Month: July 2018

A reason to smile

Since 1993, Rotarians in Chile and the United States have teamed up to provide life-altering reconstructive surgeries

By Diana Schoberg
Photos by Daniela Prado Sarasúa

Ricardo Román was shopping with his wife at a department store in Chile in 2012 when a woman in her early 20s approached him. He didn’t recognize her, he confesses through an interpreter, but there were two good reasons: He had last seen her more than a decade earlier – and her smile had changed drastically.

  1. Surgeons Lena Pinillos, left, and James Lehman, talk with a father about his child.

  2. The team evaluated 250 potential patients; the team selected patients based on need and the complexity of each surgery.

  3. A mother finishes paperwork for her son’s surgery.

  4. Lehman wears fanciful scrubs to get the kids to smile.

  5. Preparing for surgery.

  6. An anxious father waits on the floor in a hospital corridor; with so many surgeries, there are often more people than chairs. 

  7. Cleft lip and palate have a hereditary component, but their precise cause is unclear.

  8. During the February session, 82 patients underwent surgery. 

  9. A mother comforts her child.

  10. The team includes surgeons, nurses, an anesthesiologist, and a speech pathologist, as well as Rotaractors and Rotarians who handle logistics and translation.

Román, a member of the Rotary Club of Reñaca, Chile, is the national coordinator of a  program that has helped thousands of children in Chile with cleft lips, cleft palates, and other birth defects – including this stranger who now wanted to give Román a hug.

“She told me, ‘This is my Rotarian smile,’” he recalls, his voice full of emotion. “It was a very gratifying moment.”

The project got its start in 1993 when San Francisco (California) Rotarians, led by Peter Lagarias and Angelo Capozzi, sponsored a medical mission that performed reconstructive surgeries in Chile. That was the beginning of Rotaplast, a program that evolved into a nonprofit organization that has since sent teams to 26 countries.

In 2004, Rotarians in Chile assumed leadership of the program in their country. Over the years, Chilean doctors became more involved and eventually the program expanded to include breast reconstruction for cancer patients.

“It’s a great commentary on Rotary that you’ve got people in a Spanish-speaking country and people in an English-speaking country working together to get things accomplished,” says James Lehman, a plastic surgeon who joined the Rotary Club of Fairlawn, Ohio, USA, after working with Rotarians in Chile.

She told me, ‘This is my Rotarian smile.’ It was a very gratifying moment.

Ricardo Román

Rotary Club of Reñaca, Chile

In February, Lehman and a team of U.S. surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nurses visited Iquique, a Pacific port city and tourist hot spot about 80 miles south of Chile’s northern border. With financial help from the nearby Collahuasi copper mine, local Rotarians coordinate and pay for the medical team’s food, lodging, and in-country transportation. (Visiting doctors pay for their flights between the United States and Chile; an Ohio-based nonprofit funds the travel of some support staff.)

More than 250 potential patients lined up early on a Saturday morning outside Ernesto Torres Galdames Hospital to try to get a spot on the team’s schedule. They had come from all over Chile, including a family who had traveled from Concepción, 1,400 miles to the south. About 600 children are born each year in Chile with cleft lips and palates, and though the government established eight centers to treat those abnormalities, the long wait list means corrective surgery can lie years in the future. “The demand exceeds the supply of people to take care of the patients,” Lehman explains.

Using four operating rooms – one for cleft lip or palate, one for ear reconstruction, one for breast reconstruction, and one for other issues – the team got to work. Patients were chosen based on need and on the complexity of the surgery. By the end of their stay, the surgeons and their staff had operated on 82 patients. In many cases, however, the complete reconstruction may take multiple surgeries, and some patients return several years in a row to complete the procedure.

But the final surgery doesn’t always signal an end to the relationship between a patient and Rotary. Román, who has coordinated the program since 2004, recalls an occasion involving the young woman he encountered in the department store. At Román’s invitation, she described her transformational cleft lip and palate surgeries at a Rotary district conference in Chile in 2012. Moved by her story, many in the crowd of 300 broke into tears, dazzled by her Rotarian smile.

• Read more stories from The Rotarian

Rotary People of Action

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Reef revisited

In the calm blue waters of Lamon Bay lies a source of pride for local fishermen and a submerged salute to Rotary: an artificial reef in the shape of a Rotary wheel.

The wheel has helped restore the local fishing industry, which was devastated by large-scale commercial fishing vessels that used dynamite, cyanide, and fine mesh nets from the late 1990s through the early 2000s.

Fishing is considered the lifeblood of the area’s coastal villages, including Balubad, Lubi, Talaba, and Kilait, and for years, village fishermen fought to protect the waters that fed their families.

In 2005, the fishermen turned to the Rotary Club of Atimonan, Quezon Province, Philippines, for help. They decided to build an artificial reef. 

The club partnered with the Rotary Club of Madera, California, USA, on a Rotary Foundation grant to help fund the project, which would cost more than $1 million. 

They built the reef in the shape of a Rotary wheel, which just happens to have plenty of surface area for coral to grow on and plenty of nooks for fish to shelter in. Made of steel-reinforced concrete, it’s 600 meters from the coastline, measures about 4 meters tall and 21 meters wide (13 by 70 feet), and weighs several tons.

Today, the wheel, touted as the biggest artificial reef in the Philippines, is covered with coral and has withstood several typhoons. It attracts fish, including jacks, surgeonfish, mangrove red snappers, groupers, longfin bannerfish, flounders, pompanos, batfish, and barracudas, among other marine creatures. 

“Before the reef, the fishermen were barely able to catch a kilo [2.2 pounds] of fish apiece,” says Oca Chua, past president of the Rotary Club of Atimonan and the project’s chair. “Today they catch fish weighing up to 2 kilos apiece a day.” 

Protecting the fish has been just one benefit of the effort. The reef also became a tourist attraction that boosted the local economy. Fishermen build bamboo rafts and rent them to tourists who visit the reef to eat, rest, dive, and even feed the fishes. 

• This story originally appeared in Philippine Rotary magazine

Rotary world gathers in Atlanta to celebrate 100 years

2017 Rotary Convention offers five days of inspiring speakers, exciting events, and opportunities to connect with club members from around the world  

By Arnold R. Grahl

Rotary’s biggest get-together of the year is underway. More than 33,000 members from 174 countries have gathered in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, to renew friendships, find inspiration, and celebrate The Rotary Foundation’s 100 years of Doing Good in the World.

The Rotary Foundation Centennial bell, whose resounding clang marked the convention’s official start, was handcrafted in Italy by the Marinelli brothers.

The 2017 Rotary Convention’s opening ceremony took place Sunday at the Georgia World Congress Center, and included the presentation of the centennial bell. This special bell was forged at a 1,000-year-old foundry in Agnone, Italy, in honor of the Foundation’s centennial. The presentation marked the start of a five-day centennial celebration, which includes a book signing, a photo exhibit, and an enormous birthday party.

During the opening session, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal welcomed Rotary to Atlanta, and RI President John F. Germ emphasized opportunities for making connections during the convention.

“I hope that, as busy as all of you are going to be, you still make time for what might just be the most important part of every convention: meeting new people, and getting to know your fellow Rotarians,” Germ said.

Indian philanthropist Rajashree Birla, chair of the Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiatives and Rural Development named for her late husband, pledged another $1 million for Rotary’s efforts to eradicate polio. Birla has already contributed more than $10 million to the effort. Birla’s company, Aditya Birla Group, has revenues greater than $40 billion.

Over the next four days, attendees will also hear from Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, about progress on our pledge to rid the world of polio. Ashton Kutcher, cofounder of Thorn, will be part of a panel discussion on human trafficking and the need to end modern slavery.  

Other speakers include WWE Superstar, actor, and Rotary polio ambassadors John Cena and golf icon Jack Nicklaus.

  • 33000.00

    convention attendees

  • 174.00

    countries and geographic areas represented

Monday through Wednesday, members will have the chance to attend breakout sessions where they’ll find inspiration for new service projects, polish their leadership expertise, and learn skills for building stronger clubs. Find the complete breakout session schedule  and slides from workshops.

Fellowship is the biggest part of any Rotary Convention, and the week wouldn’t be complete without Host Organization Committee  events welcoming attendees to Atlanta, showing off the city, and giving members a chance to get together and socialize. Check the committee’s site for the latest information.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that when two Rotarians get together, and start talking about service–there’s just no telling where that might lead,” said Germ. 

Follow all our convention coverage as the action happens. Find photos, videos, live blog posts, speeches, and more. And share your convention experience on social media with #Rotary17.

View Slideshow

Outgoing Rotary International President John Germ and his wife, Judy, reflect on their year in office and lessons learned from visiting Rotary projects around the world.


Candlelight Vigil to End Slavery and Human Trafficking: Rotary members joined Atlanta residents at a candlelight vigil Saturday night to bring attention to human trafficking. The program featured Dorsey Jones, who told how she survived trafficking in metropolitan Atlanta. Participants observed a moment of silence for victims.

Walk/Run to End Polio Now: Rotary members took part in a 3K walk/run around Centennial Olympic Park Saturday morning to raise funds and awareness for Rotary’s efforts to eradicate polio from the world.

House of Friendship: The House of Friendship opened with a grand parade on Saturday morning. The bustling hall is where the Rotary world comes together to share ideas, best practices, and project successes. 

Bill Gates, keynote speaker: Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will speak about our joint effort to eradicate polio.

Panel Presentation on the End of Modern Slavery: Ashton Kutcher, cofounder of Thorn, actor, entrepreneur, tech investor, producer, and philanthropist, will lead a panel discussion with Gary Haugen, CEO of International Justice Mission, and Bob Corker, U.S. Senator. 

“One Small Act: A Virtual Reality Experience”: Thousands will gather to watch Rotary’s new virtual reality film and participate in one of the largest ever simultaneous VR viewings. Rotarians will use Google’s virtual reality viewer, Cardboard, to join the extraordinary journey of a child whose world has been torn apart by conflict.

Jack Nicklaus, keynote speaker: Jack Nicklaus, golf icon, philanthropist, and Rotary ambassador for polio eradication, will speak about sports, philanthropy, and the fight to end polio for good.

The Rotary Foundation’s 100th Birthday Party: What’s a party without cake and ice cream? Guests will enjoy both as they celebrate the Foundation’s 100th birthday. 

Everyone you meet here this week, no matter how different they look, no matter where they’re from and what language they speak—everyone here is a part of your Rotary family. So don’t be shy. You might just find yourself a new friend, or your club a new partner. It all starts with a smile, and a hello—from one Rotarian, to another.

John F. Germ

Rotary International president

Incoming Rotary president challenges clubs to make a difference 

By Ryan Hyland

View Slideshow

See photos from this year’s International Assembly in San Diego, California, USA.

Rotary International President-elect Ian H.S. Riseley made the case on Monday that protecting the environment and curbing climate change are essential to Rotary’s goal of sustainable service.

Riseley, a member of the Rotary Club of Sandringham, Victoria, Australia, unveiled the 2017-18 presidential theme, Rotary: Making a Difference, to incoming district governors at Rotary’s International Assembly in San Diego, California, USA.

Environmental degradation and global climate change are serious threats to everyone, Riseley said. “They are having a disproportionate impact on those who are most vulnerable, those to whom Rotary has the greatest responsibility. Yet environmental issues rarely register on the Rotary agenda,” he said.

“The time is long past when environmental sustainability can be dismissed as not Rotary’s concern. It is, and must be, everyone’s concern,” he said.

The president-elect challenged every Rotary club to make a difference by planting a tree for each of its members between the start of the Rotary year on 1 July and Earth Day on 22 April 2018. Trees remove carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the air, which slows global warming.

“It is my hope that the result of that effort will be far greater than the environmental benefit that those 1.2 million new trees will bring,” Riseley said. “I believe the greater result will be a Rotary that recognizes our responsibility not only to the people on our planet, but to the planet itself.”

Securing Rotary’s future

In his address to the 2017-18 class of district governors, Riseley also urged clubs to improve their gender balance and lower the average age of their members.

Only 22 percent of Rotary’s members are women, up from 13 percent 10 years ago. At that rate, Riseley said, it will take another three decades for Rotary to achieve gender parity.

We know that we can do more together than we could ever hope to do alone.

“Three decades is far too long to wait to achieve a Rotary that reflects the world in which we live. We need to make it a priority now,” he said.

Noting that 103 of the 539 incoming governors are women, Riseley said they are the type of women we need in Rotary, “leaders who will help Rotary connect with, and represent, and better serve, all of the members of all our communities.”

Riseley also believes it is imperative that clubs find ways to attract and engage younger members. Today only 5 percent of reported members are under 40, and a majority of members are over 60, Riseley told the audience.

“Consider what Rotary stands to look like 10 or 20 years from now if we don’t get very serious, very soon, about bringing in younger members,” Riseley said.

Clubs will make a difference this year through their own decisions, said Riseley, but it will take teamwork on a global scale to move Rotary forward and secure its future.

“We know that we can do more together than we could ever hope to do alone,” he told incoming governors. “I ask you to keep that spirit of teamwork and cooperation always in your minds and to take it back with you to your districts.”


2017-18 Presidential Theme Address (RI President-elect Ian H.S. Riseley) (PDF)

Your Partners for Change and Strategy (RI General Secretary John Hewko) (PDF)

Strategic Planning and Empowerment (RI Strategic Planning Committee Chair Stephanie Urchick) (PDF)

Focus for the Year (Rotary Foundation Trustee Chair-elect Paul A. Netzel) (PDF)

Bill Gates outlines final push to end polio

Rotary Convention keynote speaker spotlights historic fight, remaining challenges to reaching zero polio cases

By Ryan Hyland and Teresa Schmedding

Bill Gates, speaking on 12 June at the Rotary International Convention, highlighted the extraordinary progress that’s been made toward a polio-free world, along with challenges ahead. 

Speaking at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, Gates reminded the audience of more than 22,000 attendees, who were given LED bracelets to wear, that the effort must continue and be strengthened before polio cases can be reduced to zero. 

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Calling the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) the “single most ambitious public health effort the world has ever undertaken,” Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, reviewed the historic milestones of the fight. 

At each achievement, including regions of the world being declared polio-free, sections of the arena were lit up by the LED bracelets, making the attendees a part of the presentation. 

Gates thanked Rotary for being the catalyst and visionary partner for ending the paralyzing disease worldwide. “Rotary laid the foundation with its unwavering sense of purpose and its belief that anything is possible if you put your mind and body to it,” he said. 

Since the GPEI effort began, polio cases have dropped a staggering 99.9 percent, from nearly 350,000 cases a year to only five cases reported this year, a record low. The virus has been eliminated in all but three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. 

Gates noted that more than 16 million people who would otherwise have been paralyzed by polio are walking today. “The scale of this effort is phenomenal,” he added. 

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

“It is this talent for generating new ideas, learning lessons, and adapting them to new circumstances that makes me optimistic we will get to zero,” Bill Gates said at the Rotary International Convention in Atlanta.

John Cena, WWE Superstar, actor, and Rotary polio ambassador, emceed the pledging moment at the general session and applauded Rotary for its determination. “You were the trailblazers who wanted to prove to the world that this insurmountable task could be done,” Cena said.

Earlier in the day, leaders from countries all over the world joined Gates and Rotary in pledging new money toward filling the $1.5 billion gap in the funding that the GPEI estimates is needed to achieve eradication. Rotary announced that it is increasing its annual fundraising goal to $50 million. Since the Gates Foundation and Rotary began working together in 2007, the two organizations have raised nearly $1.5 billion for polio eradication efforts. 

Gates, who said his top priority for the last decade has been ending polio, acknowledged that challenges still lie ahead, especially in areas of conflict where polio remains endemic. “One of the toughest things to do is reach all the children who need the polio vaccine,” he said. “This is especially hard in conflict areas, because it is so difficult to build trust with all sides.”

But Gates also noted that Afghanistan, which still has areas of conflict, is nearly free of the virus. “That’s because the people running the [polio] program have helped build understanding that the only way to get rid of polio is to rise above political, religious, and social divisions.”

With fewer cases now than ever before, the surveillance and detection of the virus becomes more difficult. “To stop the virus completely, we have to know where it’s hiding,” said Gates. 

  • 1994.00

    the Americas were certified as polio-free

  • 2000.00

    the Western Pacific was certified as polio-free

  • 2002.00

    Europe was certified as polio-free

  • 2017.00

    we are down to just five cases in three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan

A network of 146 labs worldwide tests about 200,000 stool samples for the poliovirus every year; 99.9 percent of them are negative. But that tiny percentage of positive results will help health officials focus immunization activities to prevent the virus from spreading. In addition, in countries where polio remains endemic, 125 environmental detection sites test sewage, because the poliovirus can survive in sewage for a short time. 

Innovations inspired by polio eradication efforts can now have wide-ranging benefits for other global health campaigns, Gates said. Techniques like community mapping, disease surveillance, and expanding the role of health workers will help health authorities detect and contain other infectious diseases, like Ebola. 

“That is what is so exciting about Rotary’s 30-year fight,” Gates told the crowd. “You are not only eradicating one of the worst diseases in history. You are also helping the poorest countries provide citizens with better health and a better future.”

[embedded content]

Healing Without Borders

Surgeons from India and Rotary bring relief to hundreds of underserved patients in Rwanda

By Jonathan W. Rosen
Photos by Mussa Uwitonze

Hundreds of people gather in an open-air courtyard at University Central Hospital in Kigali, Rwanda. Men in suits, women in flowered dresses, even prisoners in pink and orange gowns are waiting to find out if they will receive medical care. Some have no visible signs of injury. Others arrived on crutches, with arms in slings, or with catheters protruding from their clothing. Several have swollen, broken limbs: injuries that should have been mended long ago but were neglected because of the country’s long surgical-ward backlog, or simply poverty.

Emmanuel Mugatyawe, 36, sits on the ground as a friend fills out his yellow admissions form. He has been waiting two months for an operation to repair a broken leg – now infected – that he sustained when a car plowed into his motorbike.

“These are not routine cases; there are very few fresh injuries,” says Shashank Karvekar, an orthopedic surgeon and member of the Rotary Club of Solapur, India, after he and his Rwandan colleague Joel Bikoroti examine several dozen patients, scheduling many for surgery.

Over the next eight days, a team of 18 specialized doctors (12 of whom are Rotarians) will perform surgeries on 268 Rwandan patients, including procedures in orthopedics and urology.

The trip, initiated by District 3080 (India) and hosted by District 9150 (Central Africa), is funded by The Rotary Foundation with support from the Rwandan government. It’s the fourth medical mission to Rwanda that the two districts have organized since 2012. This time, among the volunteers is K.R. Ravindran, the first sitting RI president to take part in the mission.

Doctors talk with Joseph Dusabe, who was injured in a motorbike accident, before surgery on his knee.

A few buildings down on the University Central Hospital’s campus (referred to as CHUK), Rajendra Saboo, 1991-92 Rotary International president, is busy coordinating the last-minute logistics of the mission. The 82-year-old from Chandigarh, India, has done this many times. After finishing a post-presidential term on the Board of Trustees, Saboo and his wife, Usha, began to look for ways to participate in the type of hands-on service they had long encouraged of their fellow Rotarians.

It didn’t take long for Saboo to focus on medicine. He found that many local doctors had trained or worked in limited-resource settings similar to what they would find in Africa. “Our doctors are medically very strong,” Saboo explains. “And because India also does not have infrastructure of the highest level, they’ve learned how to innovate.”

Saboo’s first mission, to Uganda, took place in 1998 and focused on cataract surgeries and corrective operations to help disabled polio survivors. Organized with Rajiv Pradhan, a pathologist and past governor of District 3130, it consisted of doctors from Saboo’s district (3080) and Pradhan’s.

It is totally a labor of love. They (medical team) come purely because they want to extend their services to humanity beyond their own borders.

Rajendra Saboo, 1991-92 Rotary International president

Today, Saboo recalls the mission as a life-altering experience – one so successful that the two soon arranged a trip to Ethiopia.

That visit marked the start of an 18-year partnership that has brought more than 36 surgical missions to a dozen African countries, as well as Cambodia and six of India’s least developed states.

Over time, the missions have increased in frequency to four per year, while adding specialties such as plastic surgery, urology, and gynecology. Saboo has been on almost every trip. “Raja Saboo is absolutely full of energy,” says Pradhan. “He’s constantly thinking of new ways to support medical missions. Even at this age, he’s working 12 hours a day.”

Rwanda, a compact central African country with mountainous topography that often draws comparisons to Switzerland, is perhaps best-known for its darkest moment: the slaughter of up to a million citizens, mostly members of the Tutsi minority, in the 1994 genocide. Twenty-two years later, it’s one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa. Kigali, its capital, is among the tidiest cities on the continent. Since 1994, life expectancy has more than doubled in Rwanda while maternal and child mortality rates have fallen.

Rwanda still faces public health challenges, however.

Access to surgery is among them. According to The Lancet, an estimated 5 billion people, including nine out of 10 residents of lower- and middle-income countries, do not have access to “safe, affordable surgical and anesthesia care when needed.”

In these countries, the British medical journal notes, 143 million additional surgical procedures are needed every year. Although most Rwandans are covered by national health insurance, which gives them access to low-cost care, many people living in rural areas cannot afford to get to a public health facility. Moreover, surgery is only available in five of the country’s public hospitals, and many patients must wait to be referred from local health centers or district-level facilities.

Aside from a minority of patients who can afford private care, complex cases wind up at one of two public hospitals in Kigali: CHUK and Rwanda Military Hospital, which also hosted doctors from the mission.

A persistent shortage of surgeons means there’s typically a long waiting list. According to Faustin Ntirenganya, who heads the department of surgery at CHUK, the hospital employs just 10 surgeons and three anesthesiologists – a staffing shortage that, at times, means a backlog of up to 1,000 cases.

Despite a growing number of surgical residents at Rwanda’s national university, the lure of better-paying jobs abroad makes holding on to specialists difficult, Ntirenganya says. “Our biggest challenge is numbers,” he says. “Our limited team cannot handle the needs of the whole population.”

The Rotary mission helps meet the high demand. In four trips to Rwanda, Saboo’s teams have conducted nearly 900 surgeries.

For some patients, the mission represents a final chance. Michel Bizimungu, who had been out of work since rupturing a patellar tendon playing soccer last October, was told his case could be handled only at Rwanda’s top private hospital, at a price far beyond his means as a cleaner. Then his case was referred to Asit Chidgupkar, an orthopedic surgeon and member of the Rotary Club of Solapur.

  • 9.00 out of 10

    residents of lower- and middle-income countries, do not have access to safe, affordable surgical and anesthesia care 

Although Chidgupkar had never encountered this specific injury, and CHUK lacked some needed equipment, including biodegradable screws and suture anchors, Chidgupkar devised a plan.

The next day, in a four-hour procedure involving three separate incisions, he repaired Bizimungu’s knee. Chidgupkar called the procedure an “absolute improvisation.” (He later presented the case at an orthopedic conference in India, and he keeps in touch with Bizimungu, who updates him periodically on his recovery.) “It’s one of my most memorable cases,” he says.

The mission also provides training.

Mission doctors teach cutting-edge surgical techniques to local physicians, medical students, and residents.

During surgery, the visiting doctors demonstrate techniques and learn from host country doctors. Bosco Mugabo, a fourth-year resident in surgery at the University of Rwanda who assisted Chidgupkar with Bizimungu’s operation, says the opportunity was invaluable. “There are some tricks and hints that you don’t learn from school,” he says. “You learn them from a specific surgeon.”

With this in mind, Saboo worked with local health authorities to slightly modify the Rwanda mission.

At a dinner in Kigali, he announced plans to invite 10 Rwandan doctors to India for three-month stints of training there – part of an effort to boost local capacity in a more sustainable manner. The next mission to Rwanda will also be smaller and focus more on teaching two in-demand specialties: reconstructive urology and anesthesiology. In addition, 20 Rwandan children will undergo open-heart surgery in Saboo’s home city of Chandigarh.

  1. Orthopedic surgeon Shashank Karvekar and anesthesiologist Seema Waidande examine a patient’s file at Kigali’s University Central Hospital.

  2. Anesthesiologist Seema Waidande and a colleague prepare a patient for anesthesia.

  3. Mission doctors and volunteers, including past RI President K.R. Ravindran, far left, outside Rwanda Military Hospital.

  4. Past RI Presidents Rajendra Saboo and K.R. Ravindran, their wives, mission doctors, and local Rotarians pose with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, back row, sixth from left.

With travel funds from the Rwandan Ministry of Health, 30 Rwandan children have already received such operations there. According to Emmanuel Rusingiza, one of only two pediatric cardiologists in Rwanda, the country’s high rate of rheumatic heart disease, which generally results from untreated cases of strep throat, means the country has a waiting list of more than 150 children. “A big number of them are passing away,” he says. “It’s a very hard situation.”

As the mission in Kigali winds down, Saboo is already looking forward to the next one. With more Indian districts interested in sending doctors, and African districts interested in hosting them, he expects the number of trips to increase, even if his own attendance becomes less frequent.

Many mission participants, both first-timers and veterans, say they plan to return, though it sometimes entails a significant personal and professional sacrifice. Karvekar, whose own son underwent heart surgery in India just days before he traveled to Kigali, is one of them. “I’d wanted to go on one of these trips for a while,” he says, noting that the mission was his longest absence from his family’s private clinic, where he’s the only orthopedic surgeon on staff. “There were a lot of challenging cases, but fortunately we were able to do them well and, I think, give the patients a good result.”

“It is totally a labor of love,” adds Saboo, speaking for himself as well as the team of doctors. “When they come here, there’s no compensation. They come purely because they want to extend their services to humanity beyond their own borders.”

• Read more articles from The Rotarian

International Inspiration

A princess, 3 prime ministers, and a former first lady join 25,000 in Toronto to celebrate Rotary’s good work and plan more of it

By Arnold R. Grahl and Geoff Johnson
Photos by Alyce Henson

Toronto, the Capital of Nice, opened its arms this week to welcome 25,652 Rotarians from around the world, who came to Rotary’s annual convention looking for inspiration — and finding it.

Whether it was by seeing old friends in the hallways, making new connections in the House of Friendship, or listening to eloquent speakers at general sessions, attendees found plenty at the 109th Rotary International Convention to remind them of the fellowship that binds them and the diversity that Rotary embodies.

“Now, we are sisters forever,” said Rhonda Panczyk, of the Rotary Club of Rochester, Michigan, USA, after spotting and embracing Ijeoma Pearl Okoro, past governor of District 9141 (Nigeria). The two women had met at the West African Project Fair last year, partnered on an immunization drive, and kept in touch on Facebook.

First-time convention goer Serge Sourou OGA from Ghana said that meeting people from all over the world was definitely the highlight of the convention for him.

During the four-day event in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, speakers praised, prodded, and partnered with Rotary. Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, Princess Anne, expressed thanks to Rotary for taking a central role in working to eradicate polio. Former first lady of the United States Laura Bush challenged Rotarians to keep early childhood education a priority.

Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand and one of the architects of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, joined RI President Ian H.S. Riseley for a discussion about gender equality and the crucial link between the environment, poverty, hunger, and peace. 

In a video message, Haitian Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant addressed the convention before the announcement of the creation of HANWASH, a collaboration between Rotary and the Haitian government’s water agency that will tackle that nation’s water and sanitation challenges. 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, accepting Rotary’s Polio Eradication Champion Award, thanked Rotary for working with governments worldwide to eradicate polio. Rotarians play a critical role in the fight to end polio, Trudeau said. “Together we will make that happen.”

The convention got its unofficial start Friday, 22 June, with a two-day Rotary Peacebuilding Summit that featured a speech from Dr. Tererai Trent and insights into Rotary’s partnership with the Institute for Economics and Peace.

Monday’s general session included powerful personal stories from John Hewko, Rotary’s general secretary, and Caryl M. Stern, president and CEO of UNICEF USA. Both had parents who had fled Europe as refugees during wartime. In the sessions that followed, other speakers discussed various aspects of Rotary’s six areas of focus.

More than 25,000 people attended Rotary’s 109th international convention this week in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

Rotary is about service, and Rotarians had plenty of opportunities to be inspired to do bigger and better projects during the general sessions and breakout sessions.

LeapFrog co-founder Jim Marggraff, of the Rotary Club of Lamorinda Sunrise, California, USA, described the Dari and Pashto versions of the popular education tablet that his company created to teach Afghan women literacy skills. Marggraff also talked about the ways his company has been partnering with Rotary to develop virtual reality technology to advance service efforts.

Dr. Isis Mejias, a former Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar and member of the Rotary E-Club of Houston, Texas, USA, stressed the importance of water, sanitation, and hygiene. And former Rotary Youth Exchange student Dr. Jane Nelson explained how Rotary can work with the business community to make a difference in economic development. 

The convention was also filled with enthusiastic young men and women who had gathered to celebrate Rotaract’s 50th birthday. 

The convention concluded Wednesday with an appearance by the Fab Fourever, who sang, in German, two early songs by the Beatles. The Beatles honed their performance skills in Hamburg, the site of next year’s convention.

John T. Blount, the 2019 Hamburg convention chair, encouraged each person at the Air Canada Centre to take a selfie with the person next to them and send it to a friend with the message, “We’re having a great time in Toronto and want to see you next year in Hamburg.”

Sixteen former Rotary presidents and their partners appeared on stage, and Rotary’s next president, Barry Rassin, motivated convention goers by speaking on his 2018-19 theme: Be the Inspiration.

And in a gracious gesture to his successor, Riseley finished his closing remarks by urging listeners: “It is vital that we be the inspiration.”

The 2019 Rotary International Convention will meet in Hamburg, Germany, 1-5 June.

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