couple married and settled in California’s Central Valley, and Resa joined the Rotary Club of Porterville. In 1990, he became its president.

Yet he still couldn’t kick those childhood feelings of inadequacy. “I didn’t belong in front of these people,” he says. “I felt like a simple farmworker boy pretending to be a doctor.”

But he didn’t feel at home among his family anymore, either. “He went through a period where he didn’t fit in either place,” says Debbie. She eventually persuaded him to see a therapist for his depression. That, combined with religion, helped him to shed his bitterness and resentment and to understand that his family had done the best they could for him.

Revealing his childhood

At the end of 1990, a freeze devastated the Central Valley citrus industry and caused nearly $1 billion in damage. Rotarians, Resa says, understood what the disaster meant to growers, who were their fellow community leaders. But Resa also understood what the freeze meant for the farmworkers – at least 100,000 lost their jobs – and for their families. He knew that his Rotary club could help.  

But first, he would need to tell them his story. 

“So at the podium, I told my story of going without food, relying on donations, and going to bed hungry,” he says. “I was ashamed of the way I grew up. I didn’t tell Rotary about it until I wanted to help get the farmworkers food.”

His fellow Rotarians responded immediately. Contributions poured in to help the farmworker families get by. Ken Boyd, then governor of District 5230, who was at that meeting, had had no idea about the childhood his friend had endured. He spread the word to all 44 clubs in his district at that time.

[embedded content]

To learn more about the documentary being made about Resa’s life, visit

Today, Resa tells his story all over the country – to teenagers and Rotary members, to teachers and migrant worker advocates, at the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards and at medical schools. He wrote a memoir, and a documentary film about his life is being produced.

But he still hates speaking in public – at least until it’s over. And then he loves it, because every time, he says, at least one person comes up to him with a story of resilience: a childhood spent in a crack house or with a severe learning disability. A stutter like the one Resa had.

“He affects kids by letting them know they can do what they want,” Boyd says. “And when you believe it, you really can.”

Nina Clancy, another former district governor, is among those who encourage Resa to keep on telling his story. “I’ve never heard anyone so courageous, so inspiring,” she says. “He has a zest for life that couldn’t be stamped out.”  

Accepting the past, and moving on  

At home, the Resas’ two children are now grown: Marina is an actor in Los Angeles, and Joshua is a fellow in pediatric oncology. Resa, meanwhile, is not-so-patiently waiting to become a grandfather. At his Rotary meeting, he jokingly bemoans his fellow members’ success – at acquiring grandchildren. At work, he holds an infant and says, “Can I keep him?”

Resa attends a meeting of the Rotary Club of Porterville.

But for many years, Resa kept his other relatives at a distance. Many of his family members were surprised by parts of his memoir; some remember things differently. Some told him Out of the Fields deepened their understanding of the family and of him. His uncle Esmael, one of the kids in his childhood home, says, “I felt like he slapped me, I was so shocked. I thought I knew everything about him.”

On one recent evening, some 20 members of the family gather at Round Table Pizza in Visalia, taking over two large tables for some boisterous storytelling and catching up. Tales of how hard they worked get the loudest laughs, but when asked if those experiences were funny at the time, there’s a unanimous chorus of “No!”

But even as a child, Resa was struck by the beauty of his surroundings: “One thing I liked about picking oranges is how spectacular the groves looked,” he says. Driving past the fields where he once worked, through the blocks of houses where he spent his childhood, and past produce-packing houses along streets with names such as Olive and Orange, Resa points out the snow-topped mountains in the distance, the stands of walnut trees, and the fruit-heavy citrus groves extending to the horizon. 

“My biggest regret is not going back and inspiring the next generation of my family,” he says. “I didn’t destroy the bridge. I just didn’t cross over it very often.” Fiercely protective of his children, he kept them away from relatives who struggled with drugs or gangs. 

But those bonds are being mended. He stops one morning at his sister Rosa’s house. Inside, he helps himself to homemade tortillas, potatoes, and chorizo. “I still don’t know anything that tastes better than scooping a fresh corn tortilla into the kettle for a mouthful of hot chili with its iron taste from the pot, especially on a cold, crisp winter day,” he says.

These days, Resa can hold on to the best of his memories without any bitter taste.

• Read more stories from The Rotarian

Rotary advisers put polio on world stage

Behind the scenes of polio eradication

Rotary’s national advocacy advisers are putting polio on the world stage. Here’s how.

By Diana Schoberg

At the Rotary International Convention in Atlanta in June, world leaders were on hand to celebrate a historic $1.2 billion in commitments to finance polio eradication. It was a huge moment for the polio eradication effort. But how did it come about?

A group of Rotary volunteers has been hard at work behind the scenes: our PolioPlus national advocacy advisers. This team of Rotarians from donor countries has a mission to make sure polio eradication is on the global agenda. In the corridors of power, they relentlessly work their connections – lunches with government officials, phone calls with ministers – to garner money and support for ending the disease.

And they’ve been successful: Since Rotary’s advocacy program started in 1995, it has generated more than $8 billion toward ending polio. The United States is the leading public sector donor to global polio eradication with a cumulative investment that totals $3 billion through fiscal 2017, thanks in large part to the leadership of Past RI President James L. Lacy and members of the Polio Eradication Advocacy Task Force for the U.S. Their advocacy colleagues around the world have done remarkable work as well.

“The national advocacy advisers always come through in knowing the right people to speak with in government and in arranging key meetings,” says Michael K. McGovern, International PolioPlus Committee chair. “No matter the political party in charge, the Rotarians are known and respected.”

This year, the pledging of funds wasn’t the only priority. Working with our Global Polio Eradication Initiative partners, the advocates had the ambitious goal of getting a commitment to polio eradication from the world’s most powerful nations. The advocacy advisers saw two unprecedented political victories when both the health ministers and leaders of the Group of 20, an informal bloc of countries accounting for 85 percent of the global economy, committed to strive to finish our work and end the disease. 

Rotary’s message about ending polio is reaching the key decision-makers. So how did our national advocacy advisers do it? We checked in with three of them to find out what went into their recent successes.

Meet three of the Rotarians putting polio on the global agenda

Gianni Jandolo

Rotary club: Adda Lodigiano, Italy

Professional background: Headhunter for information technology businesses

Polio background: More than five years as Italy’s national advocacy adviser

On advocacy: “It’s not enough to be passionate. You have to know the players, what agenda they have, including what hidden agenda they have. You have to be able to negotiate, to persuade, to be diplomatic.”


Jandolo represents Rotary at the C-7 meeting. He dedicates much of his two days in Rome to meeting one-on-one with the other attendees, especially those interested in health. He argues that the G-7 has already committed to eradicating polio and that now it needs to follow through. For the first time, the C-7 includes polio eradication in its policy recommendations.  

“The C-7 started understanding that Rotary is among the players in civil society. That is a good thing.”


Jandolo meets with Francesco Aureli, adviser to the diplomatic team on health issues, to urge support for polio eradication at the upcoming G-7. Jandolo and Aureli met for the first time over lunch in Rome in July 2016 and have developed a friendly relationship.


Italy pledges $5 million toward polio eradication. Rotary sends a thank-you note urging the country to include polio eradication on the leaders’ statement at the G-20.

  • Groups to know

    Group of Seven (G-7): An informal bloc of seven industrialized democracies: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

    C-7: A meeting of civil society organizations held each year before the G-7 summit.

    Group of 20 (G-20): A forum of 19 advanced and emerging countries, plus the European Union.

    C-20: A meeting for civil society organizations held before the G-20.

    World Health Assembly: A weeklong meeting of UN health ministers held every May in Geneva to govern the World Health Organization.

Jandolo represents Rotary at the C-20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany. Thiemo Steinrücken, a member of the German diplomatic team, sees Jandolo’s End Polio Now pin and tells him with a smile, “I suppose you are from Rotary International and you are going to talk about polio!” Unfortunately, this year polio eradication does not make it onto the list of C-20 policy recommendations.

Rotary, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and representatives from major donor countries announce $1.2 billion in new commitments toward polio eradication at the Rotary Convention in Atlanta.

Judith Diment

Rotary club: Maidenhead Thames, England

Professional background: Runs a public relations and event planning firm 

Polio background: Helped shape Rotary polio advocacy in her country since 1996 – first as a paid consultant and later as a national advocacy adviser, a position she has held since 2010. She is coordinator of the global team of advisers.

On advocacy: “When I go to see a minister, I always say I’m a volunteer. I think they’re absolutely amazed that we do this voluntarily.”


On 23 February – Rotary’s anniversary – Diment organizes a reception at the House of Commons in London to celebrate the centennial of The Rotary Foundation and educate attendees about ending polio. The 100 guests include politicians from the House of Commons and the House of Lords, ambassadors and high commissioners from countries where polio eradication activities take place, and major donors to polio eradication. 

“I’ve been working on advocacy for over 20 years, so I know my way around Parliament. I’ve got a good contact base.”


Diment meets with Heulwen Philpot, a member of the British diplomatic team, at the UK Cabinet Office. She urges Philpot to get polio onto the G-7 communiqué, a list of nonbinding commitments the participating governments make.

Later that month, at the World Health Assembly, Diment gives a three-minute speech about polio eradication to health ministers from all the UN member states. She is given this privilege because of Rotary’s consultative status with the World Health Organization.

With new heads of state in four of the seven countries, one global leader predicted that this would be “the most challenging G-7 summit in years.” While polio eradication has been mentioned on the G-7 communiqué in the past, it did not make it into the 2017 declaration, which tackled topics such as refugees and climate change.


In the weeks leading up to the UK elections in June, government officials put public spending decisions on hold and could not announce a financial commitment toward polio eradication with the other donors at the Rotary Convention. Diment emails Prime Minister Theresa May, whom she has known through local politics for more than 20 years, to fill her in about the financial pledges made at the convention.


Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel announces a UK pledge of £100 million, bringing the total pledged worldwide to $1.3 billion. The next week, Diment meets with Patel to thank her. Diment asks British Rotary clubs to write to their members of Parliament to thank them for the pledge and invite them to World Polio Day events in October.  

“It’s a continuous dialogue with all the audiences you need to influence.”

Marcelo Haick

Rotary club: Santos-Praia, Brazil  Professional background: Physician specializing in occupational medicine 

Polio background: In addition to serving as Brazil’s national advocacy adviser since 2014, Haick represents Rotary on Brazil’s polio eradication committee and is an End Polio Now zone coordinator.

On advocacy: “Advocacy needs proactive behavior and to have influence. To be lucky always helps – that’s the fun part.”


Brazil’s newly appointed foreign affairs minister, Norberto Moretti, is on the diplomatic team for the G-20. With the help of a congressman from São Paulo state, João Paulo Tavares Papa, Haick secures a meeting with Moretti. At the meeting, a medical adviser to the minister, Marise Ribeiro Nogueira, tells Haick that 20 years ago, she was a Rotary scholar. 

“She became our ally in the office.”


Ricardo Barros, Brazil’s health minister, puts forward a one-page policy statement encouraging other countries to support polio eradication during the first-ever G-20 health ministers meeting. Haick and Barros met for the first time the previous year, thanks to a Rotary connection: At a Rotary institute, Haick discovered that Mauro Carvalho Duarte Jr., then governor-elect of District 4630, was a close friend of Barros. 

“He took out his mobile phone in the hotel corridor and asked, ‘Do you want me to call the minister right now?’”


Barros personally calls Haick to confirm that he is planning to champion the cause. While Haick has many meetings with high-level government officials, to receive a call directly from Barros surprises him. 

“It was the first time in my life a minister called me.”


The G-20 health ministers recognize the “historic opportunity to contribute to global polio eradication” in their communiqué. In particular, they focus on “strong, sustainable and resilient health systems,” in which the infrastructure and human resources of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative play an important role. The recommendations from this meeting can influence the decisions at the next G-20 summit and help support Rotary’s ongoing advocacy efforts with individual member states.


Canada, a long-standing champion of polio eradication, plays a leading role in getting the issue onto the agenda for the G-20. For the first time, G-20 leaders pledge to “strive to fully eradicate polio” in their unanimous final declaration after the summit in Hamburg. While not legally binding, it shapes future policies in the countries involved.

 Groups to know

More than $1 billion in pledges to end polio

At the Rotary International Convention, global leaders and key donors affirm their commitment to ending polio

By Ryan Hyland and Teresa Schmedding

With polio on the brink of eradication, nations from around the world and key donors pledged more than $1 billion to energize the global fight to end the paralyzing disease.

View Slideshow

Bill Gates, co-chair of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and RI President John Germ share the recent news about their partnership in the fight to eradicate polio.

The historic pledges of new funds at the Rotary Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, will go toward drastically shrinking the $1.5 billion gap in the funding that the partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative say is needed to reduce polio cases to zero worldwide.

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said ending polio would be one of the world’s greatest achievements. 

“Polio is the thing I spend the most time on. Everyday I look at my email to see if we have a new case,” Gates said. “I’m very inspired to be part of this. I’m also very humbled.”

Rotary International President John F. Germ announced that Rotary would increase its commitment and raise $50 million per year over the next three years. Rotary has raised more than $1.7 billion to fight the disease since 1985.

“Right now, every time a new case is identified, it really could be the last one the world ever sees,” Germ said. 

Gates told the crowd of nearly 24,000 that, starting 1 July, his foundation will extend its 2-to-1 match to cover up to $50 million in donations to Rotary for each of the next three years. The match and donations to Rotary would add up to $150 million per year over the next three years, which will add up to $450 million to the fight.

Twenty-seven countries, organizations, companies, and individuals pledged $1.2 billion at the Rotary International Convention in June. The United Kingdom pushed the total to $1.3 billion with a $130 million pledge in August.

The new funding will go toward polio eradication efforts such as disease surveillance, responses to any outbreaks, and the vaccination of more than 400 million children annually.

List of Pledges

  • $450 million

    Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

    “The incredible efforts of Rotarians, governments, health workers and partners—including those who have gathered here today—are close to making history,” said Bill Gates. “These new commitments will help ensure that we can finish the job.”

  • $154.7 million


    The significance of this moment cannot be overstated. Seeing such strong and unrelenting support from countries around the world reminds us that this is a truly global effort and renews our national resolve to banish this disease from our country.

  • $150 million

    Rotary International

    “The global eradication of polio has been Rotary’s top priority since 1985. Rotary members have been the driving force behind the fight to end polio since its inception,” said John Germ, President of Rotary International. 

  • $134.6 million


    Crucial innovations as well as human and financial resources made it possible for us to find poliovirus that had been circulating in remote and insecure areas of our country. Today’s new funding and renewed commitment will help us make sure that the disease has no safe harbor and is rooted out once and for all.

  • $130 million

    United Kingdom

  • $75 million


    The government of Canada has been a part of this effort from the very beginning and will not stop until every boy and girl around the world is safe from this disease.

  • $61.4 million

    European Commission

    The eradication of polio will not just put an end to a significant threat to newborn and child health; it will also be a sustainable global public good that will help improve the health of everyone, everywhere.

  • $55 million


    For as long as polio circulates anywhere, it is a threat to children everywhere. We are committing to ending this disease and strengthening global health security for future generations. 

  • $30 million

    United Arab Emirates

    The UAE is proud to be a leader in the effort to end polio and looks forward to a future in which every child and every country around the world is able to experience the full economic and health benefits of polio eradication.

  • $30 million

    Dalio Foundation

  • $25 million

    Bloomberg Philanthropies

  • $15 million

    Anonymous donor 

  • $13.4 million


  • $11.2 million


    Together with countries and partners, we look forward to ending polio and ensuring that the infrastructure used to fight this disease helps improve health in countries around the world for years to come.

  • $5 million


    easyJet is proud to be a part of the global fight to end polio and improve the health of children everywhere.

  • $5 million


  • $4 million


    The Government of Korea is committed to working with governments and polio partners around the world to finish off this disease.

  • $2 million

    Korea Foundation for International Healthcare/Community Chest of Korea

  • $1.7 million

    United Nations Foundation/Shot@Life 

  • $1.03 million


  • $500,000


  • $514,000


  • $330,000


  • $130,000

    New Era Educational and Charitable Foundation

  • $60,000


  • $30,000


  • $20,000


  • $20,000

    Accenture Interactive, USA 

[embedded content]

‘Peace needs to be lived’

Rotary Day at the United Nations pushes peace from concept to reality

By Geoff Johnson
Photos by Monika Lozinska

On the 99th anniversary of the end of World War I, more than 1,200 people gathered in Geneva, Switzerland, for Rotary Day at the United Nations. 

Representing 87 countries, they convened on Saturday, 11 November, at the Palais des Nations, originally the home of the League of Nations, and dedicated themselves to the theme enunciated by Rotary President Ian H. S. Riseley: “Peace: Making a Difference.”

View Slideshow

Rotary International honors six champions of peace at the United Nations on 11 November.

“The advancement of international understanding, goodwill, and peace have always been among Rotary’s primary goals,” said Riseley. “It is past time for all of us to recognize the potential of all of our Rotary service to build peace, and approach that service with peacebuilding in mind.”

For the first time in its 13-year history, Rotary Day at the UN was held outside of New York.

Rotary Day culminated Geneva Peace Week, during which John Hewko, general secretary of Rotary International, noted the “close and longstanding ties between Rotary and the UN in (their) mutual pursuit of peace and international understanding.”

Rotary members “can transform a concept like peace to a reality through service,” said Ed Futa, dean of the Rotary Representative Network. “Peace needs to be lived rather than preached.”

As a highlight of Rotary Day, Hewko introduced Rotary’s 2017 People of Action: Champions of Peace award winners. He praised them as “an embodiment of the range and impact of our organization’s work,” and saluted them for providing “a roadmap for what more peaceful, resilient societies look like.”

Rotary honored six individuals, who each made brief remarks. They were:

  1. Alejandro Reyes Lozano, Rotary Club of Bogatá Capital, Colombia: “Part of the generation that grew up with uncertainty and fear,” as he put it, Reyes Lozano played a key role in negotiating an end to the 50-year conflict between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). With a Rotary Global Grant, he’s now leading peacebuilding efforts among women from six Latin American countries.

  2. Jean Best, Rotary Club of Kirkcudbright, Scotland, UK: “Without peace within ourselves we will never advance global peace,” said Best, explaining The Peace Project, the program she created to “the future leaders of peace” develop the skills they need to resolve the conflicts in their lives.

  3. Safina Rahman, Rotary Club of Dhaka Mahanagar, Bangladesh: “Education is a powerful and transformative vehicle for peace,” said Rahman, a passionate advocate for workers’ rights and workplace safety who also promotes and provides educational and vocational opportunities for girls. 

  4. Ann Frisch, Rotary Club of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, USA: Frisch’s Civilian-Based Peace Process introduced the radical concept of “unarmed civilian protection” in war zones around the world. “Sustainable peace,” she said, “requires strong civilian engagement.”

  5. Kiran Singh Sirah, Rotary Peace Fellow: The president of the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee, USA, Sirah uses stories to help encourage peace, nurture empathy, and build a sense of community. “Stories matter—and I believe they matter a lot,” he said.

  6. Taylor Cass Talbot, Peace Fellow: Currently based in Portland, Oregon, USA, Cass Talbot partnered with SWaCH, a waste-picker cooperative in India to form Pushing for Peace, which promotes safety, sanitation, and dignity for waste pickers in Pune, India. Her ardent advocacy also manifests an artistic flair: her weighty but whimsical Live Debris project creatively addresses issues of waste and exclusion on a global scale.

The six peace honorees joined a stellar panel of speakers and experts in workshops devoted to sustainability and peace, as well as a workshop on education, science, and peace designed by and for young leaders in which Rotaract members from around the world played a prominent role. 

Dr. Michel Zaffran, the director of polio eradication at the World Health Organization, joined Her Excellency Mitsuko Shino, the deputy head of the permanent mission of Japan in Geneva and co-chair for the Polio Partners Group, Global Polio Eradication Initiative, to provide an update on efforts to eradicate polio. They noted the tremendous progress made by Rotary, WHO, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other partners in eliminating 99 percent of all global incidences of polio. 

Returning the focus to peace, Zaffran sounded a positive note. “This same international relationship (that’s eradicating polio),” he said, “can be used to achieve world peace.”

In his keynote address, Riseley made a similar observation. “The work of polio eradication, has taught us . . . that when you have enough people working together; when you understand the problems and the processes; when you combine and leverage your resources; when you set a plan and set your targets — you can indeed move mountains,” he said. “And the need for action, and cooperation, is greater now than ever before.”

Honoring champions of peace for Rotary UN Day

Rotary Day at the UN filled with peace champions and workshops

By Geoff Johnson

Rotary will honor six champions of peace at the United Nations on 11 November.

The Palais des Nations in Geneva, built as the headquarters for the League of Nations, remains an enduring emblem of humanity’s hope for global peace, making it an ideal setting for this year’s Rotary Day at the United Nations on 11 November.

Underscoring this year’s theme — Peace: Making a Difference — the event will include workshops devoted to sustainability and peace, as well as a workshop on education, science, and peace, designed by and for young leaders.

A variety of speakers will contribute to the discussion, including Rotary International President Ian H.S. Riseley; Rotary Foundation Trustee Chair Paul A. Netzel; Walter B Gyger and Claudine Wyssa, the representatives of Rotary International to UN/Geneva; and Dr. Mohanned Arabiat, president of Generations for Peace.

Rotary General Secretary John Hewko will introduce each of the People of Action: Champions of Peace. They are:

  • Jean Best, Rotary Club of Kirkcudbright, Scotland
  • Taylor (Stevenson) Cass Talbott, Rotary Peace Fellow, Portland, Oregon, USA
  • Ann Frisch, Rotary Club of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, USA
  • Safina Rahman, Rotary Club of Dhaka Mahanagar, Bangladesh
  • Alejandro Reyes Lozano, Rotary Club of Bogotá Capital, Colombia
  • Kiran Singh Sirah, Rotary Peace Fellow, Tennessee, USA

Other highlights will include a polio-tulip-planting ceremony, updates on polio eradication, and closing remarks from Edwin Futa, dean of the Rotary Representative Network.

Peace partnership

Rotary Day at the UN culminates Geneva Peace Week. That event’s organizers include the Institute for Economics and Peace, a global think tank that uses data-driven research to analyze peace and quantify its economic value.

  • Watch the Rotary Day at the United Nations on UN TV
  • See program details

This summer, the institute and Rotary announced a strategic partnership that will pair the two organizations’ individual strengths — empirical research and community connections — and focus them on resolving conflict and achieving peace.

On 8 November, as part of Geneva Peace Week, the institute will join the Geneva Centre for Security Policy in hosting a panel discussion, “Building the Evidence for Better Prevention.” Staged at the Maison de la Paix, it will systematically evaluate conflict prevention and peacebuilding methods in the context of a research framework.

Scroll to top