Month: June 2018

Laura Bush speaks at rotary convention

Former first lady of the United States, Laura Bush, addresses Rotarians

By Arnold R. Grahl

Former first lady of the United States Laura Bush thanked Rotarians for their commitment to giving back to their communities during the Rotary Convention in Toronto. She also stressed the importance of education in shaping a child’s life.

Laura Bush

Bush, an advocate for literacy, education, and women’s rights, spoke about her years as a teacher at an inner city school in Houston, Texas, USA. She said that reading was not just a cause she supported as first lady, but one of the guiding passions of her life.

The wife of former U.S. President George W. Bush (2001-09), Laura Bush has advocated on key national and global issues and launched groundbreaking education and health care programs in the U.S. and abroad. She founded both the Texas Book Festival and the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., USA. The National Book Festival continues to attract more than 120,000 attendees each year.

Bush said the needs of young people are a problem all over the world, where children lack even the very basics of food, shelter, love, and safety. 

Bush’s remarks resonated with Rotarians. Many Rotary service projects promote early childhood reading or work to increase literacy rates. A breakout session later in the day, for example, discussed success stories from the Guatemala Literacy Project, a 20-year partnership between Rotarians in Maine, USA, and an educational cooperative in Guatemala. It trains teachers in dynamic teaching methods that engage their students.

Bush challenged her audience to devote themselves to a life of service to others, for this “can make all the difference in the world.” 

More convention coverage

Photo gallery


Live blog

More news

Canada a champion in polio eradication

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepts award for polio eradication

By Teresa Schmedding and Arnold Grahl
Photos by Alyce Henson

Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, was presented with Rotary’s Polio Eradication Champion Award in recognition of Canada’s contributions to polio eradication. 

Trudeau accepted the award at the Rotary International Convention in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

  1. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepts Rotary’s Polio Eradication Champion Award.

  2. RI President Ian H.S. Riseley, left, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and International Polio Plus Committee Chairman Michael McGovern. 

  3. “It’s clear that vaccination is a key part of the solution,” Trudeau said. “Protecting kids from disease keeps them healthy so they can do well in school and lift up their friends and family.”

“Let there be no doubt we are winning the battle against polio,” Trudeau said. “I want my children to grow up in a world without polio. Together I know we will make that happen.”

Canada has been a strong contributor to polio eradication efforts for decades. 

In 2017, Canada pledged US$75 million to help eradicate polio, bringing its total contributions to roughly $640 million. 

“Prime Minister Trudeau has committed Canada to remain a strong partner until polio is completely eradicated,” said RI President Ian H.S. Riseley. “With the unwavering support of the Prime Minister and the Canadian government and their strong assistance with continued vaccination efforts, I’m confident we will rid the world of polio.”

Canadian Rotary members have also contributed more than US$38 million.

“Canada’s long-standing political and financial commitment helps our dedicated health workers, mostly women, go the extra mile and vaccinate every child to build a polio-free world,” Akhil Iyer, director of the Polio Eradication Programme at UNICEF, previously said.

Rotary established the Polio Eradication Champion Award in 1995 to recognize heads of state, health agency leaders, and others who have made a significant contribution to polio eradication.

Trudeau is the third Canadian prime minister to receive the award, along with Jean Chrétien and Stephen Harper. Past recipients also include Shinzo Abe, prime minister of Japan; Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany; Xavier Bettel, prime minister of Luxembourg; Muhammadu Buhari, president of Nigeria; Neven Mimica, European commissioner for international cooperation and development; and Ban Ki-moon, former UN secretary-general.

[embedded content]

Trudeau accepts polio honor for Canada

Rotary recognizes Prime Minister Trudeau for Canada’s commitment to ending polio

TORONTO (June 27, 2018) — In acknowledgment of his government’s efforts to achieve a polio-free world, Rotary today presented Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with its Polio Eradication Champion Award at its 109th annual international convention.

Canada has been a champion in the fight to eradicate polio since 1986, when it became the first government to formally fund global polio immunization efforts. Canada has provided over CAD $750 million in support of a polio-free world, including a $100 million pledge to global eradication in 2017. Earlier this month, Canada, as host of the G7 summit, was joined by G7 leaders in affirming a commitment to polio eradication.

“Prime Minister Trudeau has committed Canada to remain a strong partner until polio is completely eradicated,” said Rotary International President Ian H.S. Riseley. “With the unwavering support of the Prime Minister and the Canadian government and their strong assistance with continued vaccination efforts, I’m confident we will rid the world of polio.”

Later this week, Rotary will announce nearly $50.12 million in support for global polio eradication efforts in countries where polio is a threat. Since 1988, Rotary has contributed more than $2.3 billion and countless volunteer hours in the fight to end polio, with Rotary clubs in Canada donating more than $66.6 million towards polio eradication. Rotary members throughout Canada travel regularly to polio-threatened countries to vaccinate children in mass immunization campaigns.

To help create awareness and support for the global effort to protect all children from polio, Rotary’s international convention will feature two virtual reality videos that will immerse viewers into the lives of those still impacted by the disease, and what it will take to eradicate it worldwide. Download the Rotary VR app in Google Play or the Apple App Store to view “I Dream of an Empty Ward.” 

Polio eradication has been Rotary’s top priority since 1985. In 1988, Rotary became a leading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, along with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and later, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 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 two countries in 2017. 

About Rotary: Rotary brings together a global network of community leaders dedicated to tackling the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges. We connect 1.2 million members from more than 35,000 Rotary clubs in almost every country in the world. Their service improves lives both locally and internationally, from helping those in need in their own communities to working toward a polio-free world. Toronto’s first Rotary convention took place 94 years ago, with subsequent conventions in 1942, 1964 and 1983. 

About the Polio Eradication Champion Award: Rotary established the award in 1995 to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to the global eradication effort. Prime Minister Trudeau is the third Canadian Prime Minister to receive the award, joining Prime Ministers Jean Chrétien and Stephen Harper. Past recipients also include Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan; Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany; Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria; Nevin Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development; and Ban Ki-moon, former UN secretary-general. 

For more information, contact: 

Amanda Federchuk:  +1 (416) 355-7410, 

Chanele Williams: +1 (847) 866-3466,

Gladiator stars reunite at End Polio Now event

‘Gladiator’ stars reunite at End Polio Now event

By Ryan Hyland

  1. Actor Russell Crowe and Italian soccer star Francesco Totti attend a special screening of the Oscar-winning movie “Gladiator” inside the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. Proceeds of the event went to End Polio Now. 

    Courtesy of CineConcerts/©Musacchio&Ianniello

  2. Co-stars of “Gladiator” Russell Crowe and Connie Nielsen walk the red carpet in Rome for a special End Polio Now fundraising event. 

    Courtesy of CineConcerts/©Musacchio&Ianniello

  3. A 65-foot HD screen was erected in the Colosseum to show “Gladiator” to more than 300 people. 

    Courtesy of CineConcerts/©Musacchio&Ianniello

  4. An End Polio Now blimp circles the Colosseum during a special screening of “Gladiator”

    Courtesy of CineConcerts/©Musacchio&Ianniello

  5. Italian actress and director Maria Grazia Cucinotta walks the red carpet at the End Polio Now fundraising event inside the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. She is also a Rotary polio ambassador. 

    Courtesy of CineConcerts/©Musacchio&Ianniello

  6. A “Gladiator” fan walks the red carpet for a special screening of the movie inside the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. Proceeds of the event went to End Polio Now. 

    Courtesy of CineConcerts/©Musacchio&Ianniello

  7. Cast and crew of “Gladiator” reunite on the red carpet at the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. 

    Courtesy of CineConcerts/©Musacchio&Ianniello

  8. Co-stars of “Gladiator” Russell Crowe, Connie Nielsen, and Tomas Arana reunite on the red carpet in Rome, Italy, during a special screening their hit moive. 

    Courtesy of CineConcerts/©Musacchio&Ianniello

  9. Event organizers distributed End Polio Now seat cushions throughout the Colosseum. 

    Courtesy of CineConcerts/©Musacchio&Ianniello

  10. The Italian Cinema Orchestra performed the entire soundtrack live to picture with the images, dialouge, and special effects. 

    Courtesy of CineConcerts/©Musacchio&Ianniello

  11. Conductor Justin Freer led the Italian Cinema Orchestra during the special screening of “Gladiator” inside the Colosseum. 

    Courtesy of CineConcerts/©Musacchio&Ianniello

Actor Russell Crowe and co-stars of the Oscar-winning movie “Gladiator” gathered 6 June for a special End Polio Now fundraising event inside the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. 

Produced by CineConcerts and presented by Forum Music Village, Gladiator in Concert: Live at the Colosseum, showed the 2000 movie on a 65-foot HD screen to more than 300 people. 

During the screening, conductor Justin Freer led the Italian Cinema Orchestra with vocal soloist and co-composer Lisa Gerrard in performing the entire soundtrack live to picture with the images, dialogue, and special effects preserved. Guests included, Italian actress and Rotary polio ambassador Maria Grazia Cucinotta, celebrity chef Cristina Bowerman, local Rotary members, Italian dignitaries, and “Gladiator” fans who purchased tickets to support Rotary’s End Polio Now campaign. The event was spearheaded by Rotarian Alberto Cecchini, a member of the Rotary Club of Roma Nord-Est, Italy.

More than $500,000 was raised for polio eradication efforts.  

Crowe, who won an Academy Award for his performance, was joined by fellow castmates Connie Nielsen and Tomas Arana. Italian soccer star Francesco Totti and some of his AS Roma teammates attended the event and signed jerseys that were auctioned off. 

“The event is not just about reuniting with Russell and other cast members … but also to raise awareness about Rotary International’s work in ending polio forever,” Nielsen said during the event. “I believe we all have the collective power and responsibility to help empower those around the world, and promoting health care is essential.”

Career diplomat exemplifies Rotary values

Former senior U.S. diplomat who worked in Peru, Venezuela, and Cuba receives 2017-18 Rotary Alumni Global Service Award  

By Arnold R. Grahl

A career diplomat who served as the U.S. government’s highest ranking representative in Cuba has received the 2017-18 Rotary Alumni Global Service Award.

John Caulfield served as a diplomat for more than 40 years, in nine countries on four continents, fostering international understanding and the protection of human rights. He has displayed a life-long commitment to community development, education, disease prevention, and other causes that Rotary also pursues.

RI President Ian H.S. Riseley, left, and RI Trustee Chair Paul Netzel, right, present John Caulfield, a career diplomat, with the  2017-18 Rotary Alumni Global Service Award Tuesday at Rotary’s Convention in Toronto.

As a 1973-74 Ambassadorial Scholar sponsored by the Rotary Club of Moorestown, New Jersey, USA, Caulfield studied at the Universidade Católica do Salvador in Brazil. During his studies, he attended Rotary club meetings and began to consider a career in diplomacy, as learning Portuguese exposed him to a new culture. 

“When we participate in an experience such as a Rotary fellowship, we end up learning as much about ourselves, and our own countries, as we do about our hosts,” Caulfield said in his acceptance remarks Tuesday at Rotary’s Convention in Toronto. 

“After being an unofficial representative of my country abroad,” he said, “it occurred to me that I would enjoy being an official representative.”

The Rotary Alumni Global Service Award celebrates alumni whose service activities and professional achievements exemplify the Rotary ideal of Service Above Self. The award was first presented in 1995 and has honored policymakers, ambassadors, educators, and humanitarians.

Caulfield’s assignments repeatedly placed him where diplomatic relations were tense. As chief of the United States Interests Section in Havana, he negotiated agreements on immigration, environmental protection, and cultural affairs that prepared the two countries for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations in 2014. 

[embedded content]

Before that, in 2008, as deputy chief of mission in Caracas, Venezuela, he took charge after then-President Hugo Chavez expelled the U.S. ambassador. Caulfield guided the embassy through a tense period, maintaining communications with governments, factions opposed to the government, and businesses.

As consul general in London, England, in 2005, he supervised services for the world’s largest American expatriate community, as well as overseeing U.S. visa services. As deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Peru in 2002, he supported Peru’s return to democracy and economic growth after years of terrorism. He led the embassy for a year after the unexpected death of the ambassador.

Caulfield has received many other awards during his career, including a Presidential Meritorious Service Award, the U.S. Department of State’s Distinguished Service Award, and the Secretary of State’s Award for Innovation in the Use of Technology. Caulfield also supports Carmen & Rey’s Kids, a private organization in Cuba that assists children with cancer. 

Recently retired, Caulfield is now a frequent speaker at conferences, universities, and civic clubs. He also consults with companies that seek to expand into the Cuban market. 

Caulfield said that interviewing thousands of people traveling to the United States early in his career helped him learn about the economies of the countries where he was assigned. He learned that it’s important for small businesses to broaden their perspectives and understand how they can participate in the world market.

“Throughout the world, I have seen firsthand how Rotarians support each other in business, and support their communities,” he said.

Caulfield said Rotary has a strong presence in all the countries he was assigned to except the most recent, Cuba. But the country is changing quickly, and he sees possibilities expanding there.

 “My hope, and expectation, is that within a few years, there will be an opportunity to re-establish Rotary in Cuba,” he said.

 • Rotarians, alumni, and Rotary program participants can nominate an alumnus for the 2018-19 award from 1 July to 15 September

Hundreds attend peace summit

Peacebuilding Summit highlights the many Rotary programs that are helping to build a more peaceful world

By Geoff Johnson

Nearly a thousand Rotarians, Rotaractors, and other peace leaders from around the world gathered Friday to discuss the power of peace at the Rotary Peacebuilding Summit. 

RI President Ian H.S. Riseley, who has made peace a focus of his term, opened the summit at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Rotary International’s Presidential Peace Conference opened today in Toronto, Canada, with speakers such as Dr. Tererai Trent and former Rotary Peace Fellow Stephanie Woollard.

More than any other organization, Riseley said, “Rotary is uniquely positioned to make a difference on peace in this world.”

Stressing the importance of both peace and the environment, Juliet Riseley challenged Rotarians to stand apart from others  and serve as “strong mediators for, and stronger advocates to build, peace.”

The summit precedes the Rotary International Convention, which starts Saturday.

Four other peace advocates spoke at the daylong summit: Stephanie Woollard, who created Seven Women; Dr. Tererai Trent, founder of the Tererai Trent International Foundation; Celina Caesar-Chavannes, parliamentary secretary to Canada’s minister of international development; and Mike Akpata, Canadian Armed Forces Reserve veteran and town councillor in LaSalle, Ontario, Canada. 

Each of them gave lessons in peace that resonated beyond the Canadian conference hall.

Trent, an author who was born in Zimbabwe and is known for her appearances on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” described how she overcame poverty and spousal abuse to earn a doctorate in the United States. 

“All I wanted was an education,” she said. Now her foundation helps thousands of African children attend school. “Education is the catalyst to peace and the pathway out of poverty,.”

Caesar-Chavannes described Canada’s efforts to make girls and women into “powerful agents of change, peace, and development.”  She told stories of how women worldwide have been forceful and effective leaders in resolving conflict. “Empower women and girls,” she said, “and they are a force for good.”

Twelve years ago, on her fifth visit to Nepal, Woollard discovered seven disabled women living in a tin shed. Since then, she and the organization she founded, which is now run by the women she first helped, have improved the lives of thousands of other Nepalese women by training them in trade skills and fostering their self-determination. “Once you empower people,” she said, “you can’t take that away from them.”

Akpata brought the audience to its feet as he issued an impassioned plea: “Don’t just dream your ideas; action them. Send a message of ‘We can.’” 

Akpata discussed his deployment to Afghanistan and was nearly in tears as he recalled the deaths of fellow Canadian soldiers. “One of the things that combat teaches you is what peace is about,” he said. 

The summit also included a dozen breakout sessions on the various ways Rotary and others can build peace through education, grants, and partnerships.

Among the highlights: 

• In the Peace Around the World session, representatives from six presidential peacebuilding conferences Rotary held in 2018 described the results of those meetings. Each focused on one of Rotary’s other five areas of focus or the environment. 

• Zachary Angelini, the manager of environmental stewardship for Timberland, the footwear and apparel manufacturer, described a sustainable development project in Haiti that showed how for-profit corporations can effectively partner with nonprofits. 

• Jeremy Dias, founder of the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, spoke about ways to counter the effects of bullying. 

Music and dance played an invigorating part in the day’s activities. 

The summit opened with Red Sky Performance, a Canadian group that mixes indigenous dance, theater, music, and other media. Blending the modern and the traditional, they concluded with a choreographed routine by Dallas Arkand, the three-time world champion of hoop dancing. 

Aaron Blomme, a former Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, used a 100-year-old violin crafted in a World War I prisoner-of-war camp to play “Liebesleid” (“Love’s Sorrow”). Deborah Hui accompanied him on piano.

And in a rousing collaboration with hundreds at the summit, the four members of the Drum Cafe led the crowd in a “symphony of peace groove,” which had the crowd rhythmically thumping and raising colorful Boomwhackers — long, differently pitched plastic tubes — and shouting, “Make peace happen!”

The Rotary Peacebuilding Summit continues Saturday with speeches from David Morley, president and CEO of UNICEF Canada; Michelle Breslauer, program director in the Americas for the Institute for Economics and Peace; and Muyatwa Sitali, a Rotary Peace Fellow alumnus.

Finding inspiration in Toronto

Canada welcomes the 2018 Rotary Convention for four days of inspiring speakers and opportunities to connect with club members from around the world  

By Arnold R. Grahl
Photos by Alyce Henson

Canada’s largest city, Toronto, is the site of Rotary’s biggest event of the year, the annual Rotary International Convention. More than 24,000 registered participants from 175 countries and geographic regions have come together to renew friendships, find inspiration, and immerse themselves in the many cultures for which Toronto is famous.

  1. RI President Ian H.S. Riseley opens the 109th Rotary International Convention.

  2. Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, Princess Anne, addresses the 2018 Rotary International Convention on 24 June in Toronto.

  3. In welcoming Rotarians to Toronto, Chief Stacey Laforme, Leader of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, noted how Canada is known as a country and Rotary is known as an international organization that supports those around the world in need. “Honestly from my heart, I tell you the Indigenous Peoples of this land and the rest of the world are in need. Stand with us, work with us, and walk with us.”

  4. Before the regular program: A tribute to Sam Owori, who passed away a few weeks into his year as president-elect in 2017. President Ian Riseley presented his widow, Norah Owori, and son with a Rotary Award of Honor for Sam posthumously.

The convention’s opening ceremony took place Sunday at the Air Canada Centre. Chief R. Stacey Laforme, of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, welcomed Rotary to Toronto, while RI President Ian H.S. Riseley reflected on the diversity that both Rotary and Toronto value and celebrate. This is the fifth time the convention has been in Toronto, second only to Chicago in number hosted.

 “One has only to spend a few hours strolling about the city to see why Rotarians have returned to Toronto again and again,” said Riseley. “Not only is it clean, beautiful, welcoming, and amazingly diverse, it is full of some of the nicest people you’ll find anywhere. Canadian niceness is legendary, and the reputation is well deserved.”

Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, Princess Anne, made a special appearance during the opening ceremony. The second child and only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Princess Royal is president of Save the Children UK, an international nongovernmental organization that focuses on health, education, protection, and disaster relief for children. A strong advocate for children’s rights, she travels the world in support of Save the Children and other charities and causes. 

Over the next four days, attendees will hear from former first lady of the United States Laura Bush, an advocate for literacy, health care, and human rights, and Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand and former administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. Bush is the wife of George W. Bush, president from 2001 to 2009. 

Other speakers include Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization; Ann Gloag, founder of the Gloag Foundation and Freedom From Fistula Foundation; and Caryl Stern, president and CEO of UNICEF USA.

Monday through Wednesday, members will have the chance to attend breakout sessions where they will find inspiration for new service projects, polish their leadership expertise, and learn skills for building stronger clubs. 

Fellowship is the biggest part of any Rotary Convention, and the week wouldn’t be complete without Host Organization Committee events welcoming attendees to Toronto, showing them the city, and giving members a chance to get together and socialize.

Follow all our convention coverage as the action happens. Find photos, videos, live blog posts, speeches, and more. Share your convention experience on social media with #Rotary18. If you can’t attend the convention, or are there but miss something, you can also watch a livestream of the general sessions and key breakout sessions, either as they happen or when you have time later.


House of Friendship: The House of Friendship in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre began with a grand opening on Saturday morning. The bustling hall is where the Rotary world comes together to share ideas, advice, and project successes. 

Laura Bush, former first lady of the United States: The wife of former President George W. Bush will speak on her work as an advocate for literacy, health care, and human rights.

Rotaract Panel Presentation: RI Director-elect Olayinka “Yinka” Babalola leads a panel of Rotaractors from Australia, Pakistan, and Uganda in discussing the future of the program during Monday’s general session.

Rotaract 50th Anniversary Luncheon: Rotarians and members of Rotaract celebrate the 50th anniversary of the program from 13:00 to 14:30 Monday in Halls F and G of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. 

ROTARYFEST: The Host Organization Committee is putting on a celebration of Canadian heritage complete with food, music, and a fireworks display at the Canadian National Exhibition Centre from 16:00 to 22:00 Tuesday. 

Food scene: If you are looking for an innovative place to eat, check out Toronto’s Kensington Market neighborhood, an eclectic mix of restaurants and cafes, reportedly one of the favorite food spots of Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to speak at Rotary convention

By Teresa Schmedding

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, will speak at the 2018 Rotary International Convention next week in Toronto.

The Prime Minister’s vision of Canada is a country where everyone has a real and fair chance to succeed. His experiences as a teacher, father, leader, and advocate for youth have shaped his dedication to Canadians – and his commitment to make Canada a place where everyone has the opportunities they need to thrive. 

The oldest of three boys, he grew up with the profound influence of his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and his mother, Margaret Trudeau. He was raised speaking both French and English, and has family roots in both Eastern and Western Canada. This background helped spark his passion for public service and shaped his conviction that diversity is Canada’s strength.  

Prime Minister Trudeau studied literature at McGill University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in 1994. He went on to complete the University of British Columbia’s education program, and spent several years teaching French, math, and other subjects in Vancouver. Teaching allowed him to make a positive impact in the lives of young people. He remains committed to hearing the voices of young Canadians, from the classroom to Parliament Hill.  

In 2002, he returned home to Montréal, where he met Sophie Grégoire, a Quebec TV and radio host. They married in 2005 and are now the proud parents of Xavier, Ella-Grace, and Hadrien.

Before entering politics, he served as the Chair of Katimavik, on the board for the Canadian Avalanche Foundation, and as an advocate for young people and the environment. As a speaker at events and conferences around the country, he encouraged young people to engage with the issues important to them and participate as active citizens. These experiences made it increasingly clear to him that the issues young Canadians care about – education, the environment, their generation’s economic prospects – needed a stronger voice.  

Prime Minister Trudeau entered politics to make change that would better serve all Canadians. In 2007, he built a community-based, grassroots campaign to win the Liberal Party nomination in the Montréal riding of Papineau. He was elected in 2008, and re-elected in 2011 and 2015.

As Prime Minister, he leads a government that works hard every day to build an economy that works for the middle class and people working hard to join it. His team is focused on creating new jobs, fostering strength out of Canada’s rich diversity, fighting climate change, and achieving reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. A proud feminist, he appointed Canada’s first gender-balanced Cabinet.



Written by Miguel A. Rozo

In 2017, the Rotary Club (RC) of Lionsgate North Vancouver spearheaded a service project in Colombia with support from the RC of Richmond Sunrise and RC of North Vancouver.  This project brought together various clubs in District 5040 and the Rotary Club of Bogota-Multicentro, Colombia, to provide computer literacy classes to children between the ages of 6 and 10 to further interest in programming and systems.

What commenced as a vision to support existing projects in Colombia to empower youth through education, culminated in a 4-month pilot project of intensive computer classes for 10 vulnerable children in El Codito, a shanty town on the peripheries of Bogota, Colombia.

Why computer literacy?

The future of work is becoming increasingly affected by technology, globalization, and increasing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) literacy is essential to prepare the next generation to be able to compete in local and global marketplaces.

Lower-income sectors of society are most vulnerable to the immediate changes that will come as a result of this digital revolution and increasing automation. For instance, the jobs that are at highest risk of automation are those that are labour intensive and repetitive in nature.

Empowering youth, particularly the most vulnerable, during their most formative years will ensure that all can reap the benefits of this digital revolution.

Rotary involvement

This project came to fruition thanks to the contributions from the Rotary Club (RC) of Lions Gate North Vancouver and contributing RC Clubs – Richmond Sunrise and North Vancouver. Thanks to the mentorship and guidance of past club president Elizabeth Chong – past Vancouver Rotaract club president, Miguel A Rozo – was able to devise an effective strategy to deliver a project that would be meaningful while ensuring the active participation of partners on the ground.

Miguel delivered a number of talks at various Rotary Clubs in District 5040 (British Columbia), RC Lions Gate took an interest in supporting an endeavour to empower youth in Colombia through education as a means to support peace. The search for support began during the time of peace talks between the FARC armed group and the Colombian government, which eventually culminated with a peace treaty that ended hostilities between both sides after over 50 years of fighting. The road to peace includes healing, and a commitment to make education accessible to all, including youth and the most vulnerable.

As a formerly internally displaced refugee from Colombia, Miguel experienced the Colombian conflict closely and learned first-hand the importance of education to empower youth.

In addition to the contributions from Rotary Clubs, Rotary District 5040 also approved a district grant, bringing the total amount fundraised for this project to $5,000 CAD.

Fundraising for the Colombia education project in 2017. Elizabeth Chong and Miguel A. Rozo pictured above.

Agents of change in Colombia

The concept of the classes along with the deliverables are all the result of efforts by grassroots organizations and volunteers. The curriculum and overall deliverables of the project were designed by the Rotary Club of Bogota-Multicentro in partnership with the FUNTRAVIDI foundation, a charity group founded in El Codito that supports community initiatives for children, youth at risk, and the elderly.

The company chosen to deliver these classes was Arukay, a contractor with over 10 years of experience providing this type of training to children.

RC Bogota-Multicentro administered the funds and created the Jóvenes por la Transformación Social (Youth for Social Transformation), an interdisciplinary group of volunteer consultants who carried out the project, execution and the evaluation of the project.

El Codito

El Codito is a shanty neighbourhood on the hills of Bogota. Colombia’s capital city is home to many informal residents in neighbourhoods (barrios) such as this one, which are often poorly serviced and have higher crime rates. Children are especially vulnerable since they are inevitably exposed to these activities from an early age.

The proposal of extracurricular classes by the FUNTRAVIDI foundation arose in response to the need to provide children with a space for recreation and learning after the end of their school day. The foundation’s children often attend class on a “half-day mode,” meaning that they can have up to five hours per day of unsupervised adult accompaniment which can make them vulnerable to narcotics consumption and gang-related criminal activity.

The purpose of the classes was as a result two-fold: empower children to be able to compete in the digital economy, and keeping children safe from the streets through education.

Despite the troubles of this neighbourhood, many of its residents are solely trying to make ends. Many have been driven to these hills by the increasing cost of living in Bogota or by the decades-long civil war that has affected this country. Colombia has the world’s largest population of internally displaced refugees. A 2017 UNHRC report estimated this figure to be at 7.4 million people.

This is an astonishing high number of people who have been displaced from their homes, and many come from the countryside to settle in urban areas.

A comprehensive approach to development and empowerment

The resilience of the people from El Codito in the midst of so much despair is what led to creation of the FUNTRAVIDI. It is a neighbourhood of high vulnerability, where women are susceptible to abuse, where there is an education deficiency, and where many still do not know how to read or write.

FUNTRAVIDI initially started working with children, since they were the ones that began presenting the most difficulty in mathematics, science, and reading. It was not long after that the charity organization began to see that the low levels of engagement and poor concentration were also tied to overcrowded family conditions, lack of opportunities, and malnutrition. The foundation as a result began to engage the community-at-large, welcoming children, at-risk youth, pregnant mothers, and the elderly.

Arukay and design thinking

Arukay was originally designed at one of the innovation labs at Harvard University and was over the years customized to deliver STEM classes to children in Colombia.

The contractor provided all the equipment and training to the 10 children enrolled in the program. The children were chosen by the FUNTRAVIDI foundation after promoting the project to the community at large. Parent involvement also played a role in the recruitment of children and delivery of classes.

Arukay’s objective is to instill critical thinking and design thinking to empower and promote innovation.

Classes took place every Saturday from 1:30pm-5:30pm for a total of 64 hours of instruction from June-August 2017 following extensive work by the group of volunteer consultants put together by the RC of Bogota-Multicentro and FUNTRAVIDI foundation. These consultants were comprised of members of local universities, teaching staff, community action groups, and other Rotary club members.

Minecraft EDU: Junior engineer course

Arukay modified a version of Minecraft, which is a sandbox video game created and designed by Swedish game designer Markus “Notch” which allows players to build a variety of structures and worlds through a 3D generated module. Other aspects of the game include resource gathering, exploration, and crafting among others.

The classes that took place were divided into three sections, namely Minecraft EDU I, II and III.

Minecraft EDU I: Children were exposed to the world of sustainable structure building with limited resources. Spatial thinking was an important aspect of this stage of the course. Students were then introduced to the early aspects of programming.

Minecraft EDU II: Programming and Redstone – Following level I, students were introduced to the foundations of programming. Conditional functions such as “If” and “while” were taught so students had the skills to solve tasks via lineal programming.

Minecraft EDU III: The last stage of the course involved students working on a semi-different structure of Minecraft in which they programmed their own “mods.” In this level, children moved on from being consumers of technology, into creators of their own technology “mods.”

The post-project evaluation determined that the level of success was high. The RC of Bogota-Multicentro’s monitoring report noted that there was a satisfactory advance through all the stages of the classes. Students were awarded a certificate following completion of the course.

Children of El Codito obtaining lessons on Minecraft EDU and graduating with a certificate from Arukay. 2017, Colombia.

Moving Forward

The FUNTRAVIDI foundation, in partnership with the RC of Bogota-Multicentro have already engaged in other projects aside from youth empowerment and education. The Minecraft EDU project forms part of the larger picture to empower all the residents of El Codito.

Furthermore, this project’s sustainability targets have room for improvement. The initial proposal called for local adults from El Codito to be trained on the basics of teaching the Minecraft EDU classes so they would learn a new skillset that would provide for additional income, while furthering these classes to more children in the neighbourhood. Due to time constraints, this was not achieved in full, as a result there is yet another opportunity to further the impact of these classes and increase their sustainability impact.

We hope that this will only be the beginning of a longstanding friendship between our respective Rotary Clubs in Canada and Colombia. Yours in Rotary.

Toronto convention photo gallery

[unable to retrieve full-text content]

Scroll to top