Month: January 2018

Rotary gives millions in grants to fight polio

Rotary gives $53.5 million to help eradicate polio

EVANSTON, Ill. (Jan. 25, 2018) — With 22 confirmed cases in 2017 to date, and just one case in 2018, the world is on the brink of eradicating polio, a vaccine-preventable disease that once paralyzed hundreds of thousands of children each year.

Rotary gives $53.5 million to help eradicate polio and challenges the world to continue the fight to end the disease.

Photo by Khaula Jamil

Rotary is giving $53.5 million in grants to support immunization and surveillance activities led by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).

More than half of the funds will support efforts to end polio in two of the three countries where polio remains endemic:

  • Afghanistan: $12.03 million
  • Pakistan: $19.31 million

Further funding will support efforts to keep 10 vulnerable countries polio-free:

  • Cameroon: $1.61 million
  • Central African Republic: $428,000
  • Chad: $2.33 million
  • The Democratic Republic of Congo: $6.48 million
  • Ethiopia: $1.82 million
  • Iraq: $2 million
  • Niger: $1.71 million
  • Somalia: $3.29 million
  • South Sudan: $835,300
  • Syria: $428,000

An additional $731,338 will fund research to be conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), and another $518,000 will go toward technical assistance in West and Central Africa.

While significant strides have been made against the disease, polio remains a threat in hard-to-reach and underserved areas and conflict zones. Despite a historically low case count, as long as a single child has polio, all children are at risk, which underscores the need for continued funding and political commitment to eradication. 

Rotary has committed to raising $150 million over the next three years, which will be matched 2-to-1 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, yielding $450 million for polio eradication activities, including immunization and surveillance. 

Rotary started its polio eradication program PolioPlus in 1985, and in 1988 became a partner in the GPEI, along with WHO, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation later became a partner. Since the initiative launched, the incidence of polio has plummeted by more than 99.9 percent, from about 350,000 cases in 1988 to just 22 confirmed cases in 2017 (as of 25 January). Rotary has contributed a total of more than $1.7 billion — including matching funds from the Gates Foundation — and countless volunteer hours to protect more than 2.5 billion children in 122 countries from polio. 

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. Visit and for more about Rotary and its efforts to eradicate polio. Video and still images are available on the Rotary Media Center.


 Contact: Audrey Carl,, 847-866-3424

Healing scars of war

In the mountains of Poland, 26 children traumatized by violence get a chance to be kids again at Rotary camp

By Iuliia Mendel
Produced by Monika Lozinska

Beneath the emotional scars of living in a Ukrainian war zone, Mykyta Berlet flashes the same mischievousness of any other 12-year-old boy headed to camp.

He wants to laugh, play pranks and on the last night of camp “we will cover everyone with toothpaste,” he says excitedly.

Mykyta and 25 other Ukrainian youths headed to the resort town of Zakopane in the foothills of southern Poland are naturally focused on fun. But their two-week respite organized by Rotary members has a higher purpose: To help the children heal and cope with the trauma they may encounter when they go home.  

Each camper has a parent or sibling killed or injured in the fighting in Ukraine. Psychologists at camp will guide them along the way during an itinerary that mixes escape and therapy.

Olga Zmiyivska, a member of the Rotary Club of Kharkiv Multinational in Ukraine, has brought children to the camp for two years and has witnessed its impact.

“After the trip, they are more willing to make contact and open their hearts,” she said.

War came into their homes

Thousands have died and millions have been displaced by the fighting between pro-Russia rebels and the Ukrainian military in eastern Ukraine. 

Growing up in the shadow of that nearly four-year conflict, most of the campers don’t remember a life without war. They tell unrealistic stories about battles and keep silent about real horrors. Some are guarded and hypervigilant. Others endure sleepless nights or nightmares. A few withdraw and emotionally shut down.

In Zakopane, nestled in the scenic Tatra Mountains, Rotary members give the children a chance to heal in a peaceful setting. The children sleep in comfortable cabins along a pristine lake flanked by green, rolling hills.

The program, called Vacation 2017 Zakopane: Well-Being for Ukrainian Kids, includes traditional camp activities and field trips along with support from mental health professionals. More than 100 children have attended over the past four years.

Psychologist and art therapist Olha Hrytsenko helps children work through their grief at Vacation 2017 Zakopane: Well-Being for Ukrainian Kids.

This year’s campers visited a mountain village to learn about local traditions, toured historic Krakow, and saw the castles, salt mines and hot springs of southern Poland. The routine activities are simple but powerful.

Yuriy Paschalin and Vlad Tsepun, both 12, became close friends after their fathers were killed by snipers. The field trips helped both boys start to relax and act like typical, curious children.

“This program allows these kids to stay kids and to live children’s emotions,” said psychologist and art therapist Olha Hrytsenko.

“They will observe and absorb another culture, attitude, and language, (and) will be able to compare and make conclusions about what is good and what is bad. It will help them to find themselves.”

Breaking their silence

When asked about their families, the children often talk about their parents, siblings, grandparents, and even their pets. Then the looks in their eyes change. Glints of childish fun disappear, along with any fussing or fidgeting. Instead, there is obvious pain behind their faces. And silence.

Like many children, 11-year-old Dima Tkachuk doesn’t want to talk about his dad’s death. Talking about death makes it all too real.

His father was killed in a military conflict zone; Dima’s mother also serves in the Ukrainian army and has been sent to the same area where Dima’s father was killed.

A person will always remember the loss of someone whom he or she loved. The task is not to forget but to find the essence of this loss and to learn how to be happy after this.

Olha Hrytsenko

art therapist

Dima, though, shared a glimpse of the stress on his family. He explained that since their mother left to join the fighting, his 18-year-old brother has turned to smoking and drinking alcohol.  

“Sometimes he does things that one cannot be proud of,” Dima said.

The psychologists and camp staff know not to pressure the children to open up. Instead they build trust through group games, outdoor activities, art therapy, and individual counseling with psychologists.

Children are more vulnerable to the psychological trauma of war, often causing them to withdraw, experts say. Re-establishing emotional connections is critical to healing. If left untreated, isolated children are more likely to experience domestic violence, addiction, and job loss later in life, research shows.

When a breakthrough does come, therapists listen or just sit quietly as the tears flow.

“It always takes time to survive loss. This time is needed to run the processes that we name ‘grief work,’ ” says Hrytsenko.

“A person will always remember the loss of someone whom he or she loved. The task is not to forget but to find the essence of this loss and to learn how to be happy after this.”

Dreams and beliefs

At the Zakopane camp, Valerie Tkachuk, 12, from Dnipro, Ukraine, was slow to trust others. Her answers were often short and sharp.

Her father was injured in combat while her pregnant mother was home caring for the family. Valerie shrank into herself, stopped communicating with peers, and started sleeping in her father’s sleeping bag on the balcony.

“That year was the most difficult in my life,” Valerie said.

She was asked to close her eyes and remember the most pleasant memory of camp in an effort to make her smile for a photo.

Eyes closed, Valerie started crying and opened up in a way she had not previously at camp.

“I am disturbed about my dad, as he is stressed for mom. And he is forbidden to have any stress, as he can have a heart attack,” Valerie said.

Valerie dreams of following her father’s path and becoming a military officer. 

Many children who grow up with war are drawn to the military. Their vulnerability, feelings of helplessness, and lack of trust make the strong image of a soldier appealing, experts say. 

Dima is set on a career in the army. Sasha Kruglikov, 9, whose father was killed in the conflict, already views himself as a soldier. He likes wrestling and karate and said he wants to defend his country when he grows up.

Creating a place to heal

When the conflict in Ukraine began in early 2014, Rotary members stepped up to help.

“We thought, why not organize vacations for kids whose childhood was affected by war,” says Ryszard Luczyn, a member of the Rotary Club of Zamosc Ordynacki, Poland.

Barbara Pawlisz, of the Rotary Club of Sopot International in Poland, and Łuczyn got support from the Poland-Ukraine Intercountry Committee. Rotary’s Intercountry Committees are networks of Rotary clubs in at least two countries, and they often work together on service projects or to foster peace between the residents of countries in conflict. Rotary clubs in Belarus, Poland and Ukraine participate in the network.

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The Well-Being for Ukrainian Kids project started in 2014 with mixed results. The children, ages eight to 17, didn’t always get along. Their war trauma was recent, and communication between the age groups was difficult.

The Rotary members recognized adjustments were necessary, but they were not deterred. 

Since that initial effort, organizers narrowed the age range for campers to six to 12, and the number of Polish Rotary clubs that support the project has more than doubled to 83. 

Rotary District 2231 in Poland raised money to pay the travel and lodging expenses of the children and their caretakers. The project has also drawn support from clubs in Sweden and Slovakia. Ukrainian clubs were involved in selecting participants from all areas of the country. 

“It is always very difficult to find affected children in small towns and villages. So we appealed to all the Ukrainian Rotary clubs to help us,” says Anna Kaczmarczyk, a member of the Rotary Club of Zamosc Ordynacki, Poland. “Now we have children not only from large cities, but also from distant parts of the country.”

Does it work?

The changes in the children are obvious, Rotary members say.

Anna Kaczmarczyk, a member of the Rotary Club of Zamosc Ordynacki, Poland, is the first person to meet the children when they start their trip.

Kaczmarczyk is the first person to meet the children in Lviv, Ukraine, when they start their trip. They may be nervous, which can make them irritable and aggressive.

But after the program, they are relaxed, smiling, filled with a new self-confidence.

“We continue this program because we know how these children react, how they change, how they become more open to the world, and how they look at the world the way it should be for a child,” Kaczmarczyk says. “War takes from them their childhood. And they still have their children’s dreams.”

After the children return home, they send letters and pictures about their camp experiences to program organizers and Rotary members.

Children have drawn portraits, colorful scenes of nature, castles and the kings and queens who live in them, and dragons. Sometimes, they write letters about what they observed. One girl marveled at the clean streets and friendly people.

Whether they are magical stories or practical observations, the children carry warm memories home with them.

Kids who experience violence can be prone to violence themselves; this program shows them a different path.

“After such traumas as car crash, natural disasters, [or] wars, people often go to two extremes: Either they stop being afraid of everything or they start being scared of everything. I think these children will belong to the first category,” psychologist Hrytsenko said.

Saving mothers and babies

Have you ever decided to help someone and spent months planning the project, motivating and inspiring people about it, and securing funding for it? And what if you realized, once you’d put in all the work, that although the project was a nice idea, it wasn’t what the community really needed? 

That’s just what happened to a group of Rotarians from New Zealand when they set out to build a well in Mongolia. 

A project launched by the Rotary Club of Waimate  is credited with saving hundreds of lives through childbirth training in Mongolia. The team includes, from left, Jo Palmer, Julie Dockrill, Samantha Turner, midwife Bev Te Huia, Gary Dennison, and   Amarjargal Luvsandagva.

But instead of bringing clean water to a single community, the Rotary Club of Waimate developed a pioneering childbirth education program that has become a national model and that’s saved the lives of hundreds of mothers and babies.

“Maternal health … seemed to fit best with the needs of Mongolia,” says Gary Dennison, leader of the club’s Mongolian Maternal Health Project.

Dennison says the initial link to Mongolia came through a friend’s son, a geologist, who was working in the country’s mining industry and who raised the possibility of creating an improved freshwater supply for a needy community there.

But then the geologist’s wife had a chance meeting with an Australian who worked in a Mongolian maternity hospital, and that encounter led to a plan in 2013 to deliver much-needed childbirth education to Mongolian health workers to help reduce the country’s high infant and maternal mortality rates.

Infant mortality in Mongolia

  • 14.00 times

    the rate children born in developing countries are more likely to die in the first month

  • 300.00 times

    the rate women in developing countries are more likely to die in childbirth

Mongolia knew it had a problem. Mothers and babies were dying at an alarming rate. The government had signed the World Health Organization and UNICEF’s childbirth education agreement and had endorsed a “healthy mother — healthy baby” plan of action in 2011. The goal was to reduce infant mortality to 15 out of every 1,000 live births, compared with the 1990 mortality rate of more than 60 newborns out of every 1,000.  

The causes of infant death were clear: asphyxia, respiratory distress, and congenital defects . And the solution was equally clear: better childbirth care for both mothers and babies, because the health and survival of mothers directly affects the likelihood that their children will live to their second birthday. Babies whose mothers die during the first six weeks of their lives are far more likely to die before their second birthday than babies whose mothers survive, according to UNICEF

So Dennison and other Rotarians got to work, and in four short months, they had a plan .

Three phases to sustainable change

The Rotary club first dispatched a vocational training team consisting of a leader and five midwives from New Zealand and Australia. The team conducted training at three centers in various parts of the country and developed a childbirth education manual, which was translated into Mongolian.

Rotarians from New Zealand trained more than 300 maternal health care workers with three-day childbirth education courses and a one-day emergency skills clinic in Mongolia.

“Mongolia had just signed up to the World Health Organisation and UNICEF’s childbirth education agreement,” Dennison says. “So our timing in 2013 was absolutely perfect.”

Phase two of the Rotarians’ work was to bring a Mongolian health care worker to New Zealand to observe pre- and postnatal health care there.

The club selected Amarjargal Luvsandagva, a midwife and health care manager at Maternity Hospital No. 1 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital. She spent a month in 2015 learning about the New Zealand maternal health system, both in hospitals and in the community.

The impact has been far greater than Amarjargal simply learning English and travelling to New Zealand, Dennison says. She’s now regularly attending training seminars and maternal health conferences around the world, including recently at Oxford University in England, Dennison says.

Mongolia’s infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births

2004: 55.45

2005: 53.79

2006: 52.12

2007: 42.65

2008: 41.24

2009: 39.88

2010: 38.56

2011: 37.26

2012: 36

2013: 34.7

2014 : 23.15

Source: National Science Foundation

After the 2013 visit, the team knew they had unfinished business in Mongolia so for Phase Three, they made a second trip to deliver further childbirth education and an updated manual with professional translations. 

The team also expanded the project to include a new training module in emergency clinical skills. To put the need into perspective, Dennison says, most Mongolian frontline maternal health care workers hadn’t even been trained in basic resuscitation.

Phase three became a reality when Dennison, along with Julie Dockrill, of the Rotary Club of Timaru, New Zealand; Jo Palmer; Samantha Turner, of the Rotary Club of Gisborne, in Victoria, Australia; and midwife Bev Te Huia, traveled to Mongolia with their new childbirth manual.

In just three weeks, with support from Rotary District 3450 in Mongolia, they trained more than 300 maternal health care workers with three-day childbirth education courses and a one-day emergency skills clinic.

“We were a bit blown away by the number of doctors, obstetricians – quite senior doctors – who were at the classes, saying they needed an update,” Dennison says. “And the manual, well that blew them away.”

Training spreads throughout Mongolia

Dennison is proud of the project’s rapid expansion and the evidence of its sustainability. The impact health care workers they trained.

For example, shortly after her training, the chief maternity lecturer at Ulaanbaatar University shared her new knowledge and skills at a session with 500 students. 

“That was a graphic display of how far the project’s impact is spreading, and how quickly,” Dennison says. “It’s like finger-like tendrils that are going out in all directions, and you can’t even guess as to the total effect it’s having. … It’s the snowball effect in action before your eyes.”

Julie Dockrill, of the Rotary Club of Timaru, New Zealand, traveled to Mongolia to train health care experts in childbirth education.

The childbirth manual was so good that the Mongolian Ministry of Health endorsed and adopted it as the nationwide standardized training curriculum for maternal and infant care.

The ministry also has made childbirth education compulsory for all of Mongolia’s expectant mothers. They’re now required to attend a minimum of three classes in order to qualify for the new welfare child support payments program.

Dennison attributes the project’s success in part to the hands-on, interactive training the Rotarian team has delivered. 

“The team delivers very much the interactive, participatory, experiential learning experience. The people in Mongolia weren’t at all used to that — they’re used to being ‘talked at’ in training,” he says. 

And the project’s impact, Dennison says, has been “mindboggling.”  

That gave us warm fuzzies. When you leave, you leave knowing you’ve made a difference and left a legacy, and that’s what we join Rotary for.

Gary Dennison

leader of Mongolian Maternal Health Project of the Rotary Club of Waimate

Between 2013 and 2015, Mongolia’s infant mortality rate dropped 66 percent, while maternal deaths plunged more than 70 percent, Dennison says.

“That gave us warm fuzzies,” Dennison says. “When you leave, you leave knowing you’ve made a difference and left a legacy, and that’s what we join Rotary for.” 

The Rotarian team from New Zealand’s District 9980 is planning a final trip to Mongolia in 2018 to build on the emergency obstetrics and clinical skills training, with an emphasis on resuscitation — and saving more lives.

“It sure as heck is already making a big difference. The statistics tell the story,” Dennison says.

• Read more about Rotary District 9980

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)


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