The next wave in fellowship

Love of surfing brings together more than 450 Rotary members from 20 countries

By Arnold R. Grahl

Renata Valente is trying to keep her marshmallow from falling into the fire. The Brazilian-born Rotaractor, who spent a year in Indiana as a Rotary Youth Exchange student and now attends San Diego State University, is at the beachside Crown Point Park for an event organized by Surfers Unite Rotarian Fellowship (SURF), one of Rotary’s newest fellowships. 

Rotaractors and guests roast marshmallows at a Surfers Unite Rotarian Fellowship event at beachside Crown Point Park, San Diego, in April.

Photos courtesy of Surfers Unite Rotarian Fellowship

The sun has set, but the faces of more than 30 attendees — Rotarians, Rotaractors, Interactors, and guests — glow in the light of the bonfire as they make s’mores and enjoy some music.

“It’s Friday night, and this is exactly what my friends and I wanted to do,” says Valente. “It’s exciting knowing you are going to be able to have fun and be with your friends, but also do something that impacts your community.”

Valente learned about SURF in October 2017, when volunteers from her Rotaract club traveled to Ensenada, Mexico, to help fix up an orphanage. One morning, SURF founder Brett Morey and other members of the fellowship took the volunteers and orphans surfing. Valente has been an active member ever since. 

Morey, a member of the Rotary Club of La Jolla Golden Triangle, California, grew up bodyboarding and surfing on beaches from Huntington Beach to Del Mar. Last year, he decided Rotary needed a fellowship centered on surfing. He assembled a prospective leadership team, and at the 2017 Rotary International Convention in Atlanta, he collected the necessary signatures — on his surfboard — to petition the RI Board. 

The fellowship has already grown to more than 450 members in over 20 countries. Its mission: introducing people to surfing, attracting young people to Rotary, building connections, and mentoring.

At the Standup for the Cure event, paddleboarders participate in a 5K race.

SURF members span the globe from Argentina to New Zealand, including countries that have no access to oceans, such as the Czech Republic and Hungary. Members don’t have to be near oceans or seas to capture the spirit of the fellowship, which is bringing together Interactors, Rotaractors, and Rotarians for fun events.

“The thing I think about is making Rotary relevant to this generation,” says Morey. “We talk all the time about bringing youth into Rotary. This is the type of social event that allows us to grow our Interact clubs and Rotary.” Rotarians can join SURF for $20 a year; Interactors and Rotaractors join for free. Members host events that range from surf outings to fundraisers.

“When I started to think about a fellowship, my whole vision was to take some of the things I was already doing in San Diego and bring that to a global scale,” Morey says. “Anybody who is near water can hold a bonfire event or do a stand-up paddleboard event or a learn-to-surf event. It’s all about building understanding between people. And that is exactly what the purpose of Rotary is.”

In May, SURF members took part in Standup for the Cure in nearby Newport Bay, taking to paddleboards to raise money for breast cancer research. They’ve also volunteered at Life Rolls On events, which give people with disabilities a chance to surf by means of adaptive surfboards. 

View Slideshow

At a Life Rolls On event, Brett Morey’s friend Leo Berg gets a chance to enjoy the ocean.

A Life Rolls On event in September 2017 held special meaning for Morey; a childhood friend, Leo Berg, was assisted into the water. A snowboarding accident in 1993 left Berg paralyzed from a brain stem injury. Morey recalls it as “a difficult but spiritually uplifting time” that cemented relationships with those he had grown up with as they held a bedside vigil for their friend.

Now, he says, “taking Leo and others surfing through Life Rolls On is very rewarding. It gives them an opportunity to enjoy something we take for granted.” 

At the Crown Point Park bonfire, Morey works the crowd, introducing Interact members from different schools, connecting Rotarians with Rotaractors, and otherwise playing emcee of the beach party. A Rotaractor from San Diego State who is applying to medical school and a Rotarian who is a retired orthopedic surgeon discover they have a common bond in Romania, where the student’s family lives and where the Rotarian’s grandfather came from. Before long, the Rotaractor is getting advice about navigating the medical school application process.

Johnny Lee joined SURF after moving to San Diego from Fremont, California, and attending the La Jolla Golden Triangle club with Morey.  

“I’ve done quite a few Rotary events, but this is especially fun,” says Lee. Shortly after joining, he learned to surf at one of the fellowship’s events.

“It was both harder and easier than I expected,” he says. “Harder, because I didn’t realize I would be nearly drowning a good bit of the time. But easier because, once you stay above the water, it’s not hard to ride the wave.

“As a young Rotarian, I want to do things both globally and locally. This is helping out our community, and it is creating something exciting,” he says. “Surfing is a great activity for bringing in young people.”

— Arnold R. Grahl

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Turning teens away from crime

Rotary clubs in Canada invest in the PACT program, an urban peace initiative that aims to break the cycle of youth crime

Akeem Stephenson wanted to go to jail. He believed it was the only way he could free himself from a life of crime — a life he desperately wanted to change. 

After being arrested for a fourth time more than 10 years ago, for aggravated robbery, the teenager in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, was set to go to prison. But the judge saw something in Stephenson that suggested that he could redeem himself. So he gave Stephenson a choice: participate in an 18-month youth program, or serve the six-month sentence. 

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Akeem Stephenson used the PACT program to turn his life around and launch his music career. 

For Stephenson, the choice was clear. He decided to transform his life through the PACT Urban Peace Program.

PACT, which stands for Participation, Acknowledgement, Commitment, and Transformation, is a Toronto-based, award-winning charity supported by Rotary clubs in Canada. It works with at-risk young people and those who have committed crimes to change their direction in life. Entrepreneur and Toronto Rotary member David Lockett co-founded the program more than 20 years ago. 

The intensive, step-by-step program aims to break the cycle of poverty and criminal behavior. Its goal is to determine what the participants need and develop strategies “to put them on a positive path in their life, so they can enrich not only their own lives, but their community,” says Lockett, a member of the Rotary E-Club of Social Innovators D7090. 

Lockett says PACT builds peace in urban communities. “It’s all about looking at the impact of violence and criminal behavior, and understanding the dynamics of the problem, and creating highly effective solutions to make investments for at-risk youth at an early stage,” he says. “It’s really quite simple. If you want to help at-risk youth, you really have to understand the simple needs they have.”

He acknowledges that young people who commit crimes should be held accountable, and for many of them, that includes serving jail time. But for some, those he says come from “squalid and deplorable backgrounds” with very little parental guidance, PACT is a resource that can change their lives and reduce the likelihood that they will commit more crimes. 

The organization works with the judicial system to identify repeat offenders ages 12-19 who may benefit from the program. After a young adult is convicted of a crime, the judge or judicial official refers them to PACT as part of a probation order. 

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Judges in Canada see how the PACT program can reduce youth crime and help offenders stay out of the judicial system. 

Central to PACT’s success is its LifePlan Coaching program, an intense intervention system that pairs a participant with a certified life coach. The two meet each week for 12-18 months to set goals in six key areas: education, employment, health, relationships, contributing to the community, and staying out of the criminal justice system. Life coaching is a conversational process that provides structure and acknowledgement, builds capacity and self-awareness, and fosters self-directed learning and action. This ultimately helps the young person get from where they are to where they want to be in the future. 

PACT’s LifePlan Coaching differs from the traditional model of therapy or counseling in that it does not focus on the person’s past but rather concentrates on the present and future, says Lockett. The innovative program boasts a 65 percent success rate, with success meaning that the young person completes the program without re-offending. 

It was the relationship with his life coach that gave Stephenson the insight and confidence to reshape his future. “The PACT program will change your mindset,” he says. “They’ll give you the blueprint, but it’s up to you to run with it.”

Stephenson has since obtained his high school equivalency certificate and has been working at a call center. He also honed his passion for music through PACT’s Life & Job Skills Community Service Programs, in which participants learn through practical exposure to activities like music and film production, cooking, gardening, and entrepreneurship. 

Rotary brings compassion

To date, nearly 30 clubs in the Toronto area have supported PACT, many with annual commitments of $3,600 or more to fund the program, according to Lockett. 

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PACT participants can hone their skills and passions through the program’s Life & Job Skills Community Service Programs, which gives them practical exposure to activities like music, film production, cooking, gardening, and entrepreneurship.

But Rotary clubs are also playing a more in-depth role in PACT. The two organizations created the PACT/Rotary Youth Mentoring Program, which allows members to connect directly with participants. 

Liz Bosma-Donovan, a social worker and member of the Rotary Club of Wellington in Ontario, is the first Rotary ambassador to PACT. She works with Rotary clubs to find members who are willing to become mentors. 

“After learning about PACT and working with David [Lockett] on projects, I saw there was a missing opportunity for Rotary to create a more meaningful connection,” says Bosma-Donovan. “We want to enhance their sense of belonging, to make them feel more a part of the community. Rotary is uniquely positioned in the community to bring about these connections.”

For instance, members can help a PACT participant find volunteer opportunities, get a driver’s license, or secure job interviews. 

“Our members are caring and compassionate,” says Bosma-Donovan. “Those things are crucial to bring about change and to rebuild their lives.”

How to watch World Polio Day 2018 livestream

How to watch Rotary’s World Polio Day event

How to watch the event live

On your computer on the day of the event

  • In Google Chrome, go to KUDO and complete the form, then click Submit.
  • On the next page, click Floor and select your language from the list.

On your smartphone

  • Download the KUDO app at the Apple App Store (for iPhones) or Google Play (for Android).
  • Go to KUDO and tap Open in Kudo App.
  • Complete the form, then tap Join.
  • On the next screen, tap Floor and select your language from the list.

Need help?

Contact (in English). 

For more information, check out these step-by-step instructions with screenshots (PDF, PowerPoint).

You don’t have to travel to Philadelphia to take part in Rotary’s World Polio Day event on 24 October. You can watch a livestream of the proceedings from your computer or smartphone starting at 18:30 Philadelphia time (UTC-4). A recording will be available shortly after the event on

Rotary will also stream the event in French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish. 

This year’s event will be livestreamed from the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, known as the birthplace of American medicine. It is one of the oldest professional medical organizations in the United States.

Global health experts and Rotary’s celebrity polio ambassadors will discuss our remarkable progress toward a polio-free world. Patience Asiimwe, the protagonist of Rotary’s upcoming virtual reality film “Two Drops of Patience,” will introduce the movie. A sneak peek from Rotary’s documentary “Drop to Zero” will also be featured. Jeffrey Kluger, senior editor for Time magazine, will discuss his experience traveling to Nigeria with Rotary to report on polio eradication. And we’ll celebrate the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Rotary clubs fight modern slavery with Freedom United

Fighting modern slavery

An estimated 40.3 million people around the world live in slavery involving either sexual exploitation or forced labor. A new partnership with Freedom United is giving Rotarians a chance to do something to stop it.


By Arnold R. Grahl

Dave McCleary was volunteering at a youth conference in 2012 when a young woman named Melissa explained how she had ended up in the sex trade.

She was living in a nice suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, USA, when a young man knocked on her door and offered her a job as a model. The man turned out to be a pimp, who lured her into prostitution through a combination of drugs, threats, and coercion.

“She was from my town, and was living in an apartment where my wife used to live before we got married,” remembers McCleary, a member of the Rotary Club of Roswell. “After the presentation, a member of my club gave her a big hug. I asked how he knew her, and he said she used to babysit his kids when she was 12. That’s when I realized this wasn’t someone else’s problem. This is happening all around us.”

McCleary is now co-chair of the Rotarian Action Group Against Slavery, which has been coordinating Rotary clubs’ efforts to fight slavery since 2013. A big challenge for the group has been motivating clubs to act. The immense scale of the problem can be daunting. 

The Global Slavery Index estimates that, worldwide, 40.3 million people are subject to some form of slavery: bonded labor, forced labor, child slavery, sex trafficking, or forced marriage. 

“I think many people ask, ‘What can I do? What impact can my small club possibly have?’” McCleary says.

One answer could come from the group’s recent partnership with Freedom United, a nonprofit organization that has mobilized millions of partners, activists, and advocates through online campaigns to convince governments and companies to end slavery. 

Through Freedom United’s website, Rotary clubs of any size can sign up to form “freedom rings,” which raise community awareness of slavery while sharing information with one another through an online platform. Freedom United helps the club plan a two-hour community event by arranging speakers that can include experts, survivors, and representatives of local nonprofits that are already fighting modern slavery. At the end of the event, people are invited to join the ring. The core team this creates then selects yearly projects to commit to.

“These rings are inspired out of a Rotary club but also pull from the larger community,” says Joe Schmidt, CEO of Freedom United. “We have a series of things they can choose to do. We ask them to keep it pretty simple and laser-focused on one particular project.” 

Schmidt, who advises Delta Airlines on its anti-trafficking strategy, met McCleary through Delta’s involvement with Georgia Rotarians, including during the 2017 Rotary Convention in Atlanta.

  1. Rotary and community members gather for an education and engagement event called a Freedom Forum in Raleigh, North Carolina, to learn more about fighting modern slavery.

  2. A Freedom Forum in Raleigh, North Carolina, features shrimp cocktail and an explanatory card to illustrate how modern slavery impacts everyday lives.

  3. Freedom United Executive Director Joanna Ewart-James and Advocacy Assistant Miriam Karmali hand out fliers at a flower show being held in London discussing the link between modern slavery and the sponsor of the flower show.

  4. Rotary and community members gather for an education and engagement event called a Freedom Forum in Raleigh, North Carolina, to learn more about fighting modern slavery.

“Dave and I started to talk, and we recognized that there are maybe 200 to 400 groups just in the U.S. working on modern slavery topics. However, they are all disjointed with no common platform,” Schmidt says. “It sparked in us a connection between Freedom United’s interest in taking our massive online community down to the grassroots level and Rotary’s ability to provide hundreds of groups all over the world who would be foot soldiers in this fight.”

According to Schmidt, a ring in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA, is planning an annual gala fundraiser, and one in Raleigh, North Carolina, is working on a walk/run to raise awareness. Another ring is organizing a “red sand project,” where volunteers sprinkle red sand in the cracks of city streets to represent all the people in the world who are enslaved. 

Ian Rumbles, president-elect of the Rotary Club of Clayton, North Carolina, heard Schmidt speak at his district conference in April. His club is in the beginning stages of forming a ring.

“What resonated with me was hearing about the amount of domestic slavery and the number of people forced to work in farm fields in my own state,” says Rumbles. “The fact that people in our country were modern slaves made me think that I can only imagine the amount of slavery around the world.”

Schmidt says Rotary’s experience with polio eradication makes it a perfect partner for this fight.

Rotary’s patience in committing to a cause and its track record with polio have shown that Rotarians are willing to take mature, committed action toward long-term global change, even if it doesn’t give immediate gratifying results.

Joe Schmidt

CEO of Freedom United

“Rotary’s patience in committing to a cause and its track record with polio have shown that Rotarians are willing to take mature, committed action toward long-term global change, even if it doesn’t give immediate gratifying results,” he says. “That’s the thing missing in the fight against modern slavery: large organizations who are willing to step into this thing for the long haul and eradicate slavery once and for all.”

Rotary clubs have been supporting anti-slavery organizations for over a decade. In one of the larger efforts, 14 Rotary clubs led by the Rotary Club of Dunbar, Lothian, Scotland, opened a vocational training center for trafficking survivors in Kalimpong, India, in 2015. The project was funded in part by a Rotary Foundation grant. The group plans to add  a home for women and girls freed from slavery. 

McCleary is hoping that the partnership with Freedom United will better lead to more. 

“The great thing about Rotary is that even though we are international, we are community-based,” he adds. “So if there’s a need in a community, we have Rotary clubs there to make it happen.”

Leading Indian hotelier named Rotary International president

Leading Indian hotelier named Rotary International president 

Fourth Indian to head global membership organization

NEW DELHI, (1 Oct. 2018) — Sushil Kumar Gupta, chair and managing director of Asian Hotels (West) Ltd. and owner of Hyatt Regency Mumbai and JW Marriott Hotel New Delhi Aerocity, will begin his one-year term as president of Rotary International on 1 July 2020. 

Sushil Kumar Gupta, a member of the service organization for 41 years, belongs to the Rotary Club of Delhi Midwest, will begin his one-year term as president of Rotary International on 1 July 2020. 

Gupta, a member of the service organization for 41 years, belongs to the Rotary Club of Delhi Midwest. As head of Rotary’s global network of 35,000 clubs, Gupta aims to increase the organization’s humanitarian impact and club member diversity. 

“I’m humbled to join the distinguished ranks of those who have led this organization before me,” Gupta said. “I hope to leave a mark on Rotary that reflects selfless leadership and an unwavering commitment to service.”   

India’s 3,700 Rotary clubs and 146,000 members take action to address humanitarian challenges and implement sustainable projects that fight disease, promote peace, provide clean water, support education, save mothers and children and grow local economies. More than $221 million awarded over the past several years through The Rotary Foundation has supported these programs. 

Last month, Dakoju Ravishankar, a real-estate investor and Rotary member from Bengaluru, donated $14.7 million to The Foundation. “People support Rotary because it is a trusted organization that supports communities through tangible projects,” Gupta said. “In fact, CNBC named Rotary one of its top 10 charities in the world. In India alone, Rotary has positively impacted our communities through polio eradication, installing sustainable and safe latrines, building schools, providing potable water, and countless good deeds.”

Gupta has served as president of the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India and on the board of directors of Tourism Finance Corporation of India Ltd. He was the president of Experience India Society, a public-private partnership between the tourism industry and the government of India that promotes India as a tourist destination. He is currently vice chair of the Himalayan Environment Trust and serves on the board of Operation Eyesight Universal in India

About Rotary: Rotary brings together a global network of volunteer leaders dedicated to tackling the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges. Rotary connects 1.2 million members of more than 35,000 Rotary clubs in over 200 countries and geographical areas. Their work improves lives at both the local and international levels, from helping families in need in their own communities to working toward a polio-free world. 


Jyoti Rai 011-41150173,

Chanele Williams +1-847-866-3466,

Protecting against polio in Lake Chad

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Indian real estate investor donates to The Rotary Foundation

Indian real estate investor donates $14.7 million to The Rotary Foundation 

By Ryan Hyland

Saying that Rotary is “transparent and honest,” Indian real estate investor Ravishankar Dakoju, and his wife, Paola, recently donated US$14.7 million (₹1.06 billion) to The Rotary Foundation. 

Ravishankar Dakoju, and his wife, Paola, have donated US$14.7 million (₹1.06 billion) to The Rotary Foundation. 

Ravishankar, a senior member of the Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations of India and president of the Rotary Club of Bangalore Orchards, Karnataka, India, announced the gift during the installation of District 3190 (Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka) leaders on 1 July. 

His donation is one of the largest gifts in the Foundation’s history.  

“I am delighted to make a meaningful contribution of my life’s earnings toward the six areas of focus, including community development, education, health, and sanitation,” Ravishankar said. The gift will establish a named endowed fund within the Foundation to support high-impact and sustainable humanitarian and educational projects.

Foundation Trustee Chair Ron Burton says Ravishankar’s gift is “extraordinary and truly transformational, not just for those who will benefit from the Rotary projects funded by the gift, but also for our Foundation, as it encourages other Rotarians to think big and select Rotary for their charitable giving.”

Ravishankar said his charitable interests particularly include helping people in India, women’s empowerment and social harmony.

“For me, Rotary has been a learning experience. It’s like a buffet: It’s up to you what you want to take from it,” says Ravishankar. “Rotary gives you the opportunity to make change.”

Rotary and UN honor trailblazing young leaders

Meet 6 trailblazing young leaders

By Arnold R. Grahl

Six members of Rotary and Rotaract will be honored this November as People of Action: Young Innovators during Rotary Day at the United Nations in Naiorbi, Kenya.

These innovators — all under the age of 35 – are being recognized for their commitment to solving problems with measurable and lasting results, connecting local issues with global concerns. 

The six young innovators are:

Name: Albert Kafka

Clubs: Rotaract Club of Wien-Stadtpark and Rotary Club of Wien-Oper, Austria

Project: Intarconnect Mentoring and Generation Projects

Innovation: Pairing members of different generations in a one-year mentoring relationship where they learn from each other and participate in service projects

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Description: Kafka worked with Rotary clubs in Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina to launch an online program that pairs a Rotarian with a member of Interact, Rotary’s program for young people ages 12-18, or Rotaract, for ages 18-30. It also pairs some Interactors with Rotaractors. The effort includes leadership training, scholarships, social activities, and hands-on service projects. For one ongoing project, the generations work side-by-side to build houses for families left homeless by the Bosnian War.

Name: Charlie Ruth Castro

Club: Rotary E-Club of Sogamoso Global, Colombia

Project: Innovative New Beginnings

Innovation: Teaching vocational and business skills to incarcerated women and empowering them to create new opportunities for themselves

Description: Using her digital communications expertise, Castro leads a program that is teaching 170 incarcerated women in Colombia textile skills and how to assemble personal wellness kits with products developed from herbal plants grown on their own organic farm. The kits are sold online through the brand Alas de Libertad (Wings of Freedom). The women also attend empowerment workshops to reduce their sentences. Castro, a lawyer, has led large-scale events in Colombia and Mexico to promote women’s and children’s rights. She co-founded Digitally Connected, which unites 430 Latin American experts who are studying the challenges that children and young people face online.

Name: Christina Hassan

Club: Rotary Club of Calgary Fish Creek, Alberta, Canada

Project: FullSoul

Innovation: Training midwives and supplying safe, sterile childbirth equipment to hospitals in Uganda

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Description: Hassan, who holds a master’s in public health, launched FullSoul to address the lack of facilities for safe and sterile childbirth in parts of Uganda. The program provides maternal medical kits to hospitals, including childbirth tools (artery forceps, scissors, needle holders) that can be sterilized and reused, as well as training in using the tools. The kits are assembled by a supplier in Uganda to minimize costs and contribute to the local economy. Positive outcomes include safer births and decreased HIV transmission.

Name: Paul Mushaho

Club: Rotaract Club of Nakivale, Uganda

Project: Rotaract Club of Nakivale Refugee Settlement

Innovation: Organizing a Rotaract club in a Ugandan refugee settlement that conducts various service projects in the camp

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Description: Fleeing conflict in his homeland of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mushaho arrived at the Nakivale refugee settlement in 2016. The same year, he entered a business proposal for a competition sponsored by the American Refugee Committee and the Ugandan government. His winning proposal earned him the right to present his idea to a wider audience in Kampala, where it was seen by Rotary members from Kampala, Uganda, and Minnesota, USA. Recognizing his leadership and charisma, the Rotary members worked with Mushaho to charter a Rotaract club in the settlement. The Rotaractors have taught farming skills, provided sewing machines for women’s groups, volunteered in maternity wards, organized tree planting and poultry projects, and mentored young people in the camp.

Name: Shadrack “Sheddy” Nyawa Mwadai

Club: Rotary Club of Kilifi, Kenya

Project: Water and sanitation for primary schools

Innovation: Traveling to remote schools in Kenya to find those most in need of toilets and hygiene education

Description: Waiting in long lines to use inadequate toilet facilities interferes with children’s learning in the more than 70 primary schools in the Ganze area of Kenya. Mwadai travels on poorly maintained dirt roads to conduct assessments for district and global grants that help his Rotary club select schools to receive new toilets and handwashing stations. He works with local contractors and makes sure that construction is completed and documented properly.

Name: Ludovic Grosjean

Club: Rotaract Club of Melbourne City, Victoria, Australia

Project: Ocean CleanX

Innovation: Founding a pioneering company that is developing new technology to monitor pollution and remove it from waterways

Description: Every year, 8.8 million tons of plastic waste get into the oceans, putting marine species at risk of extinction. Grosjean, a 29-year-old engineer, launched Ocean CleanX to develop automated pollution monitoring and removal tools that use artificial intelligence and drones to remove plastics and other pollution from waterways and detect their source. Grosjean, who has 12 years of experience in oceanography and mechatronics engineering, has persuaded clubs to support the effort, contribute financially, and volunteer for river clean-up events.

Teaching to save babies

Two Rotarian pediatricians – one in Ethiopia and the other in California – connected to save babies’ lives with the help of a vocational training team

By Arnold R. Grahl

Karin Davies had just finished teaching a group of Ethiopian health care providers a life-saving technique for newborn babies when a third-year obstetric resident came rushing up.

“It really works,” he said. The night before, he had delivered an infant who was born limp and not breathing. After several unsuccessful attempts to stimulate the baby’s breathing, he used a technique, known as positive pressure ventilation, that he had learned only the day before. Within minutes, the baby was screaming. 

We saw the power of vocational training right before our eyes.

Karin Davies 

retired pediatrician, Rotary member

“We saw the power of vocational training right before our eyes,” recalls Davies, a retired pediatrician who led four vocational training team trips to Gondar, Ethiopia, between February 2015 and June 2017. The team, funded by a $107,000 Rotary Foundation global grant, trained 73 health care providers who now teach classes for midwives, nurses, and medical students on resuscitation techniques and post-recitation care for newborns. 

The training team project was designed with the help of members of the Rotary Club of Gondar Fasiledes, in particular 2013-14 Club President Abiyot Tegegne, to address a critical shortage of hospital personnel trained in lifesaving skills. In Ethiopia in 2012, only 10 percent of births were attended by someone trained in newborn resuscitation. 

Davies, a member of the Rotary Club of Del Mar, California, marshaled resources and connected key players to establish a curriculum for neonatal care at the University of Gondar’s College of Medicine and Health Sciences which is helping reduce Ethiopia’s infant mortality rate.

Davies was five years old in 1952 when her father helped establish a college in Jimma, Ethiopia, as part of the Point Four Program, a forerunner to USAID. The family spent two years in Ethiopia. Sitting at the kitchen table of her home in San Diego, Davies sifts through old photos and recalls what it was like to grow up there. She recounts how her mother, a nurse, was pressed into service as the primary health care provider for the college’s seven faculty members and their families, its 80 students, and eventually the entire community.

“No one else was there to do it,” Davies says. “My mother would go out and take care of the surrounding villagers when they asked for help, and I would go with her. That is how I developed my interest in medicine.”

  1. Karin Davies, second from left, watches as Ethiopian instructors-in-training practice at a skill station. 

  2. Pat Bromberger, second from right, leads a demonstration in neonatal resuscitation at a skill station. 

  3. Instructors-in-training learn how to administer oxygen to a newborn.

  4. A class of new instructors with their certificates showing they have completed the neonatal resuscitation training and can now teach the skills to other midwives and nursing students at the University.

  5. Three chairs of the pediatric department at Gondar University Hospital, from left Kassahun Belachew, Mahlet, and Zemene Tigabu.

  6. Elisa Imonti shows the Ethiopian nurses how to program the incubators.

In 2012, after her parents had died, Davies and her two brothers took a trip back to Jimma. To their amazement, the small college they remembered had become a major university with 30,000 students. That trip got Davies thinking about how she might lend her medical expertise to the country that helped shape her.

“I felt such a huge connection to Ethiopia and the people there, and I wanted to do something to honor my parents’ memory,” she says. 

At a breakfast with a group of friends, all retired female physicians, Davies shared her idea with Pat Bromberger, a neonatologist who had just returned from three months in Ghana volunteering in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

“Let’s do it,” Bromberger said.

Davies began calling anyone she knew who had any experience in international relief work. Her neighbor Carole Leland had worked in Ethiopia as a leadership development trainer with USAID, and the people she knew there recommended they talk to Zemene Tigabu, then chair of pediatrics and now clinical director at the College of Medicine and Health Sciences.

“Karin followed up on every contact that I gave her until she found someone who could help,” Leland says. “You can tell she really cares deeply about the country, and her commitment is so strong.” 

Davies and Bromberger flew to Gondar, a city of about 200,000 in northern Ethiopia, at their own expense and spent a week doing a community assessment, meeting with Tigabu and other faculty members in the departments of pediatrics, obstetrics, nursing, and midwifery. The women had initially planned to teach Ethiopian midwives a set of simple steps promoted by the American Academy of Pediatrics called Helping Babies Breathe. But Tigabu told them that what he really needed was a full university-level training program for nursing and midwifery students. Nothing like it existed anywhere in the country.

The facility was very poor. Now everything is upgraded. My second boy was born 10 months ago, and it’s like a different hospital.

Abiyot Tegegne

Rotary Club of Gondar Fasiledes

They also learned that Tigabu had attended Jimma University, and so felt a connection to Davies’ family – and that he was a Rotarian. A new plan began to take form.

The Rotary Club of Del Mar meets in the parish hall of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, which overlooks California’s scenic Highway 101 as it winds past a beach famous for its surfing. “It’s a small club but very, very active,” Davies says. “Everyone is so supportive.”

Davies spent months researching maternal health projects in Africa before proposing the global grant project. Peggy Martin, who was then international service chair for the Del Mar club, was impressed.

“I realized immediately this was something Rotary could do something about,” says Martin. Training local people to train others ensured sustainability, she adds.

Martin agreed to steer the project through the grant approval process, while Stephen Brown, a member of the nearby Rotary Club of La Jolla Golden Triangle who was then a Rotary Foundation trustee, lent his expertise to help secure matching funds from clubs and districts. “When I saw Karin and Pat’s credentials and experience, and the connection Karin had with Ethiopia, I felt this project had a very high probability of being successful and having a meaningful impact,” says Brown. 

In April 2018, almost a year after the fourth training team trip, the team members gathered at Davies’ invitation for an informal reunion. They had grown close over the two years they had worked together, the result of sharing typical travel misfortunes such as lost luggage and rooms without showers, as well as of their shared respect and admiration for what Davies had set in motion.

“I’ve done some medical missions before that were really wonderful, but they didn’t move me the same way Ethiopia did,” said respiratory therapist Kathy Johnson. 

Community assessments: Evaluating the needs of a community is an essential first step in planning an effective project. Not only do assessments lead to projects that have the most meaningful impact and are the most sustainable, but the process builds valuable relationships, involves residents in decisions that will shape their communities, and encourages them to participate in making lasting improvements. 
Any club or district that applies for a global grant to support a humanitarian project or a vocational training team must conduct a community assessment first. The club or district should complete the Global Grants Community Assessment Results form (posted on My Rotary) and upload it with the global grant application, found in the Grant Center.
You can use district grant funds to conduct the assessment, and Rotary’s Community Assessment Tools has ideas and proven methods for assessing a community’s assets and needs, including community meetings, surveys, interviews, and focus groups.

Emilie Jean, another respiratory therapist and the youngest member of the team, talked about an experience that illustrated the challenges the team faced. She was setting up a CPAP, a device that combines room air with oxygen from a tank, when physicians brought a baby who was struggling to breathe into the nursery. At first, the baby responded well. But then the tank ran out of oxygen. 

After that, Jean recalls, the infant stopped breathing. “We were never able to get the baby back up,” she says. “The lack of resources was frustrating.”

But in the face of such difficult conditions, the hospital staff impressed the team. Davies recalls going on rounds with the doctors and nurses. “We listened to them as they went to each baby,” she says. Although the Gondar NICU is not well-equipped in comparison with Western hospitals, she says, “they are doing the very best they can with what they have.”  

Davies recalls visiting a nursery where babies were being kept warm with space heaters, even as several incubators in the room were not being used. Team member Elisa Imonti, an NICU nurse whom Davies describes as “probably the best biomedical engineer around,” discovered that the units weren’t broken, as had been assumed, but simply needed to be programmed. Imonti taught the staff to do that – and then discovered eight more units in storage.

“On our next visit, they had set up a full neonatal intensive care nursery with all of these isolettes,” says Davies. “They took what they had learned and ran with it.”

Davies feels confident the program will carry on beyond its first grant, which was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Del Mar and the Rotary Club of Gondar Fasiledes. Four Rotary clubs and two districts contributed $62,000 to the project, which received $45,250 from the Foundation to cover training, equipment, supplies, and travel costs. A second $42,000 grant to expand the reach of the program was recently approved. 

The project surpassed all of its goals. The team trained 73 instructors, more than double the initial goal of 32 – and those newly trained instructors, instead of teaching the planned 12 classes over the course of the project, ended up teaching 30, in which more than 800 nurses and midwives learned the lifesaving techniques. 

Members of the Rotary Club of Gondar Fasiledes provided logistical support and served as liaisons to hospital staff. Fary Moini, a member of the La Jolla Golden Triangle club and part of the vocational training team, says that Tegegne, the former club president, in particular went out of his way to meet the team’s needs.

“Abiyot was phenomenal,” Moini says. “Every step of the way, every time we needed him, he was there. A lot of the team’s success is because of him.”

Tegegne ran a tourism company before civil unrest in his country forced him to reinvent himself as a purveyor of bottled water. He was excited, he says, when he heard the team would be tackling infant mortality, and formed a committee in his club to handle its end of the program.

“We have seen many improvements from the project,” says Tegegne, whose daughter spent time in the Gondar NICU after being born prematurely in 2014. “The facility was very poor. Now everything is upgraded. My second boy was born 10 months ago, and it’s like a different hospital.”

Four times a year, Davies and other team members take part in a Skype conference with Rotarians and hospital administrators in Ethiopia. Kassahun Belachew, now chair of the pediatrics department, has taken over as course coordinator. During the final training team trip, Moini persuaded the three-person team in charge of the university tech center to help out with the Skype calls. Now, for about two hours, they have the best bandwidth available in northern Ethiopia.

“I think one of the most rewarding things is the relationships we have developed,” says Davies. “The Ethiopians are so committed and supportive. We are all friends on Facebook. We stay connected on a personal level, not just a professional one.”

Through Skype, Davies and the team are also working with Belachew, Tegegne, and others on a second global grant, which will provide financial support for the instructors to teach neonatal skills in regional health centers throughout the North Gondar region. 

Davies says this project has strengthened her connection to Rotary.

“I’ve found my people,” she says. “Rotary allows ordinary people to do extraordinary things.” 

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